Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) Chancellor Elwood Robinson has denied that campus police were weaponized against a student in a now-viral video that saw a young Black woman being arrested this week in a classroom on the North Carolina HBCU’s campus.
Social media went ablaze after the student, identified on social media as WSSU student Leilla Marie, was arrested on Tuesday in the middle of a class because she would “not apologize” to her white professor over an assignment for a final exam that led to a loud argument between the parties, according to the young woman.
Chancellor Robinson has received intense backlash after releasing a statement on Wednesday night that said in part that these officers were not weaponized against Marie.
“We understand that the weaponization of police is a prevalent problem in our community; however, that is not what happened in this incident,” Robinson wrote in a letter. “We strive for a safe, inclusive, thriving, and intellectual community where all our faculty, staff, and students feel respected and supported. To that end, we will take swift and appropriate measures against any situation that contradicts those ideals.”
Critics suggested the statement felt like the university lacked accountability and justified the use of police force against this student.
“They’re definitely getting a lawsuit,” Marie told her Instagram followers while recording herself live.
Marie explained during the Instagram Live that the professor — identified as Dr. Cynthia Villagomez, an assistant professor of history — told her “six hours before” a group project was set to be presented that the assignment had been completed incorrectly and needed revising.
Marie said she refused to comply with Villagomez and still came to class “frustrated” but ready to present with her group.
That’s when Villagomez said failure to revise the project would “greatly impact your grade,” Marie said.
The two began yelling at each other, Marie said, before Villagomez told her, “You need to get out.”
When Marie refused, Villagomez consulted with another professor. That led to the police being called, Marie said. A Black WSSU officer who is a “very well-known officer on our campus” and “actually pretty cool” was “doing his best not to arrest” her, Marie said, but the opposite happened when a white officer arrived.
Marie said she appealed to Villagomez to no avail. “Either apologize or you need to leave,” Marie said Villagomez told her. Marie said the only thing she was guilty of was using “the F-bomb,” something she said was not “worth an arrest.”
As the student and professor both refused to apologize to each other, the white officer instructed the Black officer to arrest Marie, she said. Marie said she was told she was being arrested for “RDO,” which is tantamount to resisting arrest, and suffered minor injuries while she was in custody all “because I refused to apologize to my teacher.”
She was ultimately released from custody “with bruises and a 2nd degree misdemeanor,” Marie wrote on Instagram where her live video was posted. Marie had some choice words for the university and said she was “heartbroken” by her experience, especially because it happened at an HBCU. She suggested that she would be not be coming back to the university.
“I will no longer be representing WSSU,” Marie said. “I can say that with a whole lot of confidence that I don’t feel like WSSU deserves my representation.” Marie added later: “Y’all had me arrested for not apologizing to a white professor.”
Marie said she no longer feels “safe” on campus. “I came here for a really different experience from the one I got” and “really 100% thought I would have gotten arrested at a PWI before getting arrested at my HBCU.” Marie encouraged people to email the school to echo her complaints.
Villagomez later deleted her LinkedIn Page, but a screenshot was posted to social media. The Instagram account from which Marie was broadcasting live has also been deleted. Marie’s arrest was the second unflattering viral moment for an HBCU involving a non-Black professor in the last two months.
Now-former history, political science, geography and Africana studies professor Robert Pickard, resigned from Tennessee State University in November after he was shown on a viral video aggressively screaming in the face of a Black student.
It’s hard to watch young Black students undergoing trauma in real-time, especially on social media platforms where the whole world gets a glimpse into one of their darkest moments. Thoroughly vetting faculty and staff that interact with these students should continue to be of the utmost importance for HBCU institutions so that everyone can avoid these situations moving forward.
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