By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Editor’s note: We chose this story about alleged discrimination at Bellevue Community College because it portrays how institutional racism can still occur today. We have no updates on this case as Leslie Lum has been unavailable for follow-up comments.
With a combined 45 years of instruction at Bellevue Community College, three members of its faculty are “willing to take some risks,” according to Kim Pollock, in their fight against alleged discrimination.
Pollock, Leslie Lum, and Akemi Matsumoto — three of six women known as the BCC Women of Color — presented their cases at a community information session Feb. 11 at the Chinese Information and Service Center.
About 20 people gathered to hear the responses from BCC administrators and some white faculty members to both their formal complaints and suggested remedies, which include increasing the number of minority employees and students, accountability and “progressive discipline” for those engaged in harassment.
According to Matsumoto, a total of four Asian/Pacific Islander American female faculty members filed complaints, including about the lack of advancement opportunities and inequity in pay. Lum, a faculty member for the last 10 years, made about $74,000 less in 2006 than a white female instructor with only five years of teaching experience.
Matsumoto feels institutional racism exists at BCC. “Another one (APIA female) has undergone retaliation for her complaint. So, this is just a pattern, and it’s pervasive, and it’s almost every woman of color at the college,” she said.
According to Lum, BCC’s response to a complaint filed by Matsumoto of the lack of advancement opportunities was that “President (Jean Floten) may have missed some candidates who would have been strong candidates. That said, there is no legal mandate to use the best, possible hiring practices or open each position to all who may be interested.”
Pollock, a Black member for the last 16 years, told the group Executive Dean Ron Leatherborrow approved her idea to establish a department of ethnic and cultural studies in 2001 but provided no support. With “no compensation,” she explained, “I created a whole department on my own, creating the courses, growing the courses, finding faculty members to teach in it.”
For the last five years, Matsumoto — a faculty member for the last 19 years — worked on a program called “Courageous Conversations About Race,” a weekly “interracial dialogue” about “race, racism and whiteness” that required her to work extra hours on weekends and evenings.
She said BCC continues to undermine the program and the response to her complaint was as insulting as BCC’s lack of support.
“The vice president for human resources (Lucy Macneil) said the reason why there wasn’t support for my program was because she has a history of letting things fall through the cracks, and she was really, really busy,” Matsumoto noted.
Matsumoto defined pluralism as “what you do with the diversity once you have it.”
“When we do the work of pluralism that gets the college noticed, and yet, we are not compensated for our work, it tells the college community, it tells the community at large, that work on issues of race, class and gender are not important,” said Pollock.
“Therefore, the work itself is devalued along with the people who do the work,” she continued.
Pollock reminded the audience, “Racism happens for profit. It would not happen if there were not someone profiting from racism.” (end)
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.