LGBTQ administrator dismissed amid tweet controversy
Only a month after Pomona College announced his hiring as the new director of the Claremont Colleges’ Queer Resource Center (QRC), Jonathan Higgins has lost his job amid an online controversy over his social media use.
The QRC provides activities and support and mentorship programs for Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) students, among other services. Although its resources are shared among the Claremont Colleges, Pomona supervised the hiring process for the QRC director.
Mr. Higgins is a public speaker, serves as assistant director of multicultural services and is an adjunct professor at California State University, Long Beach. He is also a consultant on race, gender, sexuality and intersectionality, according to his website.
Mr. Higgins’ tweets, which sharply criticized white people, police and heterosexual people, were thrust into the spotlight in an article on the conservative-leaning website The College Fix by Pitzer College student Elliot Dordick.
In one tweet that Mr. Dordick highlighted, Mr. Higgins wrote that he is “automatically wary of” and “[keeps] at a distance” “white gays and well meaning white women.”
“Police are meant to service and protect white supremacy,” Mr. Higgins wrote in another tweet.
Two further tweets that Mr. Dordick quoted accuse heterosexual people of celebrating “rape culture, homophobia and transphobia…. everyday.” These tweets no longer appear on Mr. Higgins’ Twitter feed, but screenshots of them are on The College Fix website.
Mr. Dordick’s article, which was published July 7, quotes anonymous LGTBQ students who said that Mr. Higgins’ tweets made them feel uncomfortable and raised doubts that he could effectively support them.
Other conservative news sites, including the Washington Times, The Daily Caller and the Colleges’ own Claremont Independent, for which Mr. Dordick is the senior associate editor, quickly picked up the story, which spread online and generated anger in conservative circles.
On July 8, the day after Mr. Dordick’s article was published, Jan Collins-Eaglin, Pomona College’s associate dean of students for personal success and wellness, sent an email to the Pomona College student body announcing that the college was reopening its search for the QRC director. The email made no mention of Mr. Higgins.
“I am writing today to let you know that we have reopened the national search for the director of the Queer Resource Center. Our priorities for the QRC remain the same—to maintain in a seamless fashion the robust services of the Center,” Ms. Collins-Eaglin wrote.
According to an email to Pomona students from Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum, the college knew of Mr. Higgins’ tweets before it hired him.
“The college was aware of Mr. Higgins’ tweets and social media presence prior to our offer to hire him in early June. We recognized that he brings an important voice to the support of LGBTQIA students, and especially [queer and transgender people of color], and that he approaches his work with passion and concern,” Ms. Feldblum wrote.
According to Ms. Feldblum’s email, she and Ms. Collins-Eaglin discussed Mr. Higgins’ social media presence with him after his hiring.
“Both prior to and after his hire…[Ms. Collins-Eaglin] and I engaged in thoughtful discussions with [Mr. Higgins] about social media and the broader responsibilities of the director position to create an inclusive environment that honors the intersectionality and multiplicity of all student identities,” Ms. Feldblum added.
However, through these discussions, Ms. Collins-Eaglin and Ms. Feldblum determined that Mr. Higgins was not the right choice to lead the QRC.
“As the discussions progressed, it became clear that our visions to ensure the support of all LGBTQIA students at the Claremont Colleges did not match, and that we could not reconcile our paths,” she wrote.
Neither Ms. Feldblum nor Ms. Collins-Eaglin directly mentioned Mr. Dordick’s article in their emails to Pomona students.
Mr. Higgins declined to comment on this story. However, he did write a message about his dismissal to Inside Higher Ed, a news website focused on college issues.
Mr. Higgins believes he was scrutinized because he spoke “openly and freely about heteronormativity, homonegativity, white fragility and white supremacy” and because his work has focused on LGBTQ students of color, according to an Inside Higher Ed article.
Mr. Higgins also posted several tweets that seem to allude to his dismissal.
“I had something happen to me this week that I honestly didn’t see coming. And yes, I’ve cried. ALOT,” he wrote in one tweet on July 9, the day after Pomona announced that it was reopening the search process.
While Mr. Dordick quoted several LGBTQ students who felt that Mr. Higgins’ tweets were inappropriate, other Claremont Colleges students do not believe they are an issue.
“I do not think that Mr. Higgins should have [been] fired on the basis of his tweets. In fact, I think that it is important for faculty members to understand various institutions and systems at play like white fragility and white supremacy,” Pomona College student Devin Mercier wrote in a message to the COURIER.
Some students further feel that the positions Mr. Higgins expressed in his tweets could be productive and beneficial at the Claremont Colleges.
“White gays are always prioritized in LGBTQ discussions and to have a director who would shake that system of white supremacy would be beneficial to the 5C community,” Mr. Mercier wrote.