Back in 2021, Tabia Lee, EdD, was head of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) department at Silicon Valley’s De Anza College. At the time, she thought DEI was actually about inclusion. But almost immediately, she discovered the truth: "It was like I was in the Twilight Zone." She tells Glenn that it only took two weeks for some of her fellow staff members to call her a "dirty zionist" who was "supporting white supremacy." On top of that, she was told by many people, including Jewish students, that there was a problem with anti-Semitism on campus, despite its alleged commitment to inclusion. Now, she is a senior fellow at Do No Harm Medicine and has decided to expose the dangerous way American colleges have started to view "social justice."
TranscriptBelow is a rush transcript that may contain errors
GLENN: I am always encouraged by people that are willing, when they learn something to change. Too many are not. And that includes people like me. I have learned things. And if you are honestly seeking knowledge. You're honestly seeking truth, you're bound to change from time to time. It's essential, that you do. Otherwise, you get stuck in old thinking.
And you -- you lose the ability to help, really, quite honestly.
Dr. Tabia Lee, she was the head of a college DEI program. So you would immediately say, gee, Glenn, why are you having Dr. Tabia Lee on?
Because she's somebody who went in, and found that this is really harmful. This is not actually making sure all voices are heard. And she left, and has been in a lawsuit. With her former college. But I wanted to talk to her, because, A, I respect her. B, she's also talking about anti-Semitism on the campus. Dr. Tabia Lee, welcome to the program.
TABIA: Hi, Glenn. Thank you for having me today.
GLENN: You bet.
This must be weird because I bet you never thought, I would never find myself one morning hanging out with Glenn Beck.
GLENN: Yeah. Right. So -- so, Doctor, tell me what your experience was?
TABIA: Yes. You know, when I was hired at the college, as a faculty director, it was after many years of working in higher education as a part-timer, if you will. You know, after I got my doctorate, those job offers for the tenure track, just didn't come pouring in like I thought they would. But one silver lining of the pandemic for me was that all of these positions opened up. And, you know, colleges needed extra hands, if you will. And I was one of those folks that was hired on.
And it was a job responsibility and title that everyone always had said, Lee, you need to be a director somewhere. You don't just need to be in your classroom anymore. You need to share your knowledge with the wider group of colleagues and impacts in institutions. And this was a job that provided me with an opportunity to do that position as a faculty member.
And so the things that took place almost immediately, as I began to do my work. Let me know that I was in an environment, that I had never been in before. And it was like I was in a -- in a Twilight Zone almost. It was immediate. But within two weeks after starting. Starting my work.
GLENN: So when you took the lead role on DEI, what did you think it was?
TABIA: So this was a position to lead an institution-wide transformation around topics, which was my office role -- equity, social justice, and multi-cultural education.
And when I interviewed for it, it was a lengthy process. And, you know, I was very forthright with them about who I was. And they kind of revealed to me, some of their main points. One of the things they said, was the panel said, was, you know, the office you'll be working for. They're a little too woke.
And, you know, that's why we're looking for someone to come in and bring a balance. And I said, well, can you tell me what you mean by woke? Because people use words all the time. And they have different meanings for them.
So I'm always looking for what is someone actually talking about?
And they said, well, when faculty goes to your office. You know, if you're selected as a candidate, they feel uncomfortable.
They're accused of being racists. They're told that they're teaching wrong. And so a lot of faculty doesn't engage.
And I said, well, based on that, that you're telling me, I'm definitely not woke. What I seek to do, I seek to bring people together. From diversion perspectives. And, you know, to identify points of commonality. Even if we seem really different, I think we can always find a way to relate to our students. So that was my statement.
And from that, I advanced to the next stage.
And I did even a teaching demonstration for them on calling people in, instead of calling out.
And so everything was focused on that point that they raised, about the negativity coming from the office. And I was selected for that position. And I was delighted to be selected.
Because this was again, you know, things I focus on. An opportunity to bring people together in dialogue. And make a positive change in the community.
GLENN: How long did it take you before you were called the wrong kind of black person? Or, quoting, a dirty -- dirty Zionist?
TABIA: Oh, yes. So that was within two weeks. You know, as I started off, Glenn. I don't assume I know anything. Or that I have a solution going in. I want to see what people on the ground are saying. So I did over 60 hours of needs assessment conversations with faculties, administrators, staff.
And during this, one of the first ones was with one of my staff members. And they told me that, you know, this job, they were a final candidate. This job should have been theirs. And they said, you know, they don't know who I am or what my commitment to equity is. And, you know, why I come in and scooped this out from under them. But they assured me that I would have a rough road ahead of me.
And from that, that was the same person who a couple weeks after that initial meeting with them, while I was meeting with my team. We had already had some kind of informal meetings. You know, and it just seemed like they were a very casual group. And remember, I needed to do some strategic planning. To do an institutionalized transformation. So I wanted to bring some structure. So I said, it's been great meeting with everybody, you know, the past couple of weeks and so forth. Just tell me a little bit about how you all take notes. How do you, you know, track what you've done in the past, what you're doing in the future? And they said, we just kind of meet and we talk once a week.
And I said, well, I've made this Google Doc, and all of us can edit it.
And you can put in ideas for agendas, and some -- maybe you can tell me some of your projects that you're working on. And I can see where I can fit in. And the same person who told me, my job should have been theirs, they said, stop what you're doing right now.
And I was like, kind of taken aback. I said, okay. What? I said, okay. I'm listening.
And he said, what you're doing right now, is you're white speaking. You're white explaining. And you're supporting white supremacy, and we don't do that here.
And I said, excuse me?
