Lecturer who led mascot retirement fight discriminated against white student because of her race, investigation finds

Investigation found evidence of racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation

American+Indian+Studies+Lecturer+Oscar+%22Ozzie%22+Monge+at+an+Associated+Students+vote+on+a+resolution+to+retire+the+Aztec+mascot+and+moniker+in+April+2017.+Monge+has+been+outspoken+in+favor+of+ending+the+mascot.
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Lecturer who led mascot retirement fight discriminated against white student because of her race, investigation finds

American Indian Studies Lecturer Oscar

American Indian Studies Lecturer Oscar "Ozzie" Monge at an Associated Students vote on a resolution to retire the Aztec mascot and moniker in April 2017. Monge has been outspoken in favor of ending the mascot.

Andrew Dyer

American Indian Studies Lecturer Oscar "Ozzie" Monge at an Associated Students vote on a resolution to retire the Aztec mascot and moniker in April 2017. Monge has been outspoken in favor of ending the mascot.

Andrew Dyer

Andrew Dyer

American Indian Studies Lecturer Oscar "Ozzie" Monge at an Associated Students vote on a resolution to retire the Aztec mascot and moniker in April 2017. Monge has been outspoken in favor of ending the mascot.

by Will Fritz and Andrew Dyer

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A San Diego State lecturer has been found to have discriminated against and harassed a student because of her race, then retaliated against her when she complained about his conduct, according to an investigation by the California Department of Justice.

The results of the investigation, included in a confidential 51-page report on Dec. 20 and obtained by The Daily Aztec, details a series of conversations and meetings between American Indian Studies Lecturer Oscar “Ozzie” Monge and one of his students, recent graduate Crystal Sudano.

Sudano filed four specific complaints against Monge. The first of which — that Monge discriminated against Sudano on the basis of a disability — was found to not be supported by the evidence. However, the final three — discrimination based on race, racial harassment and retaliation — were.

The six-month investigation was conducted by Supervising Deputy Attorney General Christine Mersten and involved interviews with 14 witnesses, including Monge and Sudano.

Monge has been a prominent voice in favor of retiring the Aztec mascot and moniker. His master’s thesis, “Fail, Montezuma! The last vestiges of an obscured yet stubbornly persistent culture of racism at San Diego State University,”  completed in 2015, resulted in renewed efforts to retire the mascot.

An Associated Students resolution to do so failed in April 2017. However, a similar one passed in the University Senate in November.

Student marching to change the mascot prior to the spring 2017 AS vote. Photo by Andrew Dyer.

Sudano, who is white, told investigators that Monge, who is Chicano and Native American, had indicated an animosity toward white people in several Facebook messages.

The investigation found that Monge sent at least 15 offensive Facebook messages to Sudano — most while she was enrolled in his class — about white people in general, and about other students who were not in his class. These messages led to Sudano withdrawing from his class when he threatened her grade after she challenged his position on the Aztec mascot.

The two were acquainted before they became professor and student.

In 2011, Sudano organized protest rallies and participated in the “Occupy” movement, the report said. Monge introduced himself to Sudano in a Facebook post, and the two sporadically communicated over a period of a few years.

They ran into each other again outside of a professor’s office in spring 2016. During this encounter, Sudano said Monge referred to her T-shirt — which bore a stylized SDSU logo with a spear through it — as “racist.”

She signed up for his class the following semester as a late add, with her first day of class on Feb. 7, 2017.

Immediately before Sudano enrolled in the class, she and Monge had a Facebook interaction in which Monge said his effort to remove the Aztec mascot from SDSU was being hampered by a lack of support from Native American students.

In one message, Monge wrote: “…all you need is 1 Native (American) student to say they love Aztecs and out it goes. I can provide 1000 white students who agree, but they’ll focus on the 1 ignorant native who doesn’t.”

In another, he said he did not have the Native American Student Alliance on his side in the mascot debate, attributing this to “a couple of white students who are members, who apparently have great grandmothers tgat (sic) are Cherokee Princesses (sic).”

A “Cherokee princess” refers to person who appears white but claims to have heritage from Cherokee royalty, despite the fact that the Cherokee tribe does not have royalty.

