Big Brother Crushes Protest At Delaware State University
Dr. Issa faces two years imprisonment. After campus security broke up a student protest he'd joined, he sustained injuries, was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and inciting a riot.
For Standing Up, Professor Faces Two Years Behind Bars
Early this year in March, Black students at Delaware State University, who were concerned that the school was drifting from its mission, approached Dr. Jahi Issa, a history professor in Black Studies to ask for his support in a campaign to publicize their worries.
Delaware State is a Historically Black College/University (HBCU).
Dr. Issa had written an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Black Agenda Report, an online publication, in late 2011 addressing the inner threat that reactionary administrations pose to the future survival of HBCUs generally. He pointed out that over the past few decades, HBCUs have been targeted as being "too Black".
Dr. Issa's articles went viral.
Many states are now trying to reduce the overall percentage of African American students and faculty from these institutions. HBCUs have, historically, allowed numerous Black students to escape the clutches of poverty by providing access to affordable higher education; additional benefits are instructors that they can better relate to, based on similar life experiences.
Dr. Issa stated in his Black Agenda Report article: “Some HBCUs have and are going through hostile takeovers in order to turn into White education facilities and thereby permanently eliminating the African American middle class.”
Dr. Issa says there are also fewer Black faculty members because those who have been retiring were replaced with White faculty. There was no recruitment of other Black faculty replacements, he says. This also affects enrollment as he pointed out in his Black Agenda Report article, noting that "research shows that when African American faculty at HBCUs is a majority, African American students tend to enroll at a higher percentage and they tend to be more productive in the work place once they graduate."
He calls the changes a silent, uncontested takeover.
The threat to HBCU's existence as originally intended, to provide opportunities once unavailable to African Americas, can't be underestimated. Some HBCUs no longer have Black majority student bodies.
Bluefield State College, created in 1895, as an HBCU was by 2009 13% Black and 82% White; West Virginia State University, founded in 1891, is now 17% Black and 72% White.
Bluefield's transformation involved tension and turmoil. It occurred primarily four decades ago. In 1968, a bomb exploded at a campus gym, during a time when Black students were protesting the replacement of African American professors with White ones. The school's administration used the incident to shut down all the dormitories, which housed primarily African American students. Bluefield became commuter-oriented and predominantly White.
Even though Delaware State is still 73% African American, with 11% White, 5% Hispanic, 3% Asian, and 8% classified as other, Bluefield and West Virginia State serve as trend-setters for other HBCUs; both receive millions of dollars annually.
Other HBCUs with a growing White and non-African American student and faculty population are Kentucky State University, Elizabeth City State University and Delaware State University. When these institutions graduate fewer African American students the economic impact on their communities cannot be understated.
It's in this context, over the on-going struggle for the heart and soul of HBCU's and the ongoing transformations that an incident that now threatens Dr. Issa's professional career can best be understood.
When students planned a rally on the campus of Delaware State in March, to express their concerns, Dr. Issa agreed to support them. Dr. Issa joined the students who proposed to rally and then proceed to the Board of Trustees meeting, which was open to the public.
Before Dr. Issa and the group of student protestors could reach the location of the Board of Trustee's meeting, he say he was approached by uniformed and civilian campus staff who demanded that the group disperse.
Dr. Issa says the protestors were exercising their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble and refused to disperse. A melee ensued and during the fracas, Dr. Issa found himself on the ground in severe pain. He was taken to a local Hospital.
While he was being treated for a separated shoulder --he faces possible knee replacement-- university police charged Dr. Issa with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, offensive touching of a law enforcement officer and inciting a riot. He could face two years imprisonment.
Dr. Issa emphatically denies all the charges.
Ironically, only Dr. Issa was charged; not a single student was charged. Dr. Issa has now been suspended indefinitely and the school has initiated proceedings to terminate his employment, he says. Some people believe Dr. Issa is being punished for his published views advocating for the integrity of the HBCUs' mission.
Delaware State University spokesman, Carlos Holmes, said: “DSU is just like any other municipality. You cannot go and have a parade in Dover unless you go through the proper channels.” Dover is the name of the city in Delaware where the university is located,
The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees.
“DSU was not entitled to require a permit for that activity, any more than a town would have been under the circumstances,” says ACLU Executive Director, Kathleen MacRae.
What's more, Dr. Issa had contacted the ACLU the day before the rally and was told the same thing.
Dr. Issa also contrasted the Administration's reaction to their rally with what happened when the predominantly White equestrian team, in 2010, protested its removal from the campus. This protest consisted mainly of White students and faculty. “I witnessed it," Dr. Issa recalls. "They ran their horses around the campus, said very negative things,about the school and its president. ,I witnessed it. No one bothered them.”
The media also showed up and there was not a single arrest, he recalls.
Dr. Issa joined the faculty of Delaware State in the fall of 2008. ,He says during the first semester, Steve Newton of the Association of American University Professors (AAUP) walked into his office and told him: “'You are teaching too Black and your lectures make White students uncomfortable.'”
He says he was warned that if he was not careful, he would be dismissed like his predecessor, Abdul Salah, whose contract was not renewed, as was customary. ,Dr. Issa says at that point, he knew he was going to have a difficult time; the groundwork was being set to get rid of him.
Two phone messages left at the History department for Steve Newton seeking comment were not returned before publication deadline for this article.
Dr. Issa filed an EEOC complaint regarding unfair and discriminatory treatment at Delaware State. Dr. Issa also approached the AAUP for assistance. ,He was given limited help from either organizations, he says.
In an attempt to garner support for the survival of HBCUs, Dr. Issa says he met with White House Advisor on Historical Black Colleges, John Wilson, Jr.
He said he asked: "'Will these Black colleges remain Black or be Black 10 years from now?” ,He says Mr. Wilson responded by informing Dr. Issa of the administration’s accomplishments in terms of providing millions of dollars to the HBCUs. ,In 2010 the Obama Administration announced $850 million for HBCUs over 10 years, $100 million more than in previous years.
In his Black Agenda Report article Dr. Issa quotes John Wilson, Jr. as saying that HBCUs “must not be seen as plaintiffs in the struggle for civil rights," and notes that if it wasn't for the successes of the Civil Rights struggle, Wilson, a Morehouse University graduate, wouldn't be serving President Barack Obama.
Dr. ,Jahi Issa earned his Ph.D. at Howard University (2005), his M.A. at Southern University (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), and a B.A. at Texas Southern University. ,He served as Northeastern NC Grass Roots Coordinator for President Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign. ,Until the March incident, Dr. Issa had never received anything more serious than a parking ticket, he says.
Dr. Issa says has endured a physical, emotional and financial ordeal. He saw a wrong and wanted to make it right. His spirit has not been deflated.
On the contrary, he’s standing firm, seeking justice the only way he knows how – through our legal system, he says.
Editor's Note: Readers feel free to support Dr. Issa by calling the Delaware State University President, Dr. Harry L. Williams and Delaware Attorney General Joseph “Beau” Biden III, and ask them to reinstate Dr. Issa to his teaching position and to drop all charges against him.
Delaware State University’s President Office: (302) 465-6001
Delaware Attorney General’s Office: (302) 577-8400
For assistance to Dr. Issa’s legal defense, please go to: Dr. Jahi Issa Legal Defense Fund and follow the prompt.