GLENN: Wow. And you're African-American. Right? This, I just want --
TABIA: Yeah. Yeah. And I've worked in education my whole life, Glenn.
No teacher -- I've never been in a meeting where someone called another person a white-speaking, white-explaining. And said they're a white supremacist. And I'm from the Central Valley here in California.
I grew up there. Small town called Loney. And there, when I -- when you hear white supremacist, it's actually like KKK members. White nationalist socialists, is what that refers to. And so I was deeply offended. And everyone on the call, you know, had these smug looks on their faces.
And I said, you know, I haven't come in here, saying -- calling anyone names.
You know, I said, this is -- I feel very uncomfortable, what you said.
And I just explained to them, what I explained to you. Where I'm from. How I heard that used.
And everyone on the call had these looks of condemnation, as though I was offending the person who said those offensive words to me.
GLENN: I know this story.
TABIA: This is -- yes. And I -- and I took it back to my dean, you know, afterwards. And I said, hey. This happened. And affect was flat. She had no response.
And I said, you know, I'm real uncomfortable. Normally I'd be the person who would do some kind of team building. Or, you know, a communications exercise. I said, but I'm the target. I said, I need you to bring someone in, to talk to this team about, you know, in-group bias. And how do you let the new person in, and how do you talk to each other, you know, in a civil way?
And then -- and I need this to be repaired. I said, because this -- we can't communicate this way. This is not normal to me. It's very abnormal.
She never brought anyone in. And I said her, if she would come in. And then she ended up being one of the main instigators as well. So that was the environment that started off with my supervising dean. And my team. You know, being called a white supremacist. And, you know -- and I didn't know what they meant, until many weeks later.
You know, I saw they -- I started going to their workshops. And I kept seeing this live pop up. And it said, white supremacy culture characteristics. And one time it had a citation on it.
So I was able to find the white paper where it came from. But it had things, Glenn, like being on time, being objective, setting an agenda.
GLENN: Yeah. Yeah.
TABIA: Yeah. And these are like personality characteristics. And I said, what is that -- but at our California community colleges that's being held up as a framework for people to work from. And they call it that they're dismantling a white supremacy. And the way they're doing it is by not elevating those characteristics. And I guess, castigating anyone who demonstrate does them. And to me, all the characteristics were things I had always taught my students to do to be successful in life. They're not white supremacy. You know, these are just -- so I just -- that's how it started. That's how it started. And from there, it -- at every turn, it was becoming clear that I was working from a different understanding of social justice, you know, from them.
TABIA: And I had to really figure that out while I was in it, which was an interesting thing. Because, again, all my institutions I worked at before, you know, they used the classical definition, you know, hindsight is 2020.
But here, they were using a critical definition. And it was this focus on claiming that America is a nation founded by white supremacy.
That's one of their core things that they -- was even the academic Senate made a resolution stating that. And I pushed back on that. That made me an enemy again. I said, no, America was founded to me, and to others here.
And they're too afraid to speak, because the environment you all have created.
I said, it's founded on fairness and equality.
You know, whether we lived up to it or not. It's something we can all debate.
But I disagree. I said, America needs to know. We're rejecting that.
It sounded like, that's final. And they put that in the resolution, that the faculty signed.
GLENN: Wow. You are an absolute unicorn.
GLENN: Dr. Tabia Lee is with us.
She is a senior fellow now at Do No Harm Medicine. And she was at some universities, or some -- what would you call it? Just a college, or is it a technical college? I'm sorry, Tabia.
TABIA: This was a community college. California community college. Uh-huh.
GLENN: Community college. And you were experiencing, as the DEI director, you're experiencing, wow. They don't define things the same. Then you started noticing, because you were talking to students, what's happening. And several Jewish students came and said, I feel unsafe here. And what happened?
TABIA: Actually -- actually, this was during -- this was during my assessment conversation. This was conversations with faculty staff and administrators. Multiple times, it was mentioned that there was a problem with anti-Semitism on the campus. And they gave -- gave me several examples, like the academic starting for decades on Jewish high holy holidays. Stories were shared with me about things that happened before I came. Our student government basically subverted a effort of the Jewish student union to bring forth definition of anti-Semitism, the IHRA definition.
Instead, the student government ended up making a counterproposal. And then they made no definition of anti-Semitism, but they condemned Israel. And so that was very disappointing to the students. I also heard about the students being uncomfortable, because of anti-Semitic firing. This is all because before I got there. And people were sharing these stories with me. And telling me the environment of fear and exclusion. That had been created for Jewish opportunities. And I was on as part of my director responsibilities, a group called the Equity Action Council.
And what I discovered there, Glenn. They weren't focused on equity. To me, equity means fairness, the textbook definition. They were talking about something completely different.
And then they weren't focused on actions either. So it was a big time waster on the taxpayer dollar, and this group gets funding too.
And our local Halal director came here to the Equity Action Council. And they shared information about the uncomfortable environment for students, and they asked us, urged us to please ask. And they offered to assist. And they gave us some recommendations in written form because they said they had come and talked to several people before, and nothing ever happens. And they were hoping to see some changes. When we took these recommendations back to our team meetings, I said, wow. First, I'm offended by the way that one of the staff members, as these guests were talking. They were dropping resources into the chat box. Like here's a link to students for justice for Palestine. This was a good resource to learn about anti-Semitism. Here's a link to Jewish voices for peace and so forth. They were giving things -- resources that were antithetical to what the people were speaking about.
And I said, I found that disrespectful. And they said, well, it was disrespectful. You and your guests, they called it, were sharing resources. So we shared ours. And I said, okay.
GLENN: Oh, my gosh.