March 26, 2015
Dustin Lance Black Speaks: Pasadena City College Officials Created ‘Toxic and Dishonest’ Atmosphere
Posted on Apr 30, 2014
DLB: I never experienced anything but support and encouragement while I was there. I had such a wonderful time at Pasadena City College. I’ve always wondered why they never reached out. There was a statement that said, “We’ve always been proud of Mr. Black”—I think it was in their official statement—and I was like, I’ve never actually heard a word from you guys.
I was awarded Community College Distinguished Alumni of the year this year, which was very nice, but it had to come from Hartnell College, where I went when I was in high school in Salinas. And there was a table—a Pasadena City College table—there, and I went over and said hi to them. I said, “You do know I went there”—they were completely unaware. They didn’t know. Which is probably how the conversation began where they asked me to be a commencement speaker at their school.
But I never experienced anything like this. … It was one of the more shocking moments I’ve had in a long time—being disinvited. When I found out, literally a reporter emailed me and said, “Are you aware that you’re no longer speaker at Pasadena City College commencement?” I had my assistant chase them down and say, “What? We’ve already booked flights. We’ve already made travel arrangements.” I’m in London—it’s not an easy trip or a simple trip to make.
KA: So as it stands you haven’t had a follow-up.
Square, Site wide
DLB: I’ve not heard anything from any administrator at Pasadena City College. Nothing—no apology, no explanation. They put out that statement explaining that they have a broken system of some sort, but it really doesn’t explain the disinvitation. There’s no rationale for why not and we still don’t have that.
I think it’s rather clear if you read those emails [cited in the L.A. Times story]. … My legal team is in talks with their legal team right now. That’s happening, because you know, there are damages and costs—that’s really just about making sure we’re compensated—my team is compensated. Flights are refunded and all that sort of thing.
KA: What does your interest in rectifying this situation have to do with your activism in a broader sense?
DLB: Well, I know exactly what it’s like to be a student at Pasadena City College. When I was at Pasadena City College, I was struggling. Financially, my family was in a tough spot and I had to work very hard to be able to pay my rent and keep going to [PCC]. … You need all the support you can get, because for so many students there, the dream is to get into a four-year school. And that’s hard work. I was trying to get into UCLA film school, very competitive, and I did.
And what they don’t need is—especially the gay and lesbian students there—is to be at an institution where it’s so clear there’s an atmosphere where the administrators are seeing them somehow inferior or ‘less than.’ That they are held to a higher standard—a very different standard. I mean, I don’t know if it’s activism—it’s personal. If you see someone drowning, if you see someone in harm’s way, I was taught—my mom taught me, the Mormon church taught me—you reach out and help.
And so you know it seems that the atmosphere at Pasadena City College is discriminatory and toxic and dishonest. And I just—I care so much about that school—if you ever ask anybody, I mean I love UCLA, but people would say, “Would you ever do something for a school?” And I’ve said yeah, but I think it’s Pasadena City College that I would make a donation for, do a fundraiser for, help start a school at. It’s that place that saved me—it was a safety net for me when I desperately needed it, and it worked.
So I care about it a great deal, and the students so far have been so supportive, and they’ve been asking for help, they’ve been saying, “Don’t let it go, help us fix our school.” So I haven’t given up. I think it’s the No. 2 in terms of transfers to four-year schools in California. So we should make it better, not let it fall into this sort of disarray.
Every time I think [this story’s] over ... there’s another wrinkle.
A meeting between Rocha and the board about the commencement controversy was scheduled to take place Wednesday evening. Should the assembled officials decide to take Associated Students President Jordyn Orozco’s lead and invite Black back, that action would be supported by several other PCC student and faculty groups, including Students for Social Justice, the Queer Alliance and the Safe Zone Coalition.
Black has also helpfully kept his booking to fly to the States that weekend, but he’s made some other important plans for that trip in the meantime: “I’m going to see my mom in Washington, D.C., and go give a speech in Chicago,” he said.
A call to Rocha had not been returned by press time.
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