OCC Republicans Club demands disciplinary action against instructor who barred members from campus event

The Orange Coast College Republicans Club is demanding the administration take disciplinary action against an instructor who denied club members entrance to an on-campus event in March.

The Republicans Club asserted on its Facebook page Wednesday that Jessica Alabi, a sociology and gender studies instructor at OCC, denied three group members, including club President Vincent Wetzel, admission to an African American/Women’s round table discussion in the Multicultural Center.

When they tried entering the venue, Wetzel said Alabi stopped them and said, “You can’t be here.”

They walked away dumbfounded, he said, and Alabi followed them outside and asked, “What are you even doing here?”

Wetzel said the group is calling attention to the incident after receiving a response from the college to a California Public Records Act request they filed. Members requested emails from administrators discussing the club. Within the information received, there are emails from Alabi addressing her frustration to administrators in March.

“We didn’t understand that this was a big deal, and our club has a responsibility to do something like this,” Wetzel said. “If there is a professor with a vendetta against Republicans, and this is a teacher within our campus, she’s supposed to include a non-discriminatory and welcoming environment for all her classes.”

OCC spokesman Juan Gutierrez​ said the college has not received a formal complaint but is investigating.

Club meetings and events are generally open to all, he added, unless they become disruptive or intimidating.

Alabi couldn’t be reached for comment.

Rob Schneiderman, president of the Coast Federation of Educators, said Thursday night via email that the event was a “private, invitation-only event for African American women and not part of the Women’s History Month.”

“The Republican club was trying to disrupt the event for publicity, and they were redirected to the actual Women’s History Month event, which was in another building,” Schneiderman said.

In an email dated March 1, Alabi writes to student Michael Morvice and college administrators explaining how she spent “20 minutes convincing … the Republican Club president that he should not come to the Feminist Club meeting nor send his female students to visit next week.”

Alabi tried explaining the “irrational discomfort” club members would feel if Wetzel attended meetings and recommended Wetzel further discuss the matter with the club leader.

She ends her email with: “I am sick and tired of the run-ins on campus and pretending that they don’t know what’s going on. I’m not wasting my time with mediation … .”

In an email dated March 22, Alabi informed OCC President Dennis Harkins and administrators that she told Republican Club members to not attend “Curl Talk,” an event hosted for Women’s History Month on campus.

“I just want everyone to be advised that the African- American female students had, and still have, an expectation that this is a safe space event,” the email reads. “If the college will not stand up to the Republican club, I have decided to stand up for myself and other students. Just wanted to keep you informed.”

Harkins emailed Derek Vergara, dean of student services, and Kevin Henson, dean of social and behavior sciences, the same day, saying Alabi “may be overstepping her authority unless the student’s behavior was disruptive” to the event. Harkins encouraged they “review (the) situation as soon as possible.”

Even with a third-party mediation group hired by the college to help facilitate conversation, Wetzel said it’s the college’s job to ensure employees are fair and respectful to all students.

This is the second time in recent months the club has publicly disagreed with a faculty member.

Attempts to establish “healthier relationships” among college groups, including the Feminist Club, were prompted after the incident between Caleb O’Neil and human sexuality professor Olga Perez Stable Cox.

“It seems extraordinary to me that when it’s a conservative student targeted, administration doesn’t seem to care,” Wetzel said. “If a student from a minority group is targeted, then we feel like administration is more responsive.”

Gutierrez said the college takes seriously all faculty, staff and community member complaints and strives to hold constructive and civil dialogue to reach a solution.

Tension among the Republicans Club and campus escalated last year when O’Neil secretly recorded Cox calling President Trump’s election victory “an act of terrorism” during class.

O’Neil shared his video with the club, whose president at the time, Joshua Recalde-Martinez, posted it online. Though O’Neil’s video is about two minutes long, he said in an appeal notice that Cox spoke for 20 minutes.

News of the video spread quickly, sparking a nationwide debate between those who said Cox had the academic freedom to express her views in a private setting and those who argued that her statements went too far.

Priscella.Vega@latimes.com

Twitter: @vegapriscella


UPDATES:

May 19, 11:35 a.m.: This article was updated to include a statement from Rob Schneiderman, president of Coast Federation of Educators, that the event was invitation-only.

This article was originally published May 18 at 4 p.m.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the African American/women's round table discussion was part of a series of Women's History Month events. It was an invitation-only event.
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