Controversy surrounding immigration and the Black Lives Matter movement have ignited tension nationwide leading up to the 2016 presidential election. That kind of vitriol and divisiveness has reached the campus of Pierce College.
A Facebook group titled LA Pierce College Republicans has targeted MEChA de Pierce College, a Chicano group on campus, along with its president and club adviser in an online post that has caused controversy.
“I was shocked at first, but I didn’t really get angry because it’s not uncommon to have such things said, assumed or stereotyped about the club because people don’t really understand what it is,” Angelita Rovero, instructor of Chicano studies and adviser to MEChA de Pierce College, said. “I was shocked to see my name put out there the way it was, and I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden.”
The post on LA Pierce College Republicans’ group page referred to MEChA as a racist Chicano hate group and accused MEChA de Pierce College’s president of “enabling alien invaders” and called him the “student leader in chief of the Chicano reqounquista (sic) efforts at Pierce,” essentially saying that he is part of a plan to change the racial makeup of the college.
“Since I’ve been a part of MEChA, there has been constant bullying and we’ve faced a lot of obstacles in trying to do anything at school,” Christian Diaz, club president of MEChA de Pierce College, said. “This isn’t the first occurrence that we’ve had to face, but this is just the most controversial.”
The issue of cyberbullying and intimidation is nothing new, but the republican presidential candidate’s use of social media, such as Twitter, to attack his critics, combined with comments he has made during speeches that seem to passively encourage supporters to act upon their views, may have emboldened some.
“I think these are all things that some people have always felt,” Rovero said. “It wasn’t until Trump was nominated that these people think that it’s OK now to be rude, blatant and disregard, really, the sense of humanity.”
LA Pierce College Republicans are “committed to championing the conservative voice of LA Pierce’s diverse student body promoting sound political action and exposing liberal academic bias,” according to the group’s Facebook page.
“I’m the one who wrote the claim against MEChA,” Jason Aula, interim president of the LA Pierce College Republicans Facebook page, said. “It’s a controversial issue to challenge MEChA. I think some of the students might find it offensive for obvious reasons, but it’s just an academic thing. Maybe they’re not aware of what’s in the organization they’re supporting.”
Ali Asghar, a Pierce student, was going to be the group’s vice president, but has distanced himself from the group after the controversial posts were made.
“I have no say in that post. Those post (sic) were never reviewed by me,” Asghar said. “If I had an opportunity to view the post, I would not have used professor Rovero’s name because I know her in a professional level.”
Though many of the posts made by the Facebook group may be seen as controversial and inciteful to some, those views are not a part of mainstream conservative politics, according to Asghar.
“I feel a little bit upset because as a registered republican, our party is being blind. It’s being represented in a way that is not true,” Asghar said. “That page was the anterior right on the extreme. I’ve been very clear I’m not a part of that ulterior right.”
Asghar has since apologized in a Facebook post of his own, condemning the material that was published in the group.
“You can see on the website that she put a screenshot of what I said,” Asghar said. “I’ve fought for the Chicano studies students when the accreditation team was here. I spoke in favor for them. When I ran for ASO president, one of my platforms was to increase more Chicano studies classes.”
Diaz doesn’t believe Asghar’s apology is genuine.
“His apologies seem really empty. They don’t seem wholehearted,” Diaz said. “It’s one big “I’m sorry,” and nothing else to it.”
MEChA, which stands for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, was founded in the 60s on the principles of self-determination for the liberation of the Chicano people and that political involvement and education is the avenue for change. Each letter of MEChA represents individual concepts to their cause, according to their website.
Though founded during a time of social upheaval and the civil rights movement, the core tenets of the group may seem divisive to some on the political right, but the MEChA of then is not the same group today, according to Rovero.
“The foundations of MEChA in 1968 are different now in 2016. We’re not fighting the same thing,” Rovero said. “We promote higher education and learning and it’s not just for Mexicans. We’ve had blacks, whites and Asians in MEChA the past 2 and a half years.”
Asghar does not share the same views.
“I love MEChA, they’re a wonderful group, but what I have a problem is, is that our Latino, Chicano, Mexican students, I want them to have a Puente Program here on campus,” Asghar said. “I’m going to be very honest, but I feel like MEChA, the organization, nationally, is racist.”
The Puente Project is an interdisciplinary program that started at Chabot Community College located in Hayward, Calif. in 1981 and has established the program across sixty-one community colleges in California. Puente, which means bridge in Spanish, aims to increase the number of educationally disadvantaged students enrolling in 4 year colleges and emphasizes a curriculum of english, counseling and mentors, according to its website.
Although bullying and intimidation tactics may still occur on campuses nationwide, social media sites, frequented and used by many young adults, allow a sense of anonymity that lead some people to act out their frustrations, leading to a change in terminology to cyber bullying.
The state of California has anti-bullying laws that cover cyber bullying, according to the government website stopbullying.gov. Under the law, gender, religion, race and nationality, are just a few examples that are protected from discrimination or harassment.
Pierce College has no specific wording regarding cyber bullying in its Standards of Student Conduct, which applies to each campus that make up the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) and can be found on Pierce’s website, but it states that “all persons shall respect and obey civil and criminal law, and shall be subject to legal penalties for violations of laws of the city, county, state and nation,” according to policy.
College campuses value and promote a person’s right to free speech, but at what point does free speech cross the boundary into discriminatory or hate speech?
“Just by people suggesting that their safety is of concern, it’s outrageous, it’s just an opposing political belief,” Aula said. “I just think that people making those claims need to look into what the words support. Political speech, you can just pretty much say anything you want as long as it’s true and factual.”
MEChA chapters from other colleges such as CSUN’s and UCLA’s, expressed solidarity with MEChA de Pierce after hearing about the offending posts made on Facebook by the Pierce Republican group. Some campus officials, as well as the sheriff department, were also notified, according to Rovero.
”On Friday evening we were made aware of the situation that there had been a post from August,” said Juan Carlos Astorga, dean of student engagement. “We began to look at it, as well as talk to the individuals that were involved.”
Campus officials began to look into whether or not the LA Pierce College Republicans were a chartered club. As of the publishing date of this story, representatives from the club have yet to file the necessary paperwork to become a chartered Pierce club and has no association with the campus, according to Astorga. The deadline to file is Thursday, Sept. 22 at 4p.m.
“When we were made aware of the Facebook page, our conversation became, what do we do as a campus to create a community that fosters respect for all individuals and will allow critical thinking to be shared across any political perspective,” Astorga said. “The political spectrum currently, because it’s an election year, can be volatile and it can push people’s buttons.”
Because of the element of politics in this controversy, guaranteeing the safety of the MEChA members that were specifically named have become an issue and the sheriff’s department have been notified of the situation, according to Astorga.
“I have been called and informed on what’s going on there, we still don’t know much information to determine it, or where this is actually going” said Al Guerrero, deputy for the sheriff’s department on campus. “With social media goes, there’s a lot of pages, and sites [to go through], it takes a while to go through that.”
Despite the investigation the sheriff’s department are conducting that is still ongoing, Diaz and Rovero remain cautious and vigilant for their safety.
“I’ve been defamated [sic] and threatened online,” Diaz said. “The ones that were named, myself, my professor and another student, there’s definitely some risk. You can locate which classroom you’re at and we’re ASO clubs so we’re going to be at ASO meetings and events. There’s always that risk that we’ll be confronted.”
“I go to teach,” Rovero said. “I have a family. I don’t go to work to be threatened.”