Colleges take heat after former instructor’s comments draw ire – Press Enterprise

Mt. San Jacinto College has had to tighten the monitoring of its social media pages after a former instructor was punished for comments after canceling a room rental agreement with an Asian client.

Tami Barker was a part-time English as a second language instructor at the college last spring when she was accused of making discriminatory comments and canceling the guest’s reservation to rent a room in her Running Springs home through Airbnb, a service that allows people to offer short-term lodging in their properties.

Dyne Suh, a Riverside resident who is South Korean, said she booked the cabin near Big Bear in February and was only minutes away when she received text messages from Barker, canceling her reservation. The texts read: “I wouldn’t rent it to u if u were the last person on earth” and “One word says it all. Asian.”

Barker also texted: “This is why we have Trump” as well as “And I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”

The messages came after a dispute about Suh adding extra guests to her reservation.

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing announced July 12 that it had reached agreements with Barker and Suh, a law student at UCLA. Barker was fined $5,000 and ordered to take a course in Asian American studies as part of her agreement. She also has to apologize to Suh, the agency said.

In a separate action, Barker was barred from being an Airbnb host.

Barker is no longer associated with the Mt. San Jacinto College, but state employment laws prohibit the district from discussing personnel matters, college spokeswoman Karin Marriott said.

Barker taught ESL at the MSJC through the end of the spring 2017 semester. Marriott was unsure how long Barker was with the district.

Barker also no longer teaches at Chaffey College in Ontario, where she spent a semester in 2015.

Marriott said MSJC would not comment outside of a recent Facebook post that stated: “Mt. San Jacinto College does not tolerate discrimination of any kind at its campuses or during the course of college business and has a strict non-discrimination policy.”

Since the news became public in April, the college district, which covers the San Gorgonio Pass, San Jacinto Valley and Southwest Riverside County, has been criticized online. Many online commentators wondered when the college learned of the incident and how long afterward Barker was kept on staff. The rhetoric got so hot, the college has had to closely monitor its social media pages.

“Due to the extremely vulgar language that has been used by some who have commented on our social media pages, we have exercised our right to report and remove posts and filter our social media pages,” the post read. “Because we support First Amendment rights, those who wish to express their views can do so under this post. However, we will remove comments that violate our social media policy.”

Supporters of the MSJC said the college had to follow due process and since the actions happened outside of Barker’s duties as an instructor, there was not much that could be done.

According to the fair housing agency, Suh was driving in a snowstorm to an Airbnb listing
Feb. 17 when she communicated with Barker via the Airbnb mobile app. Despite having sent confirming text messages approving of additional guests, Barker denied that she had agreed to additional guests and canceled Suh’s reservation before the slur was made.

Suh posted a video about her experience on You Tube in April. After the incident became public, Chaffey College posted on social media that Barker taught there one semester as an adjunct professor in 2015 and was no longer associated with the school.

“Regardless of the Airbnb incident, above all, Chaffey College would like to emphasize that we believe the diversity of our students, faculty and staff is one of our greatest strengths as an institution,” the post read. “We do not tolerate any discrimination and/or harassment, nor is it a part of our campus culture.”

According to her Facebook page, Suh, 26, is a felony arraignment law clerk at the Riverside County Public Defender’s Office. In a posting, she said she is happy the incident was resolved.

“I am very glad that the outcome of this case includes taking an Asian American studies course,” Suh wrote. “I believe that the more people learn about and understand our history and our struggles, the more they can feel empathy towards us and treat us as equals.”

This is the first time the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has resolved a case against an Airbnb host.

“We arrived at the monetary award in negotiations and in light of all the factors involved in this case, including extraordinary non-monetary remedies,” DFEH Director Kevin Kish said in a statement.

Barker’s attorney, Edward Lee, said his client was “regretful for her impetuous actions and comments” and is pleased to have resolved the matter.

Levi Sumagaysay of the Bay Area News Group and The Associated Press contributed to this report.