Posts Leave a Community on the Fence

Alexander Gent
agent@lc.edu

 

College campuses across the nation have been dealing with issues over inclusion since long before the Civil Rights movements of the 60s. Islamophobic and Pro-Confederate statements made in Facebook posts by the Chair for the Board of Trustees of Lewis and Clark Community College may have nearly transformed the campus into a similar scene from such movements.

On May 1, 2019, It was discovered by, then lead reporter for Riverbender.com, Corey Davenport, that David Heyen, the chairman for the Board of Trustees, had made a series of posts to his account on the social media platform, Facebook, that reflected sentiments of Islamophobia, racism and anti-immigration. A summary of the posts were collected and sent to the college with a request for comment.

On the following day, the Facebook account, with the posts in question, was inaccessible, and a request for Julie Johnson, another member of the Board and close friend to Heyen, to comment on the matter went unanswered.

However, Heyen sent a statement to KDSK in which he says he “shared some posts in order to generate conversation.”

“I am relatively new to the concept of social media. I did share some posts in order to generate conversation about various topics on my personal Facebook page. This wasn’t done in my official capacity as an LCCC Trustee. This is now being used by a small faction of people who are not happy that I have asked tough questions as a trustee and sought to hold the administration accountable and provide more transparency in the spending of our tax dollar…”

In October of 2005, Heyen pled guilty in court and was convicted of Income Tax Fraud, which is a criminal misdemeanor that can carry with it punishments of heavy fines and even possibly up to five years imprisonment.

Read the complete transcript of David Heyen’s response. 

The following photo gallery contains screenshots of Heyen’s posts that were obtained before the account privacy settings were changed.

The social media posts were sent to CAIR-Missouri by concerned citizens of the community according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR-MO Executive Director Faizan Syed responded publicly, saying, “Anyone who shares such anti-Muslim, racist and anti-immigrant views has no business serving in a leadership position for any educational institution.”

On May 9, 2019, CAIR-MO, in a press release, called for the resignation of the  college Board Chairman, over the subject of his Islamophobic and racist posts, saying, “We urge Lewis and Clark Community College to thoroughly investigate this matter and ensure that the college remains a welcoming place for all of its students.”

 A demonstration was also organized by CAIR-MO in partnership with Umama Khenisi, the Metro-East Interfaith Partnership, Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis,  among others for the next board meeting which occurred on May 14, 2019, which also happened to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

About 75 community members from both sides of the Riverbend area joined the peaceful, pro-Muslim rally, outside of the Trimpe building, where the meeting had been moved in order to accommodate a larger amount of the public to attend the meeting.

The following photos were captured during the protest by Bridge photographer Trevor Ayres. 

The first action item of the night was a request for Heyen to resign as chairman and as a member of the Board of Trustees for sharing concerning Facebook posts on his personal page which do not reflect the values of the college. Many in the audience stood and cheered at its announcement.

Board attorney Jill Leka clarified for the Board and audience that the motion was a request, but that the Board does not have the authority to actually remove a Board member. “Since this is a request, regardless of the vote, it would still be up to Mr. Heyen to make the decision,” she said.

The motion failed, with Watson, Werts, Brenda Walker-McCain and Student Trustee April Tulgetske (advisory vote) voting yes, and Heyen, Hanfelder, Johnson and Rust voting no.

Most stayed for the entire meeting, nearly 3 hours, in order to participate in the public comment, which was held until the end of the meeting. 20 members of the audience, including faculty, staff and members of the community took the time to voice their opinions of the Board Chairman, the manner in which the Board conducts itself, and the possible impact that could have on the college and the surrounding community in the future.

One compared the behavior of the board with that of “ the kid who starts a new job, and thinks he knows everything about it.”  A former student and member of the LBGT community, pleaded with board members not to protect Heyen, and to listen to the community they were elected to represent.

Another questioned Heyen’s legitimacy to represent taxpayers saying, “You plead guilty tax fraud, so I wonder how you can fairly represent the taxpayers with that on your record.”

Faizan Syed of CAIR-MO took the opportunity to tell the crowd and Board members, “Words always retain their meaning. They have the ability to turn people into violent monsters.”  Describing Heyen’s Facebook posts as appalling Syed said,” Many people have said you have the right to freedom of speech, but there are consequences to that speech. The greater the position you hold, you have to realize, you have a responsibility.”

View the livestream video of the entire meeting. 

“Lewis and Clark Community College is an institution that for years has worked hard to create a welcoming space for peoples of all faiths and backgrounds,” Syed responded when asked to speculate on the possible impact of Heyen’s refusal to resign from the Board. “This individual’s actions has severally damaged these efforts and will help to isolate and make students feel unwelcome and may even increase the likelihood of them being the targets of hate.”

The next step of CAIR-MO is to develop a campaign to educate the student body about the hateful rhetoric of the Board Chairman once summer is over. “Due to the end of the year, finals, and commencement many students have not truly grasped this serious controversy and what it means for their school,” said Syed. “We hope to work to educate and start these conversations at LCCC.”

Heyen’s posting highlights the community’s need for diversity and social justice education efforts according to Tandra Taylor, Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion.

“The more awareness we gain through workshops, trainings and even honest, respectful dialogue encourages us to think critically and challenge racist and xenophobic strains of thought that exist today, even as our society becomes increasingly more diverse,” said Taylor.

As an institution of higher learning, the college has a responsibility to protect the rights of students granted by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, both prohibit the discrimination of students on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin, or ability. Yet despite both pieces of landmark legislation, according to a recent report, incidents of bias and hate on America’s campuses are on the rise.

“We know that students who are marginalized because of gender identification, sexual orientation, race or religion face daily challenges in society before stepping foot on our campus,” according to Taylor.

“We seek to mitigate those hostile day-to-day experiences by maintaining a campus culture of inclusivity,” said Taylor. “While is not clear how Heyen’s comments and refusal to resign will impact the college and its community, it is clear that those actions are not consistent with the goals of the college to attract, retain, and graduate more students from underrepresented categories”

The following photos were captured during the board meeting by Bridge photographer Trevor Ayres. 

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