SBCC Board of Trustees Votes on BLM Resolution

By Jun Starkey   |   July 2, 2020

Not since the Civil Rights Movement more than 60 years ago, has the country experienced such a revolution of attitudes about race and justice in America.

The killing of George Floyd and several other recent deaths of unarmed Black people at the hands of law enforcement has sparked massive outrage across a nation, where millions temporarily put aside a pandemic in favor of protest.

In this age of the Internet and social media, the battles for justice are no longer just waged in person. A generation of people who grew up with phones in their pockets and WiFi more ubiquitous than television has found its first defining, seminal moment of no return.

Even the moderate paradise of Santa Barbara was not immune to the revolution.

Santa Barbara’s government leaders aren’t known for their ability to respond quickly to the changes or concerns raised by the community. So it’s remarkable that in recent weeks just about every government panel and board has passed some kind of resolution in support of Black Lives Matter and those who died at the hands of cops.

But since it’s Santa Barbara, it’s complicated.

That was on full display last week when the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees, widely regarded as one of the best community colleges in the nation, voted on a resolution meant to affirm its commitment to Black students, faculty and staff.

While the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta and the county Board of Supervisors passed their resolutions swiftly, City College trustees debated over semantics and implications.

The resolution passed 5-2 Thursday, and includes a statement condemning police brutality and affirming that Black lives matter, as well as plans to involve Black faculty, students and staff more in efforts to address racial inequity.

The two trustees who voted against the resolution, Craig Nielsen and Veronica Gallardo, clashed with the rest of the board over the addition of two words, as well as the capitalization of the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter.’

“We are just, in this resolution, affirming three simple words, which are Black lives matter,” said Trustee Jonathan Abboud during the meeting.

Santa Barbara City College is no stranger to racial controversies.

After an administrator used the unabbreviated N-word during a gender and equity meeting in November 2018, students protested at the following Board of Trustees meetings, calling for her to be fired. The college also briefly became a segment on Fox News after the Board of Trustees stopped reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at its meetings, citing the pledge’s history of white nationalism.

More recently, the college’s campus climate survey revealed a great lack of trust between employees and campus leadership.

Trustee Abboud told the Montecito Journal the resolution was also a partial response to the discontent on campus.

“We didn’t have a response at all last year,” he said. “It’s catching up to us.”

Initially, Nielsen only advocated for the addition of the word “identifying,” to the statement about dismantling racial inequity.

“I want more emphasis on identifying what to dismantle,” he said. This minor amendment was passed later in the meeting, but Nielsen went on to say that he did not agree with the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ itself.

“I’m one of those weird people that thinks all lives matter,” Nielsen said. “Black lives matter, but all lives matter.”

Trustee Gallardo, whose seat, along with Nielsen’s, are on the ballot this November, looked into the Black Lives Matter group after reading the resolution. She was apparently unaware that Black Lives Matter was associated with calls to defund the police.

Trustees Abboud and Croninger, who co-authored the resolution, insisted the statement was meant to be interpreted as a phrase, not an endorsement of an organization. 

However, Gallardo maintained her belief that the capitalization of the whole phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ was intentional.

She said she could not, in her capacity as a first-grade teacher, support something that called to defund the police. She also refused any suggestion to alter the phrase.

“I don’t want to frame it another way… I don’t want you to lowercase it because that wasn’t the intent,” Gallardo said.

For other board members, it wasn’t a moment to start slicing and dicing the micro-definition of words.

“I don’t think we’re here to debate defunding the police,” said Abboud. “We are not endorsing a platform.”

On June 23 at the Santa Barbara Unified School District, the vote was unanimous, but came after a massive protest that led to a list of demands delivered at the district’s doorstep.

Government resolutions are usually top-down, where a bureaucrat or a politician wants to take a symbolic stand on a hot-button issue. In this case, these resolutions were brought by activists and students, by people of color, not asking for change, but demanding it.

Laura Capps, president of the Board of Education, said she felt the need to respond quickly to the students’ demands.

“Students came to us,” Capps said. “Their leadership was so impactful we wanted to act as fast as possible.”

The school board also approved the content for two new ethnic studies courses, as stated in the students’ demands.

“The learning never stops,” Capps said. “We need to listen to students.”

The Santa Barbara City Council also unanimously passed a resolution condemning police brutality, and declaring racism a public health emergency.

City College instructor and Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon told the Montecito Journal she supports the movement. For her, it’s not about criticizing cops, but recognizing a real situation that many people in the community experience.

“We have to move out of the mode of thinking we are attacking police with this,” said Sneddon. “It’s about setting intention, and you can’t address a problem until you acknowledge the problem.”


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