Santa Rosa Junior College faculty and staff were outraged Tuesday at an incendiary response sent to English instructor Lauren Servais’s invitation to a justice, equity, diversity and inclusion-centered learning group.
“You and yours will, of course, take over what we call the USA within the decade,” wrote Daniel Richer, an adult and continuing education adjunct instructor who last taught in Fall 2019. “From a political science perspective, no other outcome is reasonably feasible. Congratulations, I guess, for succeeding in having won and destroyed what you will have done.”
Richer’s response came within two hours of Servais’s invitation and went on to call Servais and her colleague Lori Kuwabara “godless zealots” for hosting a monthly ZOOM meeting dedicated to unlearning racism by building knowledge, engaging in dialogue and reflection, and taking action.
Richer called Servais “a zealot robot that merely repeats what their superiors say,” and closed the email with “Your jealousy and envy of the free mind are at the heart of it all. Pathetic. Cheers and sweet dreams and nightmares.”
On Wednesday, Servais forwarded a second email from Richer, who sarcastically thanked Servais for “confirming my point that my kind of opinion has been canceled by the JC.” Using the casually derogatory language of “you and yours” and “you people,” Richer accused Servais of “canceling” the First Amendment and likened the JC’s free speech climate to that of “Pol Pot’s Kampuchea.”
Servais’s initial email invited all faculty, staff and administration to a Focused Inquiry Group designed for engaging in dialogue “to unlearn racism.” The email contained a required reading list with titles including “Suggested Norms for Cross-Cultural Dialogue,” “Safe Space and Brave Spaces,” and “Anatomy of an Ally,” among others.
Servais shared with the all-staff distribution list only Richer’s responses; she did not include his name. But his messages started an uproar regardless and yielded dozens of responses from faculty supportive of her and Kuwabara’s group and condemning Richer’s perspective. The Oak Leaf obtained the full email from an unidentified source.
Oak Leaf staff have contacted Daniel Richer for comment but have not yet heard back.
SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong said in an email Wednesday evening, “Lauren’s message, and the value it places on knowledge, dialogue and reflection as the pathways to change, exemplifies exactly what a college community is supposed to be about. The email response that I read, objecting to this work, is antithetical to these values. I condemn its message as ignorant, insulting and racist.”
Faculty and staff were quick to reply-all to the respondent after his first missive to Servais.
Department of Behavioral Sciences Chair Dr. Rima DasGupta said, “If anyone is wondering why we have trouble retaining faculty of color, here’s your answer,” beckoning others to realize how this perspective’s presence at the college “represents the type of hatred we experience, subtly and not so subtly, on a regular basis.”
Behavioral sciences instructor Dr. John Stover was appalled at the “blatant racism, gaslighting, and xenophobia contained in the response to Lauren’s email invitation.” He then changed his focus to directly confront the offending email’s author, “Why are you here? What is your goal? Who do you serve?”
Social sciences faculty member Laura Larqué said, “Whenever I witness or experience behavior like this, I ask myself: ‘What would have happened if the person behaving like this was a BIPOC?’ My answer is: that person would be reprimanded or fired immediately.” Larqué also emphasized that the incident is a clear example of white privilege.
Some instructors perceived the email as bald-faced racism. In an email titled “Whiteness,” Jill Kelly-Moore, instructor in philosophy, humanities and religion, wrote, “This is about skin. Nothing else. So I say to my white colleagues: Stand up. Don’t allow this person to speak for you.”
The Academic Senate allotted time during its Wednesday meeting to discuss the episode and hear faculty and staff concerns.
Instructional assistant La Reva Myles expressed concern about colleagues or instructors making these types of comments to students; disability specialist Laura Aspinall added, “If a student commits an act that violates the academic integrity policy, I know what to do. [In this situation], I don’t know what to do other than call HR.”
Additional reporting by Alex Fuller and Mike Combs.