In September, Brooklyn College professor Mitchell Langbert published a blog post in defense of Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, calling media attention to his record of sexual assault allegations a “disgrace.” Then, on October 19, Rohit Parikh, a distinguished professor of computer science, also at Brooklyn College, was publicly revealed to have written a lengthy Facebook post that spoke against Latinx immigration, saying that people of Latin American origin were overrepresented among US immigrants and “have the highest rate of dropping out of school.” Parikh then called for the deportation of any immigrants who came to the United States illegally.
Parikh also asked whether Hispanics are the “population which America needs for the rest of the century when more…education is required.” Parikh went on to suggest that Latinx immigrants receive preferential status because of political pandering by Democrats. In a recent interview with Pix 11, Parikh said it was “hard to say” if Latinx people in the United States were less intelligent than Indian immigrants.
Brooklyn College students—especially those from the Young Progressives of America, Puerto Rican Alliance, Mexican Heritage Student Association, Brooklyn College Dream Team, and the Dominican Student Movement—quickly demanded that the school take meaningful steps to sanction the professors and prevent faculty from engaging again in what it criticized as public racism and misogyny.
On October 23, the organizations held a joint rally to encourage other students to speak out and report instances of hateful rhetoric. In addition, they demanded support for the Latin Studies Department and mandatory anti-bias and -sexual-assault trainings for faculty and staff.
These two instances weren’t isolated: Brooklyn College’s insufficient support of women and Latinx students made Langbert and Parikh’s remarks especially inflammatory. Its historic Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Department, which students say is currently underfunded and understaffed, is due to be merged with other programs to create a broader Ethnic Studies department. This plan, according to founder and president of Young Progressives of America Carlos Jesus Calzadilla, is emblematic of how CUNY is failing Latinx and undocumented students.
Despite its claims to being a sanctuary campus, Calzadilla said that BC has done little to stand up for undocumented students, offering no support with the cost of their education and arguing that they are “generally ineligible for state or federal financial aid.” This stands in sharp contrast with policy in New Jersey, where financial aid was extended for qualifying DACA recipients. “Brooklyn College’s stance is mainly rhetoric, but we need it in policy,” Calzadilla told The Nation. “We don’t see a real system to protect undocumented students. CUNY needs to step up and…make sure that professors like [Langbert and Parikh] aren’t the ones teaching in classrooms.”
In November, 50 students spoke out about unlivable conditions in Brooklyn College’s residence hall, which included several sexual-harassment complaints. Because the residence hall is administered by a private company, any sexual violence that occurs there is not covered under Title IX. And while BC students in charge of clubs and other groups must take anti-sexual-assault trainings under Title IX, there are no such requirements for faculty and staff, according to Corrinne Greene, president of Brooklyn College’s YPA chapter. Mandates for anti-bias trainings are similarly loose, she said. Greene was critical that more has not been done by the university to ensure that its employees take these issues seriously. “If Starbucks can do it, CUNY can as well,” she said.
Over the course of the fall, both professors came to represent for some Brooklyn College students the endemic inequality and oppression within higher education. Langbert, a tenured professor, is critical of what he sees as a “left movement” to suppress what he has termed the “non-conforming few” right-wing professors at liberal arts colleges. His offending blog post, which Langbert revised in order to clarify that he intended it to be satirical, states that “if someone did not commit sexual assault in high school, then he is not a member of the male sex.” Langbert followed his dismissal of concerns raised by Kavanaugh’s history by writing “in the future, having committed sexual assault in high school ought to be a prerequisite for all appointments, judicial and political.”
According to Craig Hernandez, a senior at Brooklyn College and president of its Puerto Rican Alliance, Langbert’s post had a chilling effect on members of the student body. “There’s a lot of danger in having teachers with these kinds of views teaching students and influencing students and having a position of power over them,” he said. “It’s unnerving to be in class and have a professor who has stated publicly, with no shame or actual remorse, that sexual assault is a prerequisite for manhood.”
In response to protest over Langbert and Parikh’s remarks, BC President Michelle Anderson wrote in a statement: “I sympathize with students’ concerns. I disagree with the faculty statements because they are antithetical to the fundamental values of Brooklyn College…. Throughout its history, the College has been a place that has welcomed students regardless of gender or immigration status.” President Anderson announced in the same statement a November 12 teach-in to “cover the…challenges that free speech poses on a college campus, students’ rights to equal education, and campus procedures to protect the civil rights of students.”
Days before the teach-in, student organizers met with administrators to discuss the measures the institution should take to combat racism and misogyny. It was established that the school was taking steps to begin implementing harassment trainings for all BC employees. At the same time, administrators told students that there was no legal basis for them to make racial-sensitivity trainings mandatory and that the decision to do so lay in the hands of the faculty union.
During the meeting, organizers expressed their dissatisfaction with the way BC handled the furor sparked by Langbert and Parikh. They said that the school took a week to respond to concerns raised by Parikh’s statement, declined to communicate with press beyond the school’s newspaper, and complained that President Anderson merely disagreed with Parikh’s remarks rather than issuing a condemnation. (Anderson has condemned Langbert’s remarks and was present at a protest against the business professor.)
Young Progressives of America said in its own statement that student feedback is prompting the college president to issue a “stronger, widely circulated response” to Professor Parikh’s racism. “We look forward to that,” they said of the president’s forthcoming statement, “It is important that Brooklyn College and CUNY leadership as a whole recognize that they have a responsibility to stand up for all students.”