After being placed atop a Board approved short list of potential commencement speakers earlier this semester, the college decided against selecting Oscar winning screenwriter and PCC alumnus Dustin Lance Black because they feared sexually explicit photos of Black that surfaced on the internet in 2009 would tarnish the school’s reputation, according to administrative officials. 


Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black.  (Photo courtesy Dustin Lance Black)
Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black. (Photo courtesy Dustin Lance Black)

Black was the first of eight potential candidates to make himself available as a speaker, but the Board of Trustees were made aware of nude pictures found on the internet of him with a man having unprotected sex and he was dismissed as a candidate because the board thought his actions might inflame the college’s own sex scandals.

“With the porno professor and the sex scandals we’ve had on campus this last year, it just didn’t seem like the right time for Mr. Black to be the speaker,” Board President Anthony Fellow said. “We’ll be on the radio and on television. We just don’t want to give PCC a bad name.”

The college recently went through two scandals involving professor Hugo Schwyzer, the “porno professor” who admitted to sleeping with students, and journalism instructor Warren Swil, who admitted to showing nude photos of himself to a student.

The administration decided to go forward and invite a safer pick: Pasadena Director of Public Health Dr. Eric Walsh, who accepted and is confirmed to be the commencement speaker, according to Robert Bell, a commencement committee member and vice president of academic affairs and student services.

The problem, however, is that Black accepted what appeared to be an official invitation to speak at commencement more than a month ago.

The letter, sent by Student Trustee Simon Fraser on behalf of Heba Griffiths, interim associate dean of student life, states:

“…We would like to formally invite Mr. Black to conduct the commencement address to the students as we celebrate our theme of “Proud Past, Global Future.”

According to Fraser, he was asked by Griffiths, a commencement committee member, to email Black the invitation using a template she provided.

Griffiths argued the email was not an official or final invitation for Black to be the commencement speaker.

“[Black] was the first to say he is available out of the eight potential speakers,” Griffiths said. “The administration did not confirm with him [to be the official speaker]. The confirmation was never made with the administration.”

Bell explained that a major miscommunication occurred with officially inviting commencement speakers because the policy does not clearly indicate who can or cannot invite a speaker. Also, too many people were involved in the process, he said.

“There were too many cooks in the kitchen,” Bell said. “We had an offer extended … which was premature.”

Bell officially informed Black’s assistant on Monday that he would not need to make arrangements to attend commencement.

“I wish to inform you that Mr. Black will not need to rearrange his busy schedule to appear as commencement speaker. I understand that Mr. Black’s time is valuable and important and, again, I apologize for the delay in finalizing this with you and him,” the email reads.

Black said in an email to the Courier that he is considering taking legal action against the college, according to emails from his assistant Neville Kiser.

Black expressed his deep discontent with being disinvited by the college.

“The offer was made. I accepted the offer, booked flights, cancelled work to make room for the honor,” he wrote. “It is heartbreaking, hurtful and wrong headed.”

At an Associated Students meeting last week, Vice President for Sustainability Sarah Belknap denounced the way that the board was framing the situation. She felt that it was wrong for the board to compare what happened to Black to the situation with Schwyzer, whose sex scandal last year made national headlines. Black was a victim of a boyfriend seeking out revenge, while Schwyzer used his authority to have inappropriate relations with students.

“As a person who myself has been harassed and as a queer person, that really hits me right where I live,” said Belknap.

Fraser spoke out against the board’s disregard for Black, stating he found the board’s claim that the pictures depicted unprotected sex to be homophobic because it was not viewed as intimate contact between two adults but as a promotion of unsafe sexual practices.

“We are held to such a different standard where any single misstep is a bad thing,” said Fraser.

Fraser felt personally betrayed and said that his group of community college queer students had been maligned and desperately needed role models like Black to show them how a PCC student transformed himself into to a Oscar winning screenwriter.

“I can’t think of a better role model for any students, let alone queer students,” Fraser stated.


Staff writers Raymond Bernal and Jessica Arceo contributed to this report.

