Teaching Under Trump: One Adjunct's Story
This post is by Kevin Allred, who is my Queero (that’s Queer-hero to you laypeople), tattoo-inspiration, and most importantly, an amazing theorist of race and gender. What happened to him strikes me as the type of epistemological violence that is contributing to the demise of higher education. His story is important. Until he was fired and his course materials stolen, he taught a wildly popular undergraduate class that utilizes Beyonce to make black feminism accessible to undergraduates. The way in which he was discredited, shut off from his own work, and exploited just tells me that academia thinks it wants radical thinking, but just not too much. It is also important to know he was in a Gender Studies program. To assume women can’t be complicit in systems of oppression and erasure if they are rewarded for it by the patriarchal structure is essentialist. And a dangerous assumption.
Eighteen months ago, the NYPD showed up at my apartment unannounced, interrogated me about my teaching (I was an adjunct lecturer at Rutgers University, had been for years with consistently stellar student evaluations I might add), and forced me to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at Bellevue Hospital. All thanks to the completely inept escalation of a fabricated student complaint by Rutgers University personnel and the Rutgers Police Department.
In the months since, I’ve thoroughly investigated and extensively documented the outrageous chain of events initiated by a still unnamed student’s father and Rutgers University. In the moment, I was terrified. The police had no warrant and entered my apartment without asking permission. They asked a barrage of questions that made no sense at the time — “did you burn an American flag in class today?;” “where are the guns in the house?;” “did you threaten to kill any white students today?” (no, there are none, no) — and demanded I undergo psychiatric evaluation. I refused multiple times; they refused to leave. They threatened me with force and arrest.
I was eventually transported by ambulance to Bellevue where, the NYPD made a point of threatening, doctors could hold me for up to 72 hours. As the night wore on, I began to surmise the initial NYPD questioning might be referring to a week earlier, the very day after the 2016 election of Donald Trump. I had held an open forum in my classes for my students to talk about the way they were feeling in the immediate aftermath of the election. Many of my students were women, immigrants, children of immigrants, LGBTQ+, people of color, Muslim, or belonged to any number of other groups facing drastic changes and violence under a Trump regime.
In all fairness, I did have an American flag in class. And I asked students if they wanted to burn it or cut it up as an act of protest. An act of political speech protected by the Constitution I might add. We never did though. It never left its Target shopping bag and I returned it later. (I certainly wasn’t going to waste $15 on an American flag for no reason.) We talked about a wide variety of political issues that day, and at one point I did make a flippant comment, in the form of a rhetorical question, about whether conservative white people would second-guess their staunch, unrestricted support of the 2nd Amendment if they were the ones constantly targeted and gunned down on city streets. I also tweeted these same thoughts on my personal Twitter account later that evening as I wallowed in my own depression over the election results.
Despite the NYPD’s threats, the doctors at Bellevue quickly evaluated me, found me to be nowhere near a threat to myself or others, and expressed their own outrage that I was forced to submit to an evaluation to begin with. I was luckily released after a few hours. But things were far from over. Rutgers University informed me shortly thereafter that, despite passing the psych eval, I was being placed on administrative leave for “an alleged incident of workplace violence” and a possible violation of the school’s Anti-Discrimination policy. The workplace violence, I later found out, was in reference to a second-hand claim that I directly threatened my students (which I never did) and the discrimination referenced alleged my disfavor towards a “protected group,” — a group Rutgers identified as “white people” (which is also unfounded).
Little did I know at the time, but the class session I mentioned spiraled into an exaggerated, fabricated complaint against me: a parent’s father called both a Dean at Rutgers and the Rutgers Police Department naming me an imminent threat on November 15, 2016 (despite a week having already passed from the already non-threatening events in class). Media later focused on my tweets, but the complaint that sparked police action was actually a lie about what took place in the classroom. This student’s parent alleged that I forced all students to cut up an American flag and that I directly threatened every white student in my classroom, told them that I would kill them. The parent then alleged that my tweets from that same night, in retrospect, backed up their (false) allegations. Not once, did Rutgers attempt to corroborate any of the claims or make a good-faith effort to speak to me about anything before involving NYPD (since I live in Brooklyn). I had been on campus much of November 15 and was returning at 8 am for my classes on November 16 (something I did despite being detained at Bellevue for much of the night).
I was banned from the Rutgers campus and from discussing the situation with anyone while Rutgers themselves conducted an internal investigation. I was removed from my courses for the remainder of the semester. Rutgers’ investigation lasted 99 days (100 days being the limit for these investigations) while my adjunct contract ran out and couldn’t be renewed. In my opinion, that action was tantamount to being fired. I was ultimately cleared of everything alleged against me, as I knew I would be having done nothing wrong, but I was still out of a job and Rutgers refused and continues to refuse to publicize their own report findings in my favor, pay the nearly $2k in medical bills I accrued for the baseless psych eval (with no health insurance as an adjunct), or issue a statement exonerating me and clearing my name. I’m still struggling to find enough work to pay my bills over a year later..
All the students interviewed backed up my version of events. Even the student whose parent originally complained walked back their story, stating they never felt threatened. Further, the student cited me having told the class that 53% of white women voters voted for Trump as the only evidence that my teaching was hateful to white people. It’s all in Rutgers’ own report. Since that night, my life hasn’t been the same and I believe Rutgers has an ethical role in righting the wrongs they created.
I filed a complaint with the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board which substantiated my claim that I was forcibly and unlawfully removed from my apartment that night. A small victory. I’ve also received countless death threats online, by phone, in the mail continuously over the past year. I can find precious little work because Rutgers won’t publicize their own findings that I did nothing wrong. Rutgers employees are still barred from communicating with me, which includes providing letters of recommendation. I developed and taught the “Politicizing Beyoncé” course at Rutgers, without any help or support from my own department, that brought the school enormous positive publicity and continues to do so. But I’m being denied any and all support myself, thrown under the bus in favor of a fabricated complaint by a conservative student despite my tireless work.
Allison here: as always, you can get in touch with me through my contact page, and if you want to hear more about the amazing work Kevin does, check out his website here