Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Dec. 28. I’m Justin Ray.
What you can and can’t say is at the center of two controversies at a pair of California colleges.
In one instance, an institution is facing a lawsuit after a student was dismissed over comments that offended fellow students. In another, the staff at a university want administrators to strongly condemn a student’s social media posts.
Here’s what you should know about each situation:
A lawsuit over racist, sexist language
A former medical student of California Health Sciences University in Clovis is suing the institution, seeking a public apology and reinstatement.
The lawsuit includes findings of a university investigation that Nicholas Sciaroni’s classmates were offended by comments he made about people of color and immigrants.
For example, the university found that he used the phrase “the realest Nicker since 2006” on his Instagram account. “Another student saw this, and became offended,” because of its resemblance to the N-word, the university wrote. During a Zoom class session, the university reports that Sciaroni stated, “I will not bow down as a white man,” or used similar words, during a response to an ethical hypothetical presented to a class.
While in conversation with classmates, the university claims Sciaroni said he “would no longer watch the NFL because they were hiring too many black coaches as opposed to white coaches, or similar words.”
A letter from the university addressed to Sciaroni attached to the lawsuit also highlights complaints made about him over comments he allegedly made suggesting that women were inferior, “crazy” and that only two genders exist.
The lawsuit does not largely contest the university findings. Instead, it argues that the school was wrong to dismiss him because the comments are protected speech.
Sciaroni’s lawsuit seeks four other things: a judgment declaring that the 1st Amendment protects him; for the university to withdraw the complaint that led to his dismissal; free speech training for university staff; and for the university to pay his attorney fees.
“Because of student privacy rights, we cannot comment on this pending matter,” the university told The Times.
The Fresno Bee notes that Sciaroni has argued over free speech rights before. In 2019, while attending Fresno State, he had a tense argument with a professor about the subject.
Faculty outraged over response to student’s tweets
Earlier this month, more than 60 faculty members at USC signed an open letter urging the university’s leadership to “publicly and explicitly rebuke” a student for comments she made on social media, including a tweet saying she wanted to “kill every motherf—ing Zionist.”
The faculty asked school officials to rebuke Yasmeen Mashayekh, a 21-year-old civil engineering student, and “to distance USC from her hateful statements.”
“I don’t feel safe on campus,” Mashayekh, who is Palestinian, said in an interview with The Times. She said she informed the school of the targeted harassment she has been facing for several months and said that she hasn’t been satisfied with USC’s response.
University leaders said that over the summer, when the school first learned about the tweets, which have since been taken down, they removed Mashayekh from her paid mentoring position in the Viterbi School of Engineering.
In an interview, Provost Charles Zukoski said he was limited in what he could say specifically about the case because of privacy issues but said there was no retribution involved in removing the student from the paid mentoring position, adding that she was offered other opportunities on campus.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.
Californians will ring in the new year with the unfurling of a groundbreaking law that will change how they dispose of their organic waste, particularly leftover food and kitchen scraps. Senate Bill 1383 requires all residents and businesses to separate such “green” waste from other trash, but the program will be rolled out gradually for homes and businesses in the coming months, with the actual startup date varying, depending on the location of your home or business. Fines can be levied for failing to separate organic refuse from other trash. But those charges aren’t scheduled to begin until 2024. Los Angeles Times
‘COVID stole the heart of my family. It also divided it.’ You’re gonna wanna read this moving, personal story by The Times’ Brittny Mejia. “My grandma was not vaccinated — not of her own will — and I fear it is a decision that will haunt my family and evoke anger for years,” Mejia writes. Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
What to do about the Governor’s Mansion. A short walk from the state Capitol, there is a three-story Italianate Victorian mansion. The 144-year-old home is the California Governor’s Mansion, the state’s official residence for its chief executive. Gov. Gavin Newson decided not to live there, as did many of his predecessors. California is struggling to figure out what to do next with the mansion, which was once a museum that hosted an average of 30,000 visitors per year. SF Chronicle
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
Gunfire at a family gathering on Christmas left two women dead and a suspect in custody. Fresno County deputies say 23-year-old Austin Alvarez of Reedley shot dead his grandmother and his father’s girlfriend. Alvarez has been booked into the Fresno County jail on two charges of murder and one charge of attempted murder. Deputies have not identified a motive. “Anything that happens with a family on Christmas is extra tragic. Especially when it’s multiple homicides on Christmas, it’s one of the worst-case scenarios,” said Fresno County Sheriff Lt. Brandon Pursell. ABC 30
Video from the deadly Los Angeles police shooting that killed an assault suspect and a 14-year-old bystander at a Burlington store on Thursday shows the suspect beating a woman with a bike lock before a group of officers finds him and one opens fire with a rifle. “She’s bleeding! She’s bleeding!” the officer screams of the victim as she crawls out of an aisle of home goods. The department still had not released the name of the officer who fired as of Monday. Los Angeles Times
HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
An explosion of new coronavirus cases fueled by the rapidly spreading Omicron variant has triggered a sharp uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations across California, prompting renewed warnings and calls for caution from public health officials. Over the weeklong period ending Sunday, California reported an average of 11,914 new coronavirus cases per day — a 73% jump from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Times. There were 4,001 coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized statewide on Sunday, a nearly 14% increase in one week. COVID-19 hospitalizations haven’t been this high since early October. Los Angeles Times
The fast-spreading, highly contagious COVID virus mutation Omicron isn’t just making people sick — it’s gumming up the plans for many companies that had hoped to reopen their offices for hybrid or full-time in-person work early in 2022. The variant appears to be less deadly with generally less severe symptoms than Delta. But it’s proving to be far more contagious. That’s causing companies to delay reopening plans, and in many cases, new dates aren’t being offered. The Times looked into the return-to-work plans for Uber, Facebook, Wells Fargo and more. Los Angeles Times
‘I have real problems even looking at that building’: On May 26, 2021, San Jose became the site of the Bay Area’s deadliest mass shooting. Nine employees were killed in a gun rampage at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard. What has happened since? “After politicians gave their condolences and the media spotlight moved on, spouses, parents and children are confronting a slow-moving bureaucracy ill-equipped to handle a tragedy of this scale. They are finding little accountability as investigations drag on. Witnesses are left with nightmares,” writes transportation reporter Eliyahu Kamisher. The Mercury News
Why isn’t Kenny Washington an American icon? Many people remember Jackie Robinson as a Black athlete who became an American icon for breaking a color barrier in sports. However, people do not remember Kenny Washington, the former UCLA football and baseball star who broke the NFL’s color barrier with the Los Angeles Rams in 1946 — the year before Robinson got to the Brooklyn Dodgers. “This year is the 75th anniversary of Washington’s groundbreaking season, and he’s barely a footnote in the annals of sports history,” Slate’s Joshua Neuman writes. This story explains how he grew up in Los Angeles and became a stellar athlete. Slate
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Los Angeles: Overcast 55 San Diego: Cloudy 55 San Francisco: Rainy 47 San Jose: Rainy 49 Fresno: Overcast 44 Sacramento: Rainy 43. You aren’t ready to see the camera pan down.
Today’s California memory is from Kristen Desmond:
My parents moved to Fremont in 1969. I fondly remember the colors, smells and sounds of my childhood. Next to city hall, there were fields of colorful gladiolas, framed in the background by majestic Mission Peak. When it rained (yes, it rained!), the cauliflower and broccoli fields would fill the air with a musty odor. On warm days, the Irvington pickle factory was particularly odorous. And on hot summer nights, with all the windows wide open, I’d fall asleep to the distant roar of engines from the Badlands Raceway…
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
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