Students at Virginia Commonwealth University are rallying behind a Black adjunct professor who had security called on her by a fellow professor — for eating breakfast.
The incident occurred last month as visiting professor Caitlin Cherry sat in her assigned classroom enjoying breakfast when another professor, identified as white-Hispanic, poked his head in the room, local station NBC 12 reported. Cherry, a revered artist and graduate school professor, said the man didn’t acknowledge her and quickly went on his way.
Moments later, campus security arrived and started questioning who she was and why she was there. Cherry showed officers her identification badge and said she didn’t know what might have happened had she not had it that day.
An investigation by VCU’s Department of Equity and Access determined that no laws were broken. However, the university moved to suspend the tattletale professor for the rest of the semester. School officials said personnel privacy laws prohibit them from releasing the man’s identity.
“Students have stopped going to his classes,” VCU senior Brianna Scott told the news station. “I know that his TA’s quit.”
The incident has drawn outrage from the campus community, sparking calls for better inclusion and diversity efforts. Students also hung a banner outside the university’s art building that reads, “PAPR (painting and printmaking) students support Caitlin Cherry.”
Scott, who interviewed Cherry for an article published in RVA Magazine, said what the community wants is accountability.
“We do want accountability from the professor. We would like him to apologize,” she said. “He thought that she didn’t belong in that room. Didn’t even give her the benefit of the doubt. Didn’t even speak to her. I think that was the most frustrating thing for her.”
In her article, Scott argued that “Entitlement over spaces and who can be in them is an issue that America needs to address: because it’s not new, and it’s getting Black people killed.”
VCU has since promised to create a task force aimed at addressing issues of systemic bias on campus, along with a host of other actions it plans to take.
“When the boundaries of common courtesy, decency and respect are crossed for any one of us, then we are all affected,” President Michael Rao wrote in a letter. “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’re a community of inclusion, not exclusion.”
Rao continued: “During the next few months, our university will take several steps to examine its culture and to ensure VCU is a community of accountability, fairness and justice.”
While the professor in question won’t be returning to the classroom, VCU has brought Cherry on as a full-time instructor through 2020.