Student Approached by Police After Attempts to Audit Class

2015

In the piece, the term “trans*” is used.  Trans* is used as an inclusive umbrella term for various identities in the trans community. 

After continuous attempts to audit PSYC 159S-01 “Queer Intimacies,” police approached UC Santa Cruz student John Fernandez on April 8.

The class, taught by professor Phillip Hammack, covers the topics of relationship diversity and relationships in which one or more individuals identifies as trans, bisexual, pansexual, queer or asexual.

“As a queer person that has and continues to struggle navigating my identities and engaging in intimacies, I was drawn to the class with the desire to learn, grow and ground my queer experience in a class setting,” Fernandez, who identifies as a queer, trans* Pilipinx immigrant, said in a statement regarding the incident. 

In sharing their experience, Fernadez aims to change the way similar situations are addressed. 

After being told they couldn’t audit the class on the first day of the quarter, Fernandez, whose pronouns are they/them, chose to persist in their attempt. Due to the course’s intimate discussions, Hammack adheres to a strict formal enrollment policy. 

“[The enrollment policy] ensures that students will be consistent in their attendance and participation,” Hammack said. “They are bound by the policies regarding confidentiality indicated on the syllabus.”

Fernandez went on to email Hammack, proposing the idea of a facilitated, in-class discussion where they could talk about their situation and address Hammack’s concerns. Fernandez said he was met with a reply from Gail Black, the field study coordinator of the psychology department.

Hammack said Fernandez failed to respond to any emails from department staff and student conduct staff.

“I was upset by this not only because Phil passed on the burden of having to deal with the situation to the department,” Fernandez said in their statement, “but also because this [is] a contradiction to the spirit of the class […] and Phil’s position as the director of the Sexual and Gender Diversity Lab.”

On April 8, Fernandez chose to stand outside the class while it was in session in hopes of having another conversation with Hammack. Psychology department chair Campbell Leaper and teaching assistant Logan Barsigian approached Fernandez. To Fernandez’s surprise, police arrived shortly after.

UC Santa Cruz Police Chief Nader Oweis said the police department received a call that someone was disturbing the peace at Social Sciences 1. The police assessment of the incident lasted about one hour. Oweis said Fernandez chose to leave the situation. 

Hammack and Barsigian agreed that police involvement was excessive for the specific situation. 

Hammack recognized that his reports about Fernandez to the department catalyzed the decision to engage the police, but expressed regret that the situation escalated to police involvement that caused Fernandez or any other student discomfort.  

“I am troubled by how quickly and easily police became involved in this situation, particularly given John’s heightened vulnerability as a trans student of color,” Barsigian said. “I deeply regret not doing more to prevent this escalation, especially from my relatively privileged position as a white trans person and as a graduate student.”

Oweis wanted to make it clear that anyone who feels uncomfortable in a situation should feel safe reaching out to the UCSC police.

“I don’t want this particular incident to discourage anyone from feeling comfortable calling [the police],” Oweis said. “Our goal is to keep everyone safe and  comfortable.”

All parties involved in the situation expressed desire to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. Hammack said he and the other parties involved are currently in the process of scheduling a restorative justice meeting regarding the incident. 

“This issue goes beyond Phil, [Campbell], Logan and me,” Fernandez said in a statement. “It is structural. I wish to share my perspective and I hope that this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the future. I do not wish to escalate this issue as it already has but for this conversation to […] be resolved through community dialogue.”


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