In late 2017, Dr. Albert Ponce, a political science professor at Diablo Valley College (DVC) in Northern California, received violent threats via email, phone calls, and social media following a public lecture on history and white supremacy, which was allegedly recorded and edited by a student and posted on the internet without Ponce’s knowledge or consent. Ponce is one of many educators and colleges and universities that are being targeted by organized right-wing groups for their liberal or leftist views on political, sociological, and historical topics. These groups are using students to film and expose teachers lecturing in class or giving pubic talks that challenge conservative orthodoxy, often encouraging some type of action against them, which causes concerns for the safety of the faculty members, their families, and their jobs. The right to academic freedom and freedom of speech is now an instrument of battle between the left and the right at US college campuses, which has led some educators to fear teaching about important but controversial topics, especially in the social sciences.
The Red-Elephants, a far-right group, started a Facebook page called “FILM Your Marxist Professors,” and persuaded students to post videos of their professors. Ponce’s video is the first posted on the site, and is still viewable as of March 28, 2019. The video is made of edited and mashed up clips from the public lecture, which takes many statements out of context and leaves the viewer to make their own inferences. Over 4.5 thousand comments of hate and threats are posted to the video, including, “Hang the prick” and “… (He’s at) Diablo Valley College…Go get him killer!” These comments remain posted, despite Facebooks policy against hate speech and violence. The “Film Your Marxist Professors” Facebook page continues to recruit students to film and post their teachers, offering anonymity to those who submits footage.
Ponce had to take protective measures to ensure his and his family’s safety. Despite the calls for his dismissal by some vocal students and outside groups claiming to be conservatives, he continues to teach at DVC on a tenure track with support of the faculty and administration. Additionally, The American Association of University Professors has recorded 50 incidents of reported harassment from professors nationwide since fall of 2016, almost half of which included violent threats. Educators who are LGBTQ, women, or people of color were harassed at higher rates than their white male counterparts.
Fox News reported on Ponce’s lecture on January 31, 2018; however the Fox report failed to include the actions that followed by right-wing extremist groups, including the call for students to film their teachers in class and repeated violent threats that ensued afterwards. One News Now, The College Fix, and The Red Elephant websites also failed to report the threats, but included additional calls for students to continue posting videos of their teachers. Coverage from these sites also included various edited versions of Ponce’s public talk, showing just minutes of the hour.
Source: Brian Howey, “Right-wing groups are recruiting students to target teachers,” Reveal News, October 30, 2018, https://www.revealnews.org/article/right-wing-groups-are-recruiting-students-to-target-teachers/.
Student Researcher: LaTosha Stockholm (Diablo Valley College) and Elsa Denis (University of California, Davis)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)