In an open letter released this evening—the second this week on the matter—a group of students at the Claremont Colleges have demanded that the Pomona College administration apologize for removing Dr. Jonathan Higgins from his position as director of the Queer Resource Center (QRC). Continue reading
Pomona College Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum released an email statement this morning affirming that the college was aware of former Claremont Colleges’ Queer Resource Center (QRC) Dr. Jonathan Higgins’ controversial tweets prior to his hiring. The news raises new questions over the extent to which recent media coverage of Dr. Higgins’s questionable comments about white gays, women, and the police influenced the college’s decision to terminate him within 48 hours of his first day on the job.
Dr. Higgins’ tweets, which came to national attention last week, included comments on how “police are meant to serve and protect white supremacy” and expressed a wariness of “white gays and well meaning white women.” In other tweets, Higgins characterized heterosexuality as “celebrat[ing] rape culture, homophobia and transphobia…every day.” The tweets were published and fully public well before Higgins’ hiring in June.
This morning, only a few days following Higgins’ ouster, Dean Feldblum sent an email to all students at Pomona acknowledging that Higgins’ tweets were known to the college during the hiring process.
“The College was aware of Dr. Higgins’ tweets and social media presence prior to our offer to hire him in early June,” she wrote in the email. “We recognize that he brings an important voice to support of LGBTQIA students, and especially QTPOC [Queer Trans People of Color] students, and that he approaches his work with passion and concern.”
Feldblum also said that she and another dean had discussed with Higgins his social media presence and “the broader responsibilities of the Director position,” among which is the responsibility to “create an inclusive environment that honors the intersectionality and multiplicity of all student identities.”
These conversations and the college’s apparent knowledge of Higgins’ social media outbursts apparently did little to compromise his candidacy for the directorship. A dean of students announced his hiring in an email sent in June, praising his work as “a motivational speaker dedicated to empowering all LGBTQ students with an emphasis on students of color.”
Yet within 48 hours of Higgins’ start as QRC director, the college chose to terminate him—only hours after the tweets they had reviewed at length with their new hire came to light in national media coverage.
Neither Feldblum nor other representatives of the college have shed much light on the reasons for their sudden reversal—or why it occurred only after Higgins had officially entered his new role.
“Both prior to and after his hire, Dean Jan [Collins-Eaglin] (and later Dean Jan and I) also engaged in thoughtful discussions with Jonathan about social media and the broader responsibilities of the Director position,” Feldblum explained in her email this morning. “However, as the discussions progressed, it became clear that our visions to ensure the support of all LGBTQIA students at The Claremont Colleges did not match, and that we could not reconcile our paths.”
“These decisions were made by Dean Jan and me,” Feldblum continued, referring to Dr. Higgins’ dismissal. “The QRC staff were not responsible for the decisions.”
Feldblum email statement’s makes no mention of whether media coverage of Dr. Higgins’ tweets contributed to his dismissal.
Following Higgins’ firing, an open letter published by a group of “outraged student affairs professionals”—allegedly comprised of student affairs staff from colleges across the country—criticized Pomona’s decision to remove Higgins as “gatekeeping that keeps Black queer professionals out of key positions to create change in higher education.” The group also demanded Dean Feldblum’s resignation for her “gross missteps of both firing Dr. Higgins and continuously refusing to support marginalized students.”
Responding to these accusations in an email to the Independent, Dean Feldblum contended that she has dedicated her work to supporting all students, especially marginalized and underrepresented students.
“I have dedicated my work to supporting students, with particular attention to marginalized and underrepresented students, and am deeply committed to supporting my staff and their work,” Feldblum said. “I think these are substantive, important conversations, and I am happy to engage, listen, learn and share.”
Matthew Reade contributed reporting.
In an open letter, hundreds of “Outraged Student Affairs Professionals” have issued demands for the resignation of a Pomona College dean and for “a carefully thought out plan for addressing White fragility and White supremacy” following the college’s decision to terminate its new LGBTQ resource center director after his tweets expressing negative sentiments toward “white gays,” “well meaning white women,” heterosexual people, and the police became the focus of national media coverage.
