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Racial profiling and teaching while Black at VCU

Caitlin Cherry, an African American visiting professor at VCUarts, had campus police called on her while eating breakfast two weeks ago. / (Photo: Caitlin Cherry in her studio. Brooklyn Museum “Raw/Cooked: Caitlin Cherry,” June 7 – September 1, 2013, Photo by Pierce Jackson

By Stacy M. Brown

Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder was forced to wonder aloud – on social media and his own website – about racism at a prominent commonwealth school after a Black professor was questioned regarding whether she really was a faculty member.

“The recent experience at [Virginia Commonwealth University] is shocking,” said Wilder, who expressed his displeasure on Twitter and on his own website, Wilder Visions.

Caitlin Cherry, a Black VCUarts visiting professor, said a colleague called campus security on her while she ate breakfast in her assigned classroom earlier this month.

The professor said Javier Tapia, a white-Hispanic professor, walked into the classroom and did not respond to her greeting before leaving. Minutes later, a security guard entered the room and asked her if she was a faculty member, and to see her identification.

The entire episode was first reported in a Wilder Visions column written by contributor Sara Elson.

Cherry said she told Shawn Brixey, the school’s dean, what happened. She said Brixey apologized and promised an investigation, according to Elson’s column.

VCUarts then turned the investigation over to VCU Equity and Access Services, a university spokesperson confirmed — the investigation is ongoing.

Tapia declined comment on the situation.

“Had I not have had my ID … I don’t know what could have happened,” Cherry said.

“I feel a lot of different ways about this, particularly as a black woman, because now the situation escalates to the point of people dying.”

Elson pointed out that the event has since prompted outrage among students, and an apology from the arts department.

It comes amid a string of incidents — some of which have gone viral on social media — in which white people called the police on Black people for ordinary activities like sleeping in their university dorm and holding a barbecue in a public park.

On Oct. 30, five days after the dorm and barbecue incidents, VCUarts apologized on its Instagram page and website.

“VCU and the School of the Arts value and celebrate diversity in all of its forms; support thoughtful, informed and inclusive action; and are committed to empowering community values in which individuals of different perspectives, life experiences, cultural backgrounds, and social identities feel safe and are welcomed,” department officials wrote.

School officials also sent out a department-wide email to students and faculty apologizing and providing links for reporting incidents and providing support resources.

Prior to publishing Cherry’s incident on his website, Wilder reflected.

“I recently spoke at the Ribbon Cutting for the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU,” said Wilder, who served in the Virginia Senate from 1970 to 1986 before being elected as lieutenant governor and then winning election to governor in 1990.

Later, Wilder would also serve as mayor of Richmond from 2005 to 2009.

“At that time, I said I remembered when I could not come into the building and be seated at the soda fountain,” he said.

“The recent experience of Teaching While Black at VCU is shocking. Is this what we have 50 years after the school was founded?”

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