13 Replies to “Oscar winner and PCC alumnus disinvited to Spring Commencement ceremony”

  1. Pasadena Community College should be extremely proud to have among their alumni an Oscar winning screenwriter like Mr. Black and they are privilege to have him take his valuable time to appear at their commencement ceremonies at their guest speaker. After having already invited him and after he had already accepted the invitation, I am shocked and dismayed that said invitation would thereafter be withdrawn on the flimsy excuse pertaining to the fact that Mr. Black had been the victim of a crime. The conduct of the administration of PCC is not only extremely rude and ungracious, it is an embarrassment to the entire student body and faculty of PCC. Hopefully the powers to be at PCC will see the errors of their action and will immediately do the right thing and promptly reinstate the invitation and at the same time they need to make an appropriate and sincere apology to Mr. Black.

  2. The Board of Trustees just gave PCC a bad name with their actions. People have sex, with condoms and without, their choice, both can be safe (tested neg., w/agreement of monogomy or condoms with others). Sometimes the pics or vids get out to the web. Some people make tons of money and become celebs: Kardashian, etc. Some people get treated like shiiiiit: Justin Lance Black

  3. This college is a joke, treating a brilliant alumnus this way. We see PCC true colors today. Dustin Lance Black was the victim and now made a victim again. To heck with PCC. Ridiculous.

  4. This school sucks. Dustin Lance Black was clearly a victim, and you’re punishing him for it. What you’re doing is not representative of an institution of supposedly “higher learning.” You wouldn’t do this to a heterosexual person whose photos were stolen from his/her computer. You’re punishing Dustin Lance Black because of his sexuality, and if you don’t think that’s obvious to a casual observer, you’re wrong. If you want to punish someone, start with Anthony Fellow.

  5. I am outraged that as prestigious a character as Dustin Lance Black should be subjected to this kind of treatment. In an age where any of us could be victimized, PCC has punished the victim and deprived its students of the opportunity to meet and learn from a brilliant, honorable man who has earned our respect. I am disgusted and appalled.

  6. Paaadena City College did not want to tarnish its reputation, but now they have–by disinviting Mr. Black who was the VICTIM of an unscrupulous sex partner who released photos of their encounter. Mr. Black’s only “crime” was having sex and if all people who have had sex are to be eliminated from consideration as speakers, you have a pretty small and dull group to choose from. Pasadena City College owes an apology to Mr. Black.

    1. PCC tarnished its reputation a long time ago by hiring a megalomaniac president to run the college, who’s ramping up the number of administrators (NOT full-time, full-service teachers for students) to 95, when the number of FT professors is around 350. The Associated Students gave voted no confidence and censure on the administration almost 1 year ago — they should have been working more closely with the faculty on ousting the admin, but they seem so have a very short memory and/or are easily scared every time the Board says they will take away their money.

      The answer to our woes is to clean up the administration, starting from the very top: Board of Trustees and having the community vote on new ones. Can anyone say “Recall Campaign”?

  7. The board at PCC can’t be too intelligent to handle the matter this way. It strikes most decent people as unjust to victimize the victim because of what was done to them. The true idiot was the board president. He said: “We just don’t want to give PCC a bad name.” Well, that is precisely what they did.

  8. Revenge porn is a recent phenomena in our society. That the older generation didn’t have to worry about in any real substantive way. The inability of the Board of Trustees to differentiate between a victim of revenge porn and a sexual deviant is very telling.
    Not to long ago the administration & trustees claimed they supported LGBTQQIAA people. The trustees really need to actually show their support instead of just paying lip service so they can get positive PR when times look bad. Saying you support a community is about backing up what you are saying with actions. Not stating you supporting a community while also being homoantagonistic to that same community whenever a controversial issue arises.

    1. So true! What about all that talk about “Safe Zones” earlier this academic year – when it’s convenient and looks good for them or when there are other political or problematic issues of the day, they bring that up to make everyone feel good or divert the criticizing eye away from other problems.

      In the end, it’s not truly important to the admin because if it were, this scandal would not be occurring.

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