DOJ: Prof harassed white student over cultural appropriation

Crystal Sudano said American Indian Studies lecturer Oscar Monge had called her "racist" for wearing a shirt depicting the school logo with a spear through it, and later threatened to lower her grade when she began digging into his Master's thesis.

The California Department of Justice recently confirmed a white San Diego State University student's complaints that she had been harassed by a professor for alleged "cultural appropriation."

Monge has been at the forefront of efforts to retire the school's "Aztec" mascot, which he calls a form of cultural appropriation that perpetuates historical ignorance.

The California Department of Justice recently found that a San Diego State University lecturer harassed a white student and then retaliated against her for challenging his Master’s thesis.

Former student and recent SDSU graduate Crystal Sudano brought four discrimination complaints against American Indian Studies Lecturer Oscar “Ozzie” Monge, who has been at the forefront of efforts to retire the school’s “Aztec” mascot for the past several years.

The 51-page report, obtained by The Daily Aztec, found one complaint, involving discrimination based on disability, lacking evidence; meanwhile, the three based on racial discrimination were confirmed through statements that Monge made on Facebook and in person, as well as actions he took in his capacity as a lecturer.

Sudano met Monge prior to their relationship as lecturer and student at an Occupy Wall Street movement rally in 2011, and remained in contact periodically thereafter, reports The Daily Aztec.

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In 2015, Monge submitted his Master’s Thesis, “Fail, Montezuma! The last vestiges of an obscured yet stubbornly persistent culture of racism at San Diego State University,” which according to The San Diego Tribune argued that the university’s adoption of the Aztec mascot originates from the false belief that the Aztecs originated in the Southwestern United States.

The thesis revived attempts to banish the mascot, which had suffered a setback in 2015 when the Associated Students (AS) voted 24-1 to keep it.

Monge used his thesis to argue that the mascot should be changed because it perpetuates historical ignorance in addition to constituting cultural appropriation, and in November 2017 the University Senate approved a resolution recommending that SDSU retire the mascot.

[RELATED: SDSU mascot survives cultural appropriation complaints]

Sudano, as a student, ran into Monge outside his office during the spring semester of 2016, where Monge chided her for wearing a T-shirt with the SDSU logo with a spear through it, which he called “racist.”

According to Sudano, Monge discussed with her his efforts to get the mascot removed in a series of Facebook messages later in 2016 and early 2017.

In one message, he wrote that “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 message, Monge claimed that the Native American Student Alliance was not on his side in the mascot debate because of “a couple of white students who are members, who apparently have great grandmothers tgat [sic] are Cherokee Princesses,” employing a term used to mock those who appear white but claim to descend from non-existent Cherokee royalty.

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The Daily Aztec reports that Sudano enrolled in Monge’s spring 2017 class, and that within the first week of class, Monge had accosted her for wearing braids and a neck sleeve up to her ears.

“Glad you chose to remove your bandana and braids,” he messaged her.

When she explained it was to keep herself warm and keep her hair from flying in the wind because she had ridden her motorcycle to campus, he accused her of cultural appropriation, saying motorcycle culture was appropriated from Native Americans.

He then reportedly went on to criticize the AS for its perceived “whiteness.”

Sudano defended the group, arguing that it gave everyone, “no matter ho [sic] low on the totem pole,” a voice. But that prompted another rebuke, as Monge told her she shouldn’t use “totem pole” as an expression because that, too, constitutes cultural appropriation.

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

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He went on to repeat claims he heard from other black students that AS President Chimezie Ebiriekwe, who is black, was “more of an Uncle Tom.”

When Sudano defended Ebiriekwe, Monge reportedly told her that “this 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.”

Ebiriekwe disputed Monge’s claims of bias, telling The Daily Aztec that “we empathize with everybody, so there’s no discrimination going on within Associated Students.”

Sudano, infuriated by Monge’s Facebook messages, began fact-checking his thesis. When Monge found out, he started bringing up grades, a missing assignment, and four absences.

The report states that “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. Monge told Sudano that her grade would be lowered, ultimately causing her to seek a constructive withdrawal from [his] class.”

Although these were only threats, the report found that Sudano withdrew from the class after finding out that Monge had talked about her to other students, causing her to be ostracized by some classmates.

For instance, the Native American Student Alliance blocked her from Facebook and at a presentation to the Student Diversity Commission, one student asked Sudano, “Aren’t you just here for the publicity?”

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In a written statement to the investigator, Monge wrote that “it is quite easy to argue that ‘whiteness’ is synonymous with evil.”

The report concluded that “Monge uses ‘white’ whenever he wishes to explain someone who has done something wrong, or bad.”

Monge’s 14-day window to appeal after the California DOJ issued the report closed on January 3. He did not return a request for comment from Campus Reform in time for publication.

SDSU spokesperson Jill Esterbrooks referred Campus Reform to California State University Executive Order 1097, which in Article 1 states that “All Students have the right to participate fully in CSU programs and activities free from Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation.”

She said the case is currently under review and referred to her previous statement to The Daily Aztec, in which she said that “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.”

Assuming that Monge did file his appeal in time, the university would have 60 days to respond with a final determination, unless new evidence is presented that would merit a re-opening of the investigation.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @JD_Grandstaff91