The faculty director for a California college’s Office of Equity, Social Justice and Multicultural Education says she’s being terminated after she questioned antiracist “orthodoxy,” objected to the college’s land acknowledgments for an Indigenous tribe, tried to bring a “Jewish inclusion” event to campus, declined to join a “socialist network,” refused to use the gender-neutral terms “Latinx” and “Filipinx,” inquired why the word “Black” was capitalized but not “white,” and allegedly disrespected a founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Tabia Lee also wrote, in a narrative explaining her situation, that “I no longer participate in gender pronouns because I find that the same toxic ideologies around race ideologies are now being advanced under gender ideologies; I also find that the constant obsession with pronouns and declaration of pronouns causes deep discomfort for individuals who identify as gender fluid or who struggle with gender dysphoria.”
Lee (at right) is Black. She said an employee in her office accused her of “white speaking,” “whitesplaining” and supporting white supremacy.
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Leaders and employees at De Anza College, the community college where Lee has been working on contract as a tenure-track faculty member, didn’t comment Thursday. A spokeswoman for the community college district that includes both De Anza and Foothill College wrote in an email that the district “has an obligation to protect privacy in personnel matters.”
“Without commenting on any specific matter, we can share that faculty members have comprehensive due process and appeals rights both under the law and negotiated through their bargaining unit,” the email said.
Cheryl Jaeger Balm, De Anza’s Academic Senate president and one of the people Lee accuses of working against her, wrote in an email that “we have been instructed to refer your inquiry” to the district spokeswoman.
Though she hasn’t yet filed a lawsuit—she told Inside Higher Ed she hasn’t “ruled it out”—Lee is now receiving support from the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR).
That organization filed an amicus brief in favor of the plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit who are trying to end affirmative action in college admissions. Megyn Kelly, Steven Pinker and Thomas Chatterton Williams are on its Board of Advisers.
“Our mission is to advance civil rights and liberties for all Americans,” said staff attorney Leigh Ann O’Neill, “and I guess the way we approach that is by promoting our common humanity, so we often refer to it as the pro-human approach.”
“In Dr. Lee’s case specifically, what I think is so important about the work she is doing is she is fostering open inquiry and diverse viewpoints and discussions among the people she is teaching,” O’Neill said. “And that is very much in line with FAIR’s approach. We don’t think that there’s one right way to do most things. It takes understanding different approaches, different viewpoints to find the right path forward.”
“We are often asked to support lawsuits,” O’Neill said, “so if she chooses to pursue legal action, we will be very eager to support her.”
Lee provided a letter that O’Neill wrote Friday to the community college district’s Board of Trustees. The letter urges the board to reject a recommendation by Judy Miner, the district’s chancellor, to not re-employ Lee next academic year.
Nevertheless, in another letter that Lee provided Inside Higher Ed, Miner notified her Tuesday that the board had voted Monday not to re-employ her “as a contract employee.”
Miner wrote that the reasons included Lee’s “Persistent inability to demonstrate cooperation in working with colleagues and staff,” her “Unwillingness to accept constructive criticism” and “No expectation on the part of the Tenure Review Committee after completion of Phases I and II that improvements in these two critical areas can ever be achieved.” Miner wrote that the board wouldn’t publicly report the decision until Lee exhausted her appeals.
“In all of the teacher education things I’ve done and been exposed to in more recent years, there are lots of ideologies being pushed—lots of time a single one, but no one names what it is,” Lee told Inside Higher Ed.
“I was told that [I] was supposed to only advance what at that time I was calling a third-wave antiracism ideology,” Lee said.
Lee’s page on the De Anza College website includes a link to a Feb. 28 essay that uses that term. The essay was published on a Substack website called the “Journal of Free Black Thought.”
Lee also provided a narrative of the alleged backlash at De Anza, beginning shortly after she started the position in August 2021. Lee said her Tenure Review Committee was reconstituted because she filed a grievance after being told she wouldn’t be recommended for continuance—before the Tenure Review Committee had handed down the decision.
