Students, instructors speak out

Story By: Jordan Hoover

Both supporters and detractors of instructor Bradley Lopez have spoken out about reported teaching of anti-gay and religious beliefs in his Health Science 1 classes.

His accusers claim the long-time health instructor created a hostile environment that made students feel unsafe. His defenders argue that this is a case of an individual’s free speech rights, and that Lopez, a college professor, had a right to express his opinions in class.

FCC’s non-discrimination policy states: “Fresno City College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, age, or sexual orientation in any of its policies, procedures, or practices.”

Dr. Wendell Stephenson, a Fresno City College humanities instructor and a member of the Academic Senate, said that Lopez’s case requires balance.

Stephenson told The Rampage that he is concerned with the preservation of academic freedom but also that instructors should be held to the law in their teaching methods and practices.

“Academic freedom is a precious inheritance that we all benefit from,” he said. “On the other hand, like any freedom, it can be abused and people can be victimized.”

Stephenson and others sought to discuss the issue during the Feb. 10 Academic Senate meeting but it didn’t make the agenda.

Academic Senate President, Linda DeKruif, said that the open forum was not a time to bring up such issues. She explained that the Academic Senate is governed by the “Brown Act,” which requires that the minutes be posted 72 hours prior to the meeting which means agenda items cannot be added once the agenda is posted. Stephenson said the issue would likely be on the agenda for the Feb. 24 meeting.

Multiple students who have taken Lopez’s class told The Rampage that his statements were much more than an expression of his freedom. Lopez, they claim, expressed his opinions as facts. They argue that the professor’s conduct violated the college’s policy and their own right to learn in a non-hostile environment.

Three students – David Chenot, Jacqui Mahaffey and Jay Matthew – filed one of two formal grievances against Lopez.

Chenot, who took Lopez’s health class in fall 2009, said that in addition to anti-gay sentiments, Lopez brought religious bias into the classroom.

According to Chenot, Lopez once asked the class to use the Bible as evidence to determine if Jesus was haploid or diploid, a reference to his genetic makeup. Chenot remembers that Lopez also said that according to textbooks, cancer is the highest cause of death, but that the highest cause of death is actually abortion. Chenot said that when Lopez taught global warming, he cited a Bible verse and expressed that the apocalypse should be feared more.

Mahaffey also took Lopez’s class last semester and said that Lopez would say “derogatory things to students that were uncalled for.” For instance, when the class was learning about genetics, a student asked why a child would have brown hair if his father has black hair and his mother has blonde hair. Mahaffey said Lopez quipped, “Ask the milkman.”

Mahaffey said that those incidents, among others in Lopez’s class, had “created a hostile environment that made students feel unsafe to ask questions.”

Mahaffey reported her experiences to Jay Matthew, an FCC student and member of Erase the H8, a local activism group. Matthew, who was not a student of Lopez, told The Rampage that he immediately confronted Lopez in his classroom, where the instructor, according to Matthew, showed his slides to him.

Matthew said he asked Lopez to change the slides so that they were not offensive to students. According to Matthew, Lopez refused and wondered why Matthew wanted “facts” changed.

According to Matthew, Lopez asked  why he wasn’t instead concerned about “real people” dying in the war and from gang violence. Matthew said he responded: “Real people are dying in my [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community because of what you are teaching in your class.”

Mahaffey and Chenot said they expressed their concerns about the class to Carolyn Drake, the Dean of health sciences. The three students said they then filed a grievance with the dean against Professor Lopez but were informed nine days later that they had filled out the wrong form. The students said they were not previously told about which form to use. The grievance process is supposed to take five days, according to FCC grievance procedure.

After meeting with the Vice President of Instruction, Tony Cantu, Matthew said he learned that the grievance process didn’t begin when a student turned in the form, but when the professor receives the grievance form, a fact that he said isn’t made clear in the FCC grievance procedure. Lopez reportedly received the grievance in late November 2009.

The three students’ concerns, also noted by the American Civil Liberties Union in a letter to college administrators, also touched on the broader issue of the safety of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender, or LGBT, students campus wide.

Jerry Thurston, a communication professor and adviser for the Diversity Club, said safety is a legitimate issue. “Many of our LGBT students have reported feeling unsafe on this campus and feeling left out or invisible in a number of ways,” said Thurston.

    Thurston said that while he has not seen Professor Lopez’s PowerPoint lectures, he is passionate about equality for LGBT people.”They hear people saying things like, ‘that’s so gay;’ they don’t realize that many of our students, faculty, and staff feel unsafe and invisible by comments that they hear in class by instructors and just walking across campus,” Thurston said.

According to California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 (Assembly Bill 537), “All California public schools have a duty to protect students from discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”  

This bill also cites the California Constitution, pointing out that, “all students of public schools have the inalienable right to attend campuses that are safe, secure, and peaceful. Violence is the number one cause of death for young people in California and has become a public health problem of epidemic proportion.”

The bill recognizes that, “The fastest growing, violent crime in California is hate crime, and it is incumbent upon us to ensure that all students attending public school in California are protected from potentially violent discrimination.”

Staff writers Andrew Veihmeyer and Max Rosendahl contributed to this report.