The Aztec Warrior mascot leads the football team on to the field. Monge has been instrumental in leading the effort to retire the Aztec mascot and moniker. Photo by Kelly Smiley.

Sudano messaged Monge suggestions for advancing his cause against the mascot.

They continued corresponding via Facebook messenger over the course of the class.

On Feb. 15, after she was enrolled in Monge’s class, Sudano attended a Native American Student Alliance presentation entitled “Why do you have to make it about race? Because our mascot is an Aztec” as extra credit for the course.

She told investigators that she rode her motorcycle to the event, and wore her hair in braids to keep it from getting tangled in the wind, as well as a neck sleeve up to her ears to keep her warm.

To Monge, it appeared Sudano was wearing a bandana and “rez tails” to the event — and thereby committing cultural appropriation. He told her in a message after the event that he was “glad you chose to remove your bandana and braids.”

Sudano didn’t understand why he was pointing this out, the report said, and when she explained why she was dressed like this, Monge told her that motorcycle culture appropriated from Native Americans.

“You have to stop and think for a moment the context into which you were about to enter and you had a bandana and your hair in rez tails,” he told her. “It may have been an innocent coincidence, but it can be subjected to an entirely different interpretation, within a specific context.”

In a later interaction, he criticized SDSU’s Associated Students for its perceived “whiteness.”

“The AS is something else that confuses me … the way it’s structured, the way it runs And (sic) how damned white it is,” he said.

Sudano defended the role of AS, telling Monge, “The idea is that EVERYONE no matter how low on the totem pole you are, shared governance is what gives the lowest man the right to share his opinion and for that opinion to be heard.”

Monge caught her “totem pole” comment and told her she shouldn’t use the phrase.

“White people get the whole thing wrong, btw,” he wrote. “The lowest part of the totem pole is a place of honor. The most experienced carver does that part.”

The conversation continued, and the report said Monge made “inappropriate comments” about several members of Associated Students who he felt were not supporting his cause, including then-Vice President of University Affairs and current AS President Chimezie Ebiriekwe, then-AS President Jamie Miller and then-Vice President of External Relations Dylan Colliflower.

Neither Ebiriekwe, Miller nor Colliflower would vote in favor of the AS resolution to retire the mascot two months later.

“Jamie has lied to me, btw. And Dylan, he turns red when he sees me,” Monge said in his Facebook message to Sudano. “Chimezie Ebiriekwe, I don’t know, but I’ve been told by other (b)lack students that he’s more of an Uncle Tom (not my words, and like I said, I don’t know him.)”

Ebiriekwe is black. Monge also continued to criticize AS, saying it was composed of “Frat Bros and Sorority Sisters…who do not easily empathize with non-whiteness.”

Sudano defended Ebiriekwe and AS to Monge, the report said, before he criticized her for what he saw as her failure to listen.

“(T)his is precisely the sort of behavior I don’t want you to bring if you meet with the Native Students (sic), to get all “white savior” on them and tell them that they don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.

The Associated Students University Council convenes for its bi-weekly meeting Sept. 27. Photo by Samantha Bonpensiero.

Monge’s choice of words was “the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back,” the report said.

“I’m so mad right now,” Sudano wrote back. “I believe in your cause and believe I can help…I KNOW too how to “work” the system and get stuff done.”

After learning of Monge’s comments about him, Ebiriekwe told The Daily Aztec it was “disheartening to hear a professor speak about a student like that.”

Ebiriekwe said there was nothing unfair about the mascot retirement resolution, which ultimately did not pass. He pointed out that the vote was close — 14-16.

“There was no outnumbering,” he said. “A lot of individuals in there did change their mind to vote in favor of passing a resolution.”

And he said Monge’s comments about the “whiteness” of AS are completely untrue.

“We emphasize that everybody, no matter what race, religion, gender, sexual orientation — we empathize with everybody, so there’s no discrimination going on within Associated Students,” Ebiriekwe said.

In a March 1 email, Monge defended his messages to Sudano. In her reply a day later, she told him she needed to “cool off” and that she “did not wish to become involved in something that generates a feeling of uneasy subordination within me.”

He told her to “let me know when you’d like to chat, or not.”

The report says that Sudano, upset over Monge’s Facebook messages, did not attend his March 2 class and instead began researching claims made in his thesis.