“While the main or initial harasser resigned at the end of the 21-22 school year, the damage was already done,” Lee wrote. “One of his mentors—the same individual who invited me to the socialist network and accuse(d) me of disrespecting [Black Lives Matter co-founder] Alicia Garza—was seated on my Tenure Review Committee until she was removed as part of a grievance settlement.
“But her longtime friend, the dean of equity and engagement remained seated on the phase II committee and the games continued,” Lee wrote. “So, reconstituting the committee and replacing the old players with similarly aligned players didn’t stop me from encountering some really ugly opposition from third-wave antiracist woke activists who don’t care too much for me because I have not uncritically supported their narratives or ways of knowing/working.”
Lee also wrote that “I had to battle with my dean and my core team to bring the Jewish Inclusion and Antisemitism Summit to De Anza.” She wrote that the student government “passed a resolution condemning Israel for human rights abuses … and made no condemnation of other countries that are known human rights abuse offenders—but there is no issues here, right?”
“I was accused of ‘not being gender inclusive’ for not using the terms Latinx and Filipinx,” she wrote. “I explained to folks that I had served for decades in Latino communities and grew up in the Central Valley and that those terms did not originate in the working class communities I had served and worked with; in addition, I found these terms to be linguistic imperialism and an inappropriate attempt to make beautiful languages conform to English speaking social norms.”
She also said the college was acknowledging the wrong tribe for the land acknowledgments.
“I was called a ‘bitch’ and ‘dictatorial’ for calling for a moratorium on our land acknowledgement practices until we could incorporate changes suggested by Tribal Nations for real action and so that we could properly recognize the Tamien Nation as indigenous to De Anza College land,” Lee wrote.
“These exercises are done with a pseudo-religious flavor and they demand the compliance and agreement of all who are in attendance,” Lee wrote. “This is one of the reasons why I no longer engage in or encourage others to engage in Land Acknowledgments, Labor Acknowledgments, or Trauma/Victim/Survivor Acknowledgments.”
She said, “another evaluator asked me why I was telling people about race ideologies and didn’t I think that it’s a dangerous idea to promote the ideas of Sheena Mason.” Mason is an assistant professor at the Oneonta campus of the State University of New York who wrote “Theory of Racelessness: A Case for Antirace(ism).”
“I argue to undo racism we have to undo our belief in race and our practice of racialization,” Mason said Thursday.
“That imposition of me seeing you as a fill-in-the-blank person, that practice automatically puts us in antagonistic relationship with each other which is then magnified depending on our politics,” Mason said.
“I love Lee,” Mason said. “I think she makes—I think she has a lot to learn, like any of us, and I think that because she’s aligned herself with my ways of thinking about race, in terms of my philosophies or my conclusions, that she makes the mistake of wanting to skip to the good part in some ways, like this idea that we can just automatically get rid of affinity groups.”
Lee doesn’t go that far in her narrative, but she provided a video of a community college district board meeting in which De Anza College groups representing Asian and Latino people criticize her.
“It is alarming that, not only is Dr. Lee refusing to do the work she was hired to do, she is actively seeking to undo the years of hard work toward antiracism that so many of us have painstakingly contributed to,” one speaker in the video said.
“I was very honest about who I am when I interviewed and I was supposedly selected because I was the strongest candidate and because the ‘wokeism’ from my office had slowed down equity progress on the campus because they were using divisive techniques like calling out people for ineffective teaching but not offering any solutions or suggestions to them and accusing them of being racist or not woke enough,” Lee wrote in her narrative.
Mason said Lee was put in “to be the token Black woman” but was expected to think one way.
“So you’re Black, so you’re supposed to think one way?” Mason said. “How is that not dehumanizing?”
Lee said, “I don’t have ideological or viewpoint fidelity to anyone. I’m looking for what’s going to help people and what will help our students and how we can be better teachers and our best teaching selves.”