It seems that every time the District tries to cover up the commencement debacle, it digs itself a deeper pit to fall into.
If you haven’t read the international headlines about it, Oscar winner and PCC alumnus Dustin Lance Black, who is openly gay, was at the top of the board-approved list of commencement speaker candidates. But he was soon dismissed by the board because it feared that nude photos of Black with his ex-boyfriend, which surfaced on the internet more than five years ago, would tarnish the school’s image after all of the poorly-handled sex scandals on this campus over the past year.
“With … 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.”
Well, it seems like simply saying that has sullied PCC’s reputation in the world’s and the majority of its students’ eyes.
How do sex scandals from our own campus have anything to do with extremely dated nude photos of two men in an intimate relationship? Associated Students President Jordyn Orozco correctly labeled our own scandals, which included “porno professor” Hugo Schwyzer admitting to sleeping with his students and journalism instructor Warren Swil admitting to revealing nude photos of himself to a student, as abuses of power.
The situations are polar opposites.
If the college had made any attempt to look further into what it thought was a sex scandal for Black, it would have discovered that Black went to court and won a case about his privacy being invaded and him being publicly humiliated by a third party. His victimization has nothing to do with PCC’s own dark past of professorial misdeeds.
By Fellow simply stating that the dated pictures would “make PCC look bad,” he did just that.
Another blunder the District made involved completely ignoring these painful remarks about Black’s past and instead focused on blaming different college officials for inviting him in the first place.
First, the board tried to blame its own Student Trustee Simon Fraser, who sent an email to Black in early March on behalf of commencement committee member Heba Griffiths, which appeared to be an official invitation to be this year’s commencement speaker. When Fraser sent a scathing email to the board, claiming its members were trying to scapegoat him, the District let vice president and commencement committee member Robert Bell take the fall in a statement released earlier this week.
“Due to errors in following procedure for which I am responsible … we owe the public an apology for involving Pasadena City College in a confusing situation that has unfortunately spilled over into public comment on homophobia,” Bell said in the statement.
Bell didn’t even know that Black was invited until last week. How could he be held solely responsible for this fiasco?
Fellow, however, attempted to save face in the statement:
“Board members are unanimous and clear in their position that details of Mr. Black’s personal life have no place in public discussion,” he said.
If Black’s personal life had no place in discussion, then why did Fellow explain to Orozco that he did not want him to be the speaker because he had “unsafe sex,” and that his understanding that the AIDS virus was passed on by this, Black would set a bad example for the students?
“Thus, even today I cringe when I hear of unsafe sexual practices as this disease is on the rise again. Mr. Black some years ago participated in unsafe sexual practices that have now gone public. A public figure needs to set an example for our young people,” Fellow said in an email to Orozco earlier this month before the controversy exploded in his face.
If Black’s private life truly should stay private as Fellow said in a prepared public statement, he should practice what he preaches.
Is it even Fellow’s business to care about the private and intimate decisions a committed couple makes about their sex life? Or is this just his excuse for not wanting a person involved in a “sex scandal” to speak at commencement?
At least two other board members have advocated for Black to be considered as a speaker, but their pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
According to internal emails obtained by the Courier, Trustee Berlinda Brown agreed that the new commencement speaker, Pasadena Director of Public Health Eric Walsh, would be a great speaker, but she did not believe Black should be overlooked.
“I don’t believe we are being fair to the students. If what the President of the student body and the Student Trustee are saying is correct then we shouldn’t be treating Mr. Black as an outcast,” Brown said.
Trustee Linda Wah also argued to Fellow in an email that Black was a clear first choice of the commencement committee and should be considered.
“I heard Mr. Black speak … He received a standing ovation from the audience, comprised of Trustees and CEOs across the State,” she said. “Bypassing Mr. Black would continue to reinforce the distrust and damage the small advancements we have made to … help heal the Campus relationships.”
Prescient words, and we cannot agree more.
It is time for the District and Fellow to apologize about the real problem here. Black’s supporters have now spoken loud and clear that it would be an honor for him to speak at commencement, no matter his past. This is the students’ commencement, not the college’s.
Stop trying to save face and do the right thing: bring back Black.
Editor’s note: this article has been updated since its original posting.