It was when Sudano began challenging Monge’s thesis, the investigation found, he began talking about her grades.

After a Facebook conversation in which Monge told Sudano he heard she was making claims to other people that she was fact-checking him, he pointed out that she had failed to turn in an assignment and missed four classes.

“I think it may be time to sit down with a third party and discuss your class-related issues (attendance, and now this incomplete assignment), and these non-class related that you’re, well, creating,” he said. “I am deeply concerned that you will conflate the two and try to lay blame at my feet.”

When Sudano said “today would be perfect,” ostensibly to meet with a third party, Monge told her “I can’t just snap fingers and make someone appear.”

Monge told her that she made a conscious choice to research his thesis rather than complete her assignment — which she later said she turned in on Blackboard but did not “take” due to an apparent technical error. Monge then blocked her from Facebook.

“Monge retaliated against Sudano…after she complained to (him) about his discriminatory and harassing conduct, and appeared to undermine Monge’s thesis in the mascot resolution debate,” the report says. “Monge told Sudano that her grade would be lowered, ultimately causing her to seek a constructive withdrawal from (his) class.”

The investigation found other students with issues in the class similar to Sudano’s — missed classes and assignments — were not treated the same way.

“Sudano was the only student that Monge threatened with a lower grade, even though there were other students similarly situated to Sudano,” the report said.

Monge’s statements, the report said, “indicate he was angry about her research on the mascot, and upset about her accusation that he called her a racist. With these uppermost on his mind, he took action against her as a student.”

However, Monge did not lower her grade. Sudano met with American Indian Studies Department Chair David Kamper, College of Arts and Letters Assistant Dean Karey Sabol and Monge on March 13, and Monge agreed to accept her missing assignment for full credit and disregard her missed classes.

But Sudano decided to drop the class after she felt Monge was talking about her to other students

At a presentation to the Student Diversity Commission, one student asked Sudano, “Aren’t you just here for the publicity?”

Sudano also said the Native American Student Alliance blocked her from Facebook after she messaged their page repeatedly.

Both of these, she felt, were Monge’s doing, and she put in a request for a withdrawal.

The request was apparently never acted upon by the Office of the Registrar, and Monge gave Sudano a grade of “incomplete.”

The investigation found Monge at fault for Sudano’s decision to withdraw.

“The messages Monge sent to Sudano demonstrate that Monge has an animus against white people,” the report said. “The situation was further exacerbated by Monge’s position of authority over Sudano as her professor. Monge’s inappropriate treatment of Sudano culminated in adverse action. Sudano’s ability to participate in AMIND 435 was substantially impacted because of her relationship with Monge.”

“All in all,” the report said, “Monge uses ‘white’ whenever he wishes to explain someone who has done something wrong, or bad.”

In an essay to the investigator, Monge wrote: “It is quite easy to argue that ‘whiteness’ is synonymous with evil.”

Monge had 14 days after the release of the investigation report — or until Jan. 3, 2018 — to appeal the decision to the CSU Office of the Chancellor. Monge is working with the California Faculty Association and an appeal is likely, but he declined to go on the record with The Daily Aztec.

Under the conditions of CSU Executive Order 1097, which outlines the complaint process, individuals involved in a complaint are not permitted to speak to outside parties.

If the decision were appealed, the Office of the Chancellor would have 60 days to respond to Monge with a final decision. If evidence is presented that was not introduced during the initial investigation, the complaint may be re-investigated. If not, the Office of the Chancellor decision is final, and at that point, Monge’s options within the complaint system would be exhausted. He would, however, still have the option of taking action within the faculty union.

SDSU spokesperson Jill Esterbrooks released the following statement regarding the complaint against Monge:

“San Diego State University is committed to creating a learning environment where everyone is treated with respect and dignity. The university prohibits discriminatory behavior and harassment of any kind on campus, and takes allegations of misconduct by any member of the campus community very seriously. The university responds to all reports of alleged violations by members of the campus community, and takes appropriate action to prevent, investigate, correct or discipline such conduct. San Diego State University does not discuss pending matters due to privacy rights of all parties involved and to protect the integrity of the review process.”

EDIT: A previous version of this story stated the report was 53 pages long. It has been corrected to 51.

 

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