Following media coverage of the comments, the college announced the removal of Dr. Jonathan Higgins from his post as the director of the college’s Queer Resource Center (QRC) in an email sent to all students on Saturday. Higgins had only started work that week, just as his controversial tweets began emerging in news reports.
“I am writing today to let you know that we have reopened the national search for the Director of the Queer Resource Center,” wrote Jan Collins-Eaglin, a Pomona College dean, making no direct reference to Dr. Higgins or to the media firestorm surrounding his comments. “Our priorities for the QRC remain the same – to maintain in a seamless fashion the robust services of the Center, including its ability to provide direct support to students, expertise in workshops and trainings, and an inclusive space focused on student success and support, with a demonstrated commitment to diversity and community.”
This message, however, evidently has disappointed a group of self-described “Student Affairs Professionals.” Consisting of more than 100 student affairs employees and college students, the vast majority of whom hailing from colleges unaffiliated with the Claremont Colleges, this group has defended Higgins’s comments and decried his dismissal as a “gross injustice” and an “act of violence and silencing of queer black voices” in an open letter to Dean Collins-Eaglin and Dean Miriam Feldblum, another Pomona College dean of students.
Turning first to Higgins’s controversial tweets, the group insists that his wariness of “white gays and well meaning white women” is fully warranted:
“If history has taught us anything, we know that Dr. Higgins’ experiences and caution are valid. White gay men have become the primary enactors of violence toward queer people of color. Recently in Philadelphia, white gay men were angered because the city introduced a new pride flag with added black and brown stripes. The colors, according to the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs’ More Color More Pride campaign, represent inclusion of people of color in the LGBTQ community. Dr. Mamta Motwani Accapadi has written about and presented on the ways white women have enacted violence on people of color and served to perpetuate and benefit from white supremacy.”
The letter further claims that terminating Higgins compromises inclusivity and constitutes an effort to prevent Black queer professionals from holding positions of power and challenging white supremacy.
“We would like to state in no uncertain terms that the firing of Dr. Higgins is a gross injustice and serves as an act of violence and silencing of queer black voices,” the group writes. “The firing of Dr. Higgins sets a dangerous precedent for the field of student affairs—that those who directly and unapologetically challenge white supremacy, white fragility, and the multitude of problematic aspects of higher education and the dominant culture, will simply be discarded in favor of someone who will perpetrate the status quo. We refuse to sit idly by as Dr. Higgins, and by extension, countless black and brown queer and trans students, faculty, and staff, is denied his humanity and publicly shamed.”
The group then issues five demands. In addition to demanding the resignation of Dean Feldblum for her role in Higgins’s firing, it insists that the college develop “a carefully thought out plan for addressing White fragility and White supremacy in the Claremont Colleges.” A direct quote of the full list of demands is below:
- The resignation of Dr. Feldblum for the gross missteps of both firing Dr. Higgins and continuously refusing to support marginalized students. […]
- A public apology to Dr. Higgins from all involved parties that acknowledges the harm done.
- A fully transparent search process while searching for Dr. Higgins’ replacement to ensure that queer and trans students of color will be supported and their perspectives will be actively included and valued.
- A carefully thought out plan for supporting queer and trans students of color and queer and trans faculty and staff of color. This is crucial in minimizing the suffering of queer and trans students of color that is inevitable now that their advocate has been ousted.
- A carefully thought out plan for addressing White fragility and White supremacy in the Claremont Colleges.
Dean Feldblum and Pomona College’s media office have yet to respond to the Independent’s requests for comment.
Only a day after the College Fix uncovered tweets from the newly-appointed director of the Claremont Colleges’ LGBTQ center announcing his wariness “of white gays and well meaning white women” and accusing police officers of “servic[ing] and protect[ing] white supremacy,” a dean at Pomona College announced that the college plans to launch a search for a new director. Continue reading