LBCC professor fired over alleged elbow incident during graduