A VCU Professor Is A Victim Of Racial Profiling
By: Brianna Wigfall
A professor at Virginia Commonwealth University called security on a black co-worker, and he is no longer in the classrooms. Brianna Scott, a journalism student at VCU, wrote about the incident in which she says Caitlin Cherry was a visiting professor when the incident happened. Cherry said if it wasn’t for her identification badge she’s not sure what would have happened that day.
Cherry visits VCU every two weeks commuting from New York to Richmond to teach a graduate critical theory seminar course and conduct graduate studio visits for painting and printmaking grad students. On the day of the incident, she was sitting in the lounge of the schools Fine Arts Building that only faculty, staff, and grad students can enter. As Cherry sat there preparing for her day a an older man came in the room.
“I say hello and he sort of comes in, doesn’t do anything, doesn’t verbally acknowledge me and walks back out of the room,” Cherry explained.
She says moments later the campus security arrives asking who she was and wanting to see her ID. After she realized what was going on Cherry says she was very upset and wanted to report the man who called security.
“I left the classroom to walk around, and I saw the same gentleman in a classroom. I realized he was a fellow painting and printmaking professor. I didn’t know his name, so I looked at him to make sure I could say who it was. I was going to send an email to the chair of my department and tell him what happened.”
After discussing things with security Cherry, they found out that the man who called security on her was an associate professor named Javier Tapia. Cherry says she is stunned that Tapia, who is of Peruvian heritage, didn’t think enough of her to speak to her while in the classroom.
“It’s a greater issue of what Javier Tapis had to have thought. To think that not only did I not belong in this locked classroom – but that I wasn’t even given the privilege of looking like a graduate student, or any student in the building. I think he was shocked to find out that I was a visiting professor.”
“If I didn’t have my ID on me at the time, it would have been possible that I would have been removed from my own classroom – or removed from the building until somebody identified me,” she continued.
When students a facility learned of what happened, they all banned together to write emails to VCU’s equity and access to file complaints. After the departments determined that there were no laws broken, Cherry says the response to the incident is out of fear.
“I think that’s why the response is so strong – not because of what could have happened, but the fact that there is anxiety around people in positions of power feeling possessive of spaces that they feel are theirs.”
Cherry says even walking past Tapia after the incident happened was uncomfortable for her.
“Later that morning, I started my studio visits and felt like I had to suck up a little bit to continue doing my grad student visits. Probably the saddest thing is, I had to walk past the man who called security to go to the bathroom, so there was a moment where I had to use the restroom, and I tried to hold it in so that I could avoid him.”
Cherry marked herself safe on Facebook during the altercation and the schools President, Michael Rao, sent students and faculty a letter following the event.
“A recent incident between two faculty members in the VCU School of the Arts has caused us deep concern and reminds us of the work we have to do to live up to our core values related to diversity and inclusion.”
The letter continues by saying, “When our core values of diversity and inclusion are impinged upon for some of us, then every one of us loses an opportunity for growth, learning, and success. We are a community of inclusion, no exclusion.”
Scott told NBC that Tapia’s students a TA’s have stopped attending his class and they have a sign on the building that says, ‘PAPR (painting and printmaking) students support Caitlin Cherry.’
Cherry has also been hired full-time to continue teaching with VCU through 2020.
By: Brianna Wigfall | Web: Briannawigfall.weebly.com | Instagram: Brianne. Live