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Students and admin say SAC president violated free speech rights over Palestine event

A section of the flier for the original Teach-In for Palestine event.
Michael Valdez
A section of the flier for the original Teach-In for Palestine event.

Students and top administrators at San Antonio College (SAC) have accused SAC president Naydeen González-De Jesús of violating academic freedom and free expression rights after they say she attempted to shut down an event titled “Teach-In for Palestine” in October.

A majority of San Antonio College’s 10-member senior executive team, who work directly with González-De Jesús, sent a signed private letter to Alamo Colleges District (ACD) Chancellor Mike Flores on Nov. 1 that declared a “vote of no confidence” in her. The letter said González-De Jesús was “untrustworthy, deceitful, retaliatory, and reckless.”

SAC’s Student Government Association sent its own letter to Flores on Oct. 28 declaring a unanimous “no confidence” vote in the president and saying its members would disengage from any events she organized and cut all direct lines of communications with her.

The administrators’ letter said González-De Jesús “does not seem to understand what constitutes academic freedom and basic students’ rights to free expression” over her efforts to cancel, and then postpone, the Oct. 24 “Teach-In for Palestine” event that faculty had organized to offer students context for Israel’s current military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

The top of the letter a group of Senior Executive Team administrators at San Antonio College sent to the Alamo Colleges District Chancellor Mike Flores regarding their concerns with SAC President Naydeen González-De Jesús.
The top of the letter a group of Senior Executive Team administrators at San Antonio College sent to the Alamo Colleges District Chancellor Mike Flores regarding their concerns with SAC President Naydeen González-De Jesús.

The letter, marked “CONFIDENTIAL,” has not previously been reported. No administrator responded to TPR’s request for comment. TPR is keeping administrators anonymous over their expressed fear of retaliation within the letter.

The letter also accused González-De Jesús of repeatedly bullying and disrespecting students, faculty, and staff, demoralizing her colleagues by publicly demeaning SAC, and violating ACD policies in her disciplinary actions against staff since she was appointed in January 2023.

But administrators’ decision to declare the “Teach-In for Palestine” issue as one of their “most alarming concerns” with González-De Jesús — paired with the decision to send the letter to the chancellor just over a week after the event was postponed and altered — signaled that it may have been the final straw after nine months of González-De Jesús’ chaotic tenure.

A statement from ACD officials said they and González-De Jesús were aware of student and employee concerns. It added that ACD “is partnering with an external firm to ensure an impartial and thorough determination of pertinent facts.” Those facts will then result in an action plan to address the findings and implement necessary improvements, according to the statement.

The flyer for the original "Teach-In for Palestine" event.
Michael Valdez
The flyer for the original "Teach-In for Palestine" event.

The statement also said ACD and González-De Jesús were initiating conversations with students, faculty, and staff to “address concerns, rebuild trust, and clarify the processes and procedures involved,” that there would be a collaborative effort to update the Freedom of Expression policies, and that an outside facilitator would be brought in to guide “meaningful conversations.”

The SAC students that spoke to TPR said they were aware of the Freedom of Expression updates but not about the external firm and facilitator.

Desteny Espinoza, the SGA President at SAC and the Student District Council Chair for ACD, said González-De Jesús needed to go.

“I just know that the environment at SAC is not very calm right now,” she said. “It’s a hostile environment. And I know she’s not just affecting students — she’s also affecting faculty, staff, and administration.”

Espinoza said she was speaking as an individual student, not on behalf of SGA or ACD.

SAC’s Faculty Senate President Jennifer Caraway said in a written statement that the body was not yet ready to release a public statement discussing specifics, but that SAC Faculty Senate leadership “have recently been in conversations with our administration to reaffirm the policies protecting academic freedom.”

The ACD statement didn’t specifically address the administrators’ concerns that went beyond the “Teach-In for Palestine” event. It also did not respond directly to the votes of no confidence, and it said ACD would not comment on personnel matters.

'Teach-In for Palestine'

Students said when they arrived for the “Teach-In for Palestine” on Oct. 24, SAC Vice President for Academic Success Cassandra Rincones told the 100-200 students that the event wouldn’t take place as planned. Students said she explained that the event’s name, “Teach-In,” had generated student complaints over confusion about what it meant.

Teach-ins are informal discussions or lectures that tend to focus on current events. They were popular in the U.S. during the Vietnam War.

The new flyer for the postponed event with its different title: "Palestine 101"
Michael Valdez
The new flyer for the postponed event with its different title: "Palestine 101"

After the term was explained, students said Rincones then said the problem was that the event title included the phrase “for Palestine,” which made some students uncomfortable.

The faculty organizers, in an attempt to salvage the event, asked if they could change the name to “Palestine 101” and hold it the following week, on Oct. 30, which Rincones agreed to.

The administrators’ letter said González-De Jesús tried to “force” administrators to cancel the event before being convinced that the event could instead be postponed.

On Oct. 25, SAC student Ethan Wilson said they were placing informational packets around campus titled “Israel and the Crime of Apartheid,” including one on the windowsill of the presidential suite.

A few hours later, three Alamo College Police Department officers used security footage to find Wilson and track them to the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) office, where Wilson is a member, according to a police report Wilson shared with TPR.

Officers asked to speak with Wilson about the informational packet and told them that “individuals were worried and were unsure if the papers were a target to the administration” since they had canceled the "Teach-In for Palestine" event, according to the police report.

“The cops were eventually satisfied that I wasn’t threatening anybody, or I wasn’t attempting to incite riots by leaving a piece of paper on somebody’s window about a current geopolitical event with nobody’s name on it,” Wilson said.

Wilson said after the conversation with the police, they were suspicious that González-De Jesús had called the cops. When Wilson received the police report, they pointed to a supplemental report from one of the officers which said González-De Jesús had contacted ACPD after they had already been alerted to the informational packets, telling them she was concerned about the “suspicious papers.”

In a recorded conversation between González-De Jesús and students from GSA after the incident, González-De Jesús explained why she had contacted ACPD.

“My call was not to ACPD to place a report, rather to find out what the first call and commotion was all about,” González-De Jesús said. “It was a conversation with the officer.”

A wall of windows with pillars holding banners with the Alamo Colleges symbol in each of the five colleges' colors at the community college system's central office.
Camille Phillips

González-De Jesús added that she had asked officers to amend their supplemental report to correct language that appeared to indicate she had called the police to investigate the informational packets.

The same day that police were called on Wilson, González-De Jesús held a conversation with members of SAC’s SGA.

Michael Valdez, the vice president of SAC’s SGA, said he and other students were alarmed by a scenario González-De Jesús came up with when discussing SAC’s commitment to a diversity of viewpoints.

“If I invite someone from the KKK, I will also need to invite someone that completely does not agree with the KKK, right?” González-De Jesús is heard saying in a recording of the conversation. “So that we can show both points of view, not to dismiss one side or the other, but to include.”

González-De Jesús did not appear to know she was being recorded, according to a student who was present.

Valdez said SGA came away from the meeting feeling that nothing had been resolved and with the conclusion that González-De Jesús’ logic would mean that any anti-Ku Klux Klan viewpoint on campus would require a pro-Ku Klux Klan view.

“The students don’t feel like the president acknowledges the situation and what she’s done to our faculty, to our students, to our leaders,” he said. “She’s just pointing the fingers at other people when she’s the one who wanted this event postponed or changed to the way she wanted it to be.”

Valdez said he was speaking as an individual student, not on behalf of SGA.

The SGA sent its “no confidence” letter to Flores three days later on Oct. 28, where they reiterated their alarm at González-De Jesús’ use of the white supremacist organization to explain why an event “for Palestine” could not exist without a counterpoint on campus. The letter also details the interaction between Wilson and ACPD officers.

The end of SGA's letter to ACD Chancellor Mike Flores declaring "NO CONFIDENCE" in SAC President González-De Jesús.
Michael Valdez
The end of SGA's letter to ACD Chancellor Mike Flores declaring "NO CONFIDENCE" in SAC President González-De Jesús.

The ACD statement did not address concerns over González-De Jesús’ rhetorical use of the KKK.

Alexandra Klein, an officer in GSA, was one of the students who attended the postponed event and was present when González-De Jesús spoke with GSA and when officers questioned Wilson.

“I definitely think that Dr. Naydeen [González-De Jesús] should step down from her position,” Klein said. “I feel that in order for the students to feel safe on campus, Dr. Naydeen needs to be taken away from this position.”

Three of the four students who spoke to TPR say they have filed grievances against González-De Jesús, but that they didn’t think they were going to result in anything.

ACD’s statement said they “remain dedicated to addressing the concerns raised, fostering meaningful change, and upholding our commitment to an inclusive campus community.”

González-De Jesús sent an email to members of SAC’s campus on Nov. 21 where she apologized for “misunderstandings” related to the "Teach-In for Palestine" event and said the reason it was postponed was over issues with compensating the scheduled speaker at the event, San Antonio for Justice in Palestine founder Moureen Kaki.

Kaki told TPR she was ultimately paid an honorarium that came directly from faculty members, but that prior to the first scheduled event she had never expected nor discussed being paid.

Students remain concerned about González-De Jesús’ presence on campus.

“We definitely need something better because we deserve it,” Espinoza said. “We are Aspen-winning,” she said, referring to SAC’s 2021 community college excellence award, “and to know that we are now not so ‘SAC proud,’ it’s heartbreaking.”

SAC directed TPR's requests for comment from González-De Jesús to ACD.

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