San Jose community college delays ethnic studies hire after protests
Members of Evergreen Valley College and Indigenous residents rallied against the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District board hiring someone who isn't Native American for a class focused on Native American studies. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Nearly 600 community members signed an online petition within days of its launching to oppose the hiring of a non-Native instructor for Evergreen Valley College’s first full-time Native American studies teaching position.

    Indigenous students, faculty and residents with feathers and ceremonial drums protested at the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District meeting on Tuesday, with signs reading “Nothing about us without us is for us.” The board was set to approve the hiring of ethnic studies instructor Ryan Tripp at the meeting, but unanimously voted to put the decision on hold. Advocates said the hiring of a non-Native instructor furthers the discrimination that Indigenous communities have faced for generations.

    “We have the opportunity to bring somebody in to give representation to the Native American students we have on campus, and we dropped the ball,” Professor Arturo Villareal told San José Spotlight. He teaches ethnic studies at Evergreen Valley College.

    Villareal said ethnic studies is meant to directly highlight the experiences of students of color, and a core tenet  is to hire instructors from marginalized communities. The Evergreen Valley College ethnic studies department had no say in the final hiring decision, he added. Ethnic studies examines the histories, issues and struggles of different ethnic groups in an effort to address current-day experiences.

    Tripp, a history and ethnic studies adjunct professor, said he declined the job offer via email Tuesday night after attending the meeting remotely and hearing opposition from the local Native community for the first time. He said he identifies as multiracial and does not identify as Native American, but has personal ties to the Native community due to his father’s family roots in 20th century Andean Indigenous culture.

    Tripp said Native American studies is a subject he’s researched throughout his academic career, including his doctorate program.

    “If the Native community does not support not just me, or any given individual in a Native American studies position, I don’t believe that the person should be teaching Native Studies at that college,” Tripp told San José Spotlight.

    The San Jose-Evergreen Community College District board on May 9, 2023 unanimously decided to table the vote to a later date. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    The community college district reviewed its hiring process after concerns were raised about the selection. The district used the same process as it would for any other full-time faculty position, a spokesperson said at the meeting. The district has two campuses: Evergreen Valley College and San Jose City College.

    Maria Fuentes, vice president of the San Jose Evergreen Community College District board, said board members are listening to students and residents.

    “The community and our educators have asked us to look at this and to take this very seriously,” Fuentes said. “If we table it, we can figure out how to resolve it.”

    Evergreen Valley College student Marcus Rodriguez said students should be taught by an instructor who has endured the trauma and daily struggles of Indigenous people. He told the board it was offensive not to hire someone from the community.

    “I don’t want a non-Native teaching what my ancestors have lived through,” Rodriguez said.

    Data from the National Indian Education Association reveals 0.5% of teachers nationwide are Indigenous, with Indigenous students making up 1% of the student population. In Santa Clara County, the Indigenous population makes up 1.2%, according to census data.

    Resident Ray Techicuauhtli Baeza said there are plenty of qualified Indigenous educators to fill the role, and fixing the hiring process requires input from Indigenous students and staff.

    “It’s more than just having a degree from a college or university,” Baeza told San José Spotlight. “It’s also living in the communities, understanding what life is like, understanding the ceremonies, understanding the songs, understanding the history, the way of life that we live.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter. Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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