Sacramento college accused of cultural insensitivity


SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Reduction of class time for an American Indian instructor at an area junior college sparked several demonstrations. Supporters claim her teaching time was reduced for political reasons because she was helping start an ethnic studies program at the college.

Sacramento City College decided to reduce the class load taught by Yolanda Tauzer, an Eastern Cherokee, after the current semester, claiming her classes were not meeting the minimum enrollment requirements. A support group for Tauzer is organizing several protests and is accusing Sacramento City College of "outright Indian racism."

Reportedly Tauzer taught the Native American History class the past four years. Sacramento City College decided to offer her class once a year rather than once a semester. A short time after Tauzer complained to the administration, she found out from a student in class that she was going to be replaced by a non-Indian.

The college administration cited limited interest in her class as a reason for reducing it to once a year. Insiders say she was pulling in about 16 students per semester and other classes with much more limited interest were not subject to similar treatment.

The administration cited the fact Tauzer is only a part-time instructor and said it was felt the position should go to someone who taught full time, in accordance with union rules. An administrator said Tauzer has not been dismissed and will be offered one of the "staff" position classes on the fall schedule.

"We will certainly offer her a class. She had good student evaluations last time around and we certainly have not dismissed her," said Cari Forbes-Boyte, dean of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Division.

Forbes-Boyte, who wrote her master's thesis on the Konkow Maidu tribe, went on to say the administration does not participate in the discussions to establish specific curriculum. Curriculum is designed by the faculty and submitted to the administration for approval.

Asked if the administration would approve the ethnic studies curriculum, Forbes-Boyte said she has some reservations on the proposal and thinks some changes need to be made.

She added that the demonstrations have only attracted national media attention because some of those taking part are "very media savvy."

Observers say demonstrators during the rally numbered about 30 to 50 at any given time.

Tauzer said she feels Forbes-Boyte's comments are misleading. The "staff" position she will most likely be offered is a general education U.S. History class, a position Tauzer said she finds unacceptable. She wants to teach the American Indian History class.

"I mean we have an African-American teaching that history class, we have an Asian American and a Mexican American teaching those histories, why are they not being similarly sensitive to Native Americans?" Tauzer asked.

Tauzer also cites a lack of sensitivity by the school administration in their handling of the situation. The schedule books are printed in February and her student informed Tauzer of the schedule change in late March.

Questioned about time lag and information gap, Tauzer said Forbes-Boyte and the administration gave several "very silly excuses."

Dr. Sanford Wright coordinates the ethnic studies program at nearby Solano Community College in Fairfield. He consulted with Sacramento City College while personnel were drafting a plan for the ethnic studies program.

Wright said he met with Tauzer and the administration several times. He notes that Tauzer has widespread support from the local American Indian community and feels her prominence has led to some resentment.

"All of a sudden her work in establishing an ethnic studies department was taken away from her. It seems almost like it was personal," Wright said.

He confirmed that the person replacing Tauzer in the Native American History class is African-American, adding he believes the reason for this is to deflect charges of racism by Sacramento City College.

In one of several draft position letters, Tauzer supporters said they feel simply hiring a minority for a culturally specific position is in itself racism. They quote a recent article that appeared in the Sacramento Bee quoting Otis Scott, chairman of the Sacramento State Ethnic Studies Department.

Scott said the term minority is inappropriate as it attempts to homogenize diverse groups of people. The implication is this is what Sacramento City College is attempting to do with Tauzer's replacement.

Tauzer supporters developed a statement with three main points. The first calls for a reassignment of Tauzer to teach the Native American History class in the fall. The second is a request that specific ethnic studies courses be taught, whenever possible, by members of that ethnic group.

The third demands a letter from the school's Behavioral and Social Sciences Division to Tauzer, apologizing for the "shameful and demeaning treatment that Yolanda has been subjected to throughout this entire process."

The subject of part-time faculty is a hotly contested issue in California. Faculty unions are pushing for more full-time faculty and have accused schools of trying to save money by loading up on part-time faculty to avoid benefits costs. Tauzer said she has to teach at several junior colleges in order to piece together a living.

Susan Reece, a student at Sacramento City College and a Tauzer supporter, said her group has scheduled meetings with officials from the Los Rios College District, the governing entity for Sacramento City College.

"We're going to keep at them. I think she (Tauzer) has been treated terribly and we're just trying to do what we can."