Demonstrators rally for and against OCC professor seen on video lamenting Trump victory
With nothing but pavement separating them, two groups on opposite sides of a controversy over an Orange Coast College professor’s recorded post-election comments about Donald Trump’s presidential victory — including calling it “an act of terrorism” — assembled for demonstrations Monday on the Costa Mesa campus.
More than 60 people rallied in support of professor Olga Perez Stable Cox, whose comments to her human-sexuality class were secretly recorded by an unidentified student and then posted on the Internet, where they went viral and drew national media attention.
The noontime rally at the campus quad first consisted of about 30 students, alumni and professors holding signs with messages such as “We support academic freedom” and “OCC for Olga.”
As they attracted more supporters in the afternoon, a counterdemonstration began directly across from the rally, with a white board featuring Cox’s in-class comments and signs reading “Hold teachers accountable again” and “Teach, don’t preach.”
Days after the Nov. 8 election, Cox told her students in the video that the nation is as divided as it was in “Civil War times.”
In the recording, Cox apparently refers to Trump as a “white supremacist” and to Vice President-elect Mike Pence as “one of the most anti-gay humans in this country.”
Cox could not be reached for comment Monday.
According to Joshua Recalde-Martinez, president of the Orange Coast College Republicans club, the student shared the video with the club, which posted it on its Facebook page last week.
The two-minute video also shows Cox saying: “And so we are in for a difficult time. But again, I do believe that we can get past that. Our nation is divided; we have been assaulted, it’s an act of terrorism.”
Seal Beach attorney Shawn Steel filed a complaint Nov. 30 to Orange Coast College President Dennis Harkins on behalf of the College Republicans club, saying Cox “wrongfully assumed all students were disappointed with the loss of Hillary Clinton.”
Steel said Monday that the concern among students was “the brow-beating and the public shaming for the students of Trump.”
His complaint suggested that Cox attend anger management classes and apologize to her students, and that the complaint be placed in her personnel file.
The district’s legal counsel sent a response to Steel saying the student services and instructional wings at OCC have a review in process, Harkins said Monday.
Last week, students from campus clubs such as the Orange Coast College Young Democrats and the OCC Feminist Club began to organize Monday’s rally in defense of Cox.
“Some of us were upset that the media was only showing one side. ... I think her comments were taken out of context,” said Autumn Durand, 23, an OCC student. “Undocumented students are scared, women are scared. Olga’s speech was about protecting students.”
The Coast Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1911, circulated a letter last week defending Cox, who has taught at OCC for more than 30 years.
“She’s never had a complaint lodged against her by a student,” Rob Schneiderman, president of the union, which represents instructors in the Coast Community College District, said Monday. “It’s such as shame that a student chose to take a video rather than engaging the professor and the rest of the class in a discussion.”
Steel said, “I don’t object to what she says, but she can’t object for it to be recorded.”
Cox’s course syllabus states that in-class recordings are not allowed, and a Coast Community College District policy also prohibits recording, according to Harkins.
“That’s for different reasons, such as creating a safe space and an environment where people don’t reform what you say, particularly with a class about a sensitive subject and ranging opinions,” Harkins said.
Recalde-Martinez, who stood Monday with the people demonstrating against Cox, said her comments “didn’t create an inclusive environment or treat students equally.”
OCC student Seyla Uy, 35, said he took Cox’s human-sexuality class about a year ago and found it a welcoming environment. “She’s very good,” Uy said.
He added that he doesn’t think there should be recording in any class, “but especially that class,” where students can share their sexual experiences during class discussions, he said.
The student services and instructional wings are investigating whether Cox’s comments were in response to a student’s question and whether they were related to class curriculum.
Without having all the information, any disciplinary action for the professor or the student cannot be determined, Harkins said.