Students Express Outrage Following Fallout from Lecturer’s Racist Comments

Students Express Outrage Following Fallout from Lecturer’s Racist Comments
Image by Millie Root for The UCSD Guardian

On Oct. 14, a widely circulated video showing Lecturer Robert Ternansky making multiple racist comments against Latinx people in class was posted on social media. Now, the School of Physical Sciences plans to temporarily replace Ternansky for the quarter as lecturer of the CHEM 41A and CHEM 143C courses. 

The department announced on Oct. 19 that Patrycja Hopkins will teach the two courses for the remainder of the quarter. 

The video in question, shows Ternansky during his Oct. 11 lecture going into the hallway to speak with Spanish-speaking staff, shouting “Ándale, Arriba!” before asking students “how to say be quiet in Mexican,” then telling them he “doesn’t want [the staff] in here with their weapons.” Seventh College sophomore Alfonso Lazo-Cazares posted the video to his Instagram where it has since been viewed more than 240,000 times as of Oct. 21. 

“I saw the video after my roommate showed me the recording,” Cazares said to The UCSD Guardian. Linking the incident to his personal experiences, he added, “I have personally worked in tree service [and] landscaping before and know exactly what it feels like when someone in power makes ignorant racist remarks. Having gone through this has felt degrading and dehumanizing for both my family and I.” 

Seventh College sophomore Julian Reinhart showed Cazares the recording. Reinhart is a student in Ternansky’s CHEM 41A course and, while not originally physically present, he heard Ternansky’s remarks while watching the video recording of the lecture. 

“I was baffled, like, it just kept going,” Reinhart said. “He just kept saying, like random words in Spanish … that’s just textbook, the most disrespectful thing you could say to someone, just shouting randomly at them. And then he says I can’t even speak Mexican, which isn’t even a language.” 

Reinhart and Cazares were both happy to see that the video of Ternansky’s comments garnered a wide reception. 

“We knew it was going to get a lot of attention, but it was better that way. It forced [the school] to act, rather than handling it internally,” Reinhart said.

According to Reinhart, the “weapons” comment upset him the most. “What is [Ternansky] insinuating here? That they’re dangerous people? I was like, what?” Cazares noted that this was another example of “negative comments and assumptions made about our beautiful Latinx people.” 

In a Canvas message to the class, Ternansky apologized to the students for his statements and vowed to apologize to the individuals he insulted. For Reinhart, that apology was insufficient, and wasn’t an expression of remorse or guilt. 

“Even his apology has multiple typos. Like, does he even care? I don’t think so,” Reinhart said.

This sentiment of confusion, bewilderment, and outrage was echoed in the testimonies collected by Thurgood Marshall senior and Vice President of Academic Affairs Rhianen Callahan, who expressed their own personal outrage when first watching the clip. 

“I was genuinely like, ‘what the [f—]?!’ Instantly, you can feel the air being taken out of the room and, suddenly you can feel students’ [discomfort]; you can see the disrespect towards the staff or students that he was talking to,” Callahan said.

Callahan first solicited testimonials on the Office of VP Academic Affairs’ Instagram, where they said that they “would not let this get swept under the rug,” referring to an incident last year where faculty resigned from an executive committee in protest of Professor of Anthropology Dr. Sabai Varma’s unethical research. “So far I’ve received 85 responses, which I’m going to consider a win,” Callahan said. “I know it’s very small [relative] to thousands of students on campus, but it’s something.” 

The testimonies accounted for both incidents with Professor Ternansky and incidents of racism on campus in general. Callahan said that 29 of the replies were from students who had or will have a class taught by Ternansky, many of whom “weren’t surprised” by his conduct. 

According to Callahan, a student testified that “[Ternansky] said early in the class, ‘if you’re easily offended, this class isn’t for you,”’ while another accused Ternansky of sexism toward his female students. The latter testimony said that “the environment has been exclusionary … the way that [Ternansky] interacts with women is an example of this. He is rudely short and often even hostile for no good reason, but when similar questions are asked by male students, however, he seems to be more able to engage and answer them.”  

Other testimonials noted that Ternansky seemed rude and cold, a sentiment that Reinhart corroborated. 

“He is just an insensitive person, there’s no accommodation for the work, and if you ask, you’re just lazy … It rubs me the wrong way,” Reinhart said.  “And so I wasn’t surprised. I don’t think he really thinks very highly of anyone in general.” 

Callahan noted that among the student responses, ideas on how the university should handle the situation with Ternansky going forward are mixed. “Some believe he should be fired, some don’t, but almost all of them think some action needs to be taken,” they said. 

Reinhart thought that the appropriate action would be Ternansky’s termination. 

“First off, I wouldn’t feel bad for him, he already got his bag with Big Pharma,” referring to Ternansky’s previous work with pharmaceutical companies. Reinhart elaborated that if the university really wants to show that they take [diversity seriously] I think they should [fire him]. Because it was so egregious. I mean, it wasn’t just like one little thing. It was like three strikes and they were all pretty bad.” 

When asked for their personal opinions on the matter, Callahan also called for Ternansky to be fired. They emphasized that such a situation could be incredibly damaging to students’ learning and that a faculty member with racist and discriminatory views could harm their students’ career.

“Students already have to worry about that stupid power dynamic of having someone who can instantly crush your dreams, or give you a bad review, or not support you and your cause, or ask a student ‘Why are you here? You don’t deserve to be here.’ And to see that up front in front of everyone is absolutely uncalled for and should not happen,” Callahan said. 

As vice president of academic affairs, Callahan works with the Academic Senate and is the only student representative among the Senate’s faculty and administrative staff. They hope to share the testimonials with the faculty Senate in an effort to make a change and get administrators to do more to address racism on campus. 

“I will do everything in my power to ensure this comes to light,” Callahan said, referring to the content of the testimonials. Callahan also called for greater student representation in the Academic Senate, adding that, “While I’m thankful for this position, and while I’m very passionate about doing it, I also recognize that I’m one person, and it shouldn’t just be one person in general.” 

The UCSD Guardian contacted the university administration concerning the incident but was directed to UCSD’s official statement. In an email sent to chemistry students, School of Physical Sciences Dean Steven E. Boggs stated that, per university policy, “any further action involving this instructor would not be made public, as personnel matters are confidential.”

Photo by Raya for the UCSD Guardian

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  • J

    JoanaOct 31, 2022 at 8:18 pm

    Having gone through this has felt degrading and dehumanizing for both the family and the victims of racism.

    Joana from https://www.elpasofencepros.com/

    Reply
  • B

    BruceOct 28, 2022 at 9:04 am

    Organic Chemistry is a hard course to study, for a professor to act like that, making racists comments about hard working Mexicans campus workers is not good, this man should retire and take up gardening.

    Reply
  • A

    AdamOct 26, 2022 at 2:30 am

    In fact, these are serious problems, and I do not understand how the professor could allow such a statement. It is important to understand that there will always be penalties for such actions. I even started writing college essays on the subject. Already sent to the site https://domypaper.me/ for editing to eliminate various errors in the text

    Reply