Yesterday we met Olga Perez Stable Cox, who teaches courses in Human Sexuality at a California institution called Orange Coast College and who made national headlines in December after a videotape of one of her classroom rants about Donald Trump went viral. Members of the student Feminist Club, fearing Cox might face disciplinary action, held a rally in her support. The College Republicans held a counter-rally in support of the student who had taken the video, freshman Caleb O’Neil, who faced possible legal action by the teachers’ union and possible suspension by college officials.
When they realized O’Neil was in danger, other students from Cox’s classes came forward to defend him and to amplify the case against Cox. One of them, Vincent Wetzel, said that Cox’s rant “has nothing to do with free speech.” Cox, he argued, was “overstepping her profession.” Wetzel, who is gay, told the Orange County Register: “Of all the people who are supposed to provide an inclusive environment, it’s her. Now, I don’t feel comfortable.”
Two students said that after O’Neil had stopped taping, she’d asked Trump voters in the class “to stand up and show the rest of the class who to watch out for and protect yourself from.” When no one in the class stood up, she accused them of being “too embarrassed” to admit to supporting Trump. One student, Tanner Webb, rejected the faculty union president’s claim that Cox had been inviting students to discuss the election results and that O’Neil had “chosen to not engage in a discussion.” Cox’s “anti-Trump rant,” said Webb, “was no open debate to engage students.” As it happens, Webb was enrolled in another class taught by Cox, and in that one, too, he said, she “continually bashed on Trump supporters, belittling them and making it seem like every person who voted for Trump was an LGBT community hating white supremacist.”
In the end, sure enough, O’Neil was suspended. At a press conference, he said that he’d taped Cox “because I was honestly scared that I would have repercussions with my grades because she knew I was a Trump supporter.” In a joint statement, college president Dennis Harkins joined faculty and union leaders in fully backing Cox, who, they said, had done nothing other than exercise her right to “express views that may challenge student opinions, world view, or ideology.” (In a rare example of good news from this front, it was reported on February 23 that O’Neil’s suspension, under national pressure, had been rescinded.)
As for Cox, she told anyone who would listen that, far from being a bully, she was the one who’d been bullied. A month later, she was still unapologetic, telling the Register “I didn’t say anything wrong or do anything wrong. I didn’t say anything that thousands of Americans weren’t feeling or saying…I don’t regret it.” O’Neil, she insisted, was “part of a national campaign to intimidate liberal professors.” Meanwhile, it emerged that in addition to punishing O’Neil, OCC administrators were investigating the College Republican club – an act that club president Joshua Recalde Martinez described as “Gestapo-like.”
That’s an overstatement, we hope. But there’s no denying that Cox’s effort to “identify, humiliate, and shame” her pro-Trump students (as the College Republicans’ lawyer, Shawn Steele, aptly put it) was rooted in a disturbing authoritarian impulse of precisely the sort that Cox had accused Trump of personifying – and that an equally authoritarian impulse informed the decision by OCC and union officials to punish Caleb O’Neil and the College Republicans for bringing Cox’s petty classroom tyranny to light.