Speakers at board meeting want OCC professor's 'fake award' revoked

The former president of the Orange Coast College Republicans club and more than a dozen others went to a Coast Community College District board meeting Wednesday to demand that their college's Faculty of the Year award be taken away from a professor seen calling now-President Trump's election victory "an act of terrorism" in a video recorded during her class last fall.

Joshua Recalde-Martinez was president of the OCC Republicans at the Costa Mesa college when the group posted the video of human-sexuality professor Olga Perez Stable Cox on its Facebook page in December.

On Wednesday, during the board's public comment period, he was backed by people holding signs with messages such as "OCC: Support all students" and "[Rescind] Olga Cox's Fake Award."

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At least eight people arrived wearing "Make America Great Again" hats — echoing Trump's campaign slogan — and a few held American flags.

The recording of Cox, made by a student Nov. 15, shows her apparently referring to Trump as a "white supremacist" and to now-Vice President Mike Pence as "one of the most anti-gay humans in this country."

The student, Caleb O'Neil, shared the video with the Republicans club because, he said later, he "felt as if all the eyes in the room were on me" because he was a Trump supporter.

Orange Coast College students or faculty members can nominate an instructor for the Faculty of the Year award.

The nominees are evaluated by a 10-member Professional Development Committee — composed of classified staff members, faculty, students and administrators — along with one member of the Academic Senate, Classified Senate and Associated Students and some past award recipients.

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For the Record: The original version of this story stated incorrectly that only the Professional Development Committee evaluates the nominees and that it includes past recipients of the award.

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Recalde-Martinez said he wants the college to allow all faculty members to vote on the award recipient instead of relying on a decision by the Professional Development Committee.

He added that he wants officials to revise school policy to "ensure all students, no matter whether they are Republican or Democrat … be protected from being discriminated against from faculty, staff and fellow students."

Last week, in referring to recent campus graffiti targeting him, he said, "I want to make sure these issues don't happen again in the future and additional protections are provided."

In a letter to the Coast Community College District, Recalde-Martinez listed changes he believes should be made to sections of the Anti-Discrimination Statement in the district's Student Code of Conduct.

Since the issue was not on the board agenda, it could not address speakers' comments, though board President David Grant often interjected to ask attendees to keep their voices down while each person spoke.

Grant said in an interview after the meeting that if students want school policies revised, they should first go through the different governing groups on campus.

"We're not shutting anything off ... there are just things that we don't have control over," Grant said. "But they have a chance to follow those pathways."

Santa Ana College student Julian de la O, who came to the United States from Mexico City, said at the meeting that it was heartbreaking for him to see OCC students "being called terrorists because they voted for someone that didn't agree with the professor's views."

"College should be a place where everybody is free to express their ideas and attack the ideas, not the people. And what the professor did was attack the people," he said.

Vincent Wetzel, current president of OCC Republicans, said members of the club have received death threats.

"Republicans are the most targeted minority on our campus, and it's the duty of this board to defend minority students," Wetzel said.

Four speakers in the extended public comment period defended Cox.

"I was a student chosen to be part of the [award] nomination process," said OCC student Jessica Riestra. "Throughout the process, Olga received the highest score due to her passion, dedication and love toward her 40-plus years of teaching. This made her the most qualified candidate."

Rob Schneiderman, president of the Coast Federation of Educators, which represents instructors in the college district, said that while the federation is against any form of discrimination, "harsh criticism of a politician is not discrimination."

The winner of the Faculty of the Year award typically addresses OCC's graduating class during commencement, but Doug Bennett, executive director of the Orange Coast College Foundation, said last week that Cox would not be a commencement speaker.

OCC spokesman Juan Gutierrez said Cox's replacement at the ceremony is still to be determined.

O'Neil's video of Cox sparked demonstrations at the campus both for and against the professor.

The college told O'Neil in February that he would be suspended for violating rules against in-class recording without permission, but the district board directed Orange Coast to revoke O'Neil's suspension.

Staff writer Priscella Vega contributed to this report.

alexandra.chan@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlexandraChan10

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