Dr. Tabia Lee says she was bullied out of her DEI job at De Anza College in Cupertino, California, for having the “wrong” set of beliefs about diversity and inclusion.
Andri Tambunan for The New York Post
“I’m passionate about elevating multiple perspectives and creating spaces where you can do that,” Dr. Tabia Lee told the Post. “And that’s literally why I was harassed and bullied out of my position.”
Since becoming the faculty director for the Office of Equity, Social Justice, and Education at De Anza College in August of 2021, Lee said, she endured “non-stop hostility” on campus.
Now, she claims, she’s out of a job after colleagues retaliated against her for questioning certain diversity, equity, and inclusion policies at the Cupertino, California, school.
But her vision of diversity and inclusion, it seems, was the wrong one.
“I’m trying to create safe spaces for everyone,” Lee said. “But some people wanted me to create spaces that were just safe for them, and that’s not my mission as an educator. That’s not what I’m here to do.”
After years of working as a middle-school teacher and an adjunct professor, and founding a network to help minority teachers attain national board certification, Lee was excited get a tenure-track position at De Anza, where her job includes designing workshops to promote inclusion.
“I researched them, and I thought we had similar values around diversity, equity and anti-racism,” she said. “I was selected, and I was like, wow, this is a dream come true.”
But she quickly woke up to a rude reality.
Lee said other college employees unleashed “daily, endless harassment right from the start.”
When she tried to help streamline staff communications by creating a Google Doc system, she said she was accused by a colleague of “white-splaining” — a term used to describe when white people patronizingly explain things to people of color — and of supporting white supremacy.
“I’m a black woman, and [they’re] telling me that I’m white-splaining,” Lee recalled. “[Everyone] acted like I had injured [my colleague] instead of it being the other way around, because I didn’t confess to my white supremacy or whatever.”
It happened again when she raised questions about an official school communication capitalized “Black” but not “white.”
Citing the recommendation of the National Association of Black Journalists, she suggested all racial groups be capitalized.
“For that, I was accused of being a white supremacist,” she said. “These constant accusations of calling people racist or calling them a white supremacists or saying that they’re aligned with right wingers — that’s such ridiculousness. It’s very damaging.”
She also got blowback for questioning whether the school’s land acknowledgement —a declaration of solidarity with the indigenous people who lay claim to the land the college is built on — acknowledged the wrong tribe.
She’s a proponent of land acknowledgements, but was frustrated by the alleged inaccuracy. When she suggested the school pause the acknowledgements, which are typically recited at the beginning of classes, meetings and Zoom calls, until they fixed the issue, she felt her concerns were brushed off.
“To me that signals, it doesn’t really matter,” Lee said. “We’re doing [land acknowledgements] to signal our alignment with critical social justice ideology and not to really make any real changes. It’s a performative, almost pseudo-religious exercise.”
And after Jewish students and faculty members alike told her they’d experienced anti-Semitism on campus, Lee asked for help organizing a summit to address the issue.
Instead, she said, coworkers told her the event wasn’t important and that Jewish people are white oppressors.
Lee only made more enemies when she declined an invitation to join an informal, on-campus socialist network.
“I do not identify as a liberal or a conservative or a Republican or a Democrat or a libertarian or socialist or a communist or a feminist,” she told The Post. “I don’t identify with any of those labels, so I just had no interest in being a part of that.
“The problem was I was going inside of the little socialist network bubble of third wave anti-racists … and they literally shunned me and would not work with me,” Lee said.
When it came time to review her for tenure, she was denied on the basis of an “inability to demonstrate cooperation in working with colleagues and staff” and an “unwillingness to accept constructive criticism.”
Lee says those accusations are “bald faced lies” and can’t help but feel the reason she was denied tenure is because of her divergent opinions.
Regardless, as of June 15th, she’ll be out of a job.
“I had to be eliminated by any means necessary,” Lee said.
For a diversity, equity, and inclusion professional who truly believes in the importance of her craft, the experience has been disillusioning: “Bringing people together to explore and talk about different ideologies was deemed unacceptable and not welcome.”
Her mission, Lee said, is “surfacing different perspectives that we have … because once we’re clear and understand each other, then we can identify points of commonality. The whole point is multiple perspectives.
“Some people are trying to do it in an inclusive way … actually being inclusive,” Lee said of higher-education DEI practices. “And those people are targeted for elimination and neutralization … by people who are working from extreme ideologies.”
When asked about legal action, Lee said “I haven’t ruled it out yet.”
Paula Norsell, De Anza’s Coordinator of Communications, told The Post that “faculty members have comprehensive due process and appeal rights both under the law and negotiated through their bargaining unit.”