In December 2016, Olga Perez Stable Cox, a professor of psychology at Orange Coast College (OCC) for 30 years, reportedly began receiving threats in response to comments she made regarding the 2016 US presidential election.
Within days of the election, a student in Professor Cox’s human sexuality class recorded a video of the professor apparently responding to another student who asked for her reaction to the results. A transcription of the video, which begins mid-sentence, is as follows:
“…white supremacist, and a vice president that is one of the most anti-gay humans in this country. And so we are in for a difficult time. But again I do believe that we can get past that. Our nation is divided. We have been assaulted. It’s an act of terrorism. One of the most frightening things for me, and most people in my life, is that the people creating the assault are among us.
It is not some stranger from some other country coming and attacking our sense of what it means to be an American, and the things that we stand for. And that makes it more painful, because I’m sure that all of us have people in our families and our circle of friends that are part of that movement. And it is very difficult. We are way beyond Republicans and Democrats. And we’re really being back to being a civil war. And I don’t mean it in a fighting way, but our nation is divided as clearly as it was in Civil War times. And my hope is we will get leadership to help us to overcome that.
I will go over some coping skills, but before I do that I want you to know that the optimist in me – first of all, we are the majority. More of us voted to not have that kind of leadership. And we didn’t win because of the way our electoral college is set up. But we are the majority, and that’s helping me to feel better.
I’m relieved that we live in California. It is one of the best states. I love that. I love living here. But I’m especially proud of our legislature who did put out a message. I hope that you see it. One of the things I’m doing to cope is to look for positive messages and look for some hope that’s the optimist in me – and California legislative leaders did put something… and these are things you can find….”
On December 8, 2016, OCC’s College Republicans shared a copy of the video over YouTube and Facebook; the video has since generated hundreds of thousands of views. Soon after, Professor Cox began receiving a growing number of threats by telephone, email, and social media. One individual wrote to Professor Cox, “Go out in the middle of the football field, pull out a handgun, put it to your temple and shoot yourself. Or better yet, douse yourself in gasoline and set yourself on fire.” Another revealed her home address, phone number and salary over email and threatened to share this “everywhere.”
On December 12, it was reported that Professor Cox, fearful of the threats, had left the state of California and had asked for a substitute to complete her final week of classes. As of this report, it is unknown whether OCC officials will take action in response to the video.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about targeted harassment or threats against a scholar, apparently intended to limit or retaliate against classroom activity. Such actions not only impact the immediate victims, but undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and the ability of higher education communities to serve their educational, research, and social functions, harming all members of these communities and society generally. States and universities have a responsibility to respond appropriately to such harassment or threats, including where necessary dedicating additional resources to ensure security, in a fashion consistent with academic freedom and institutional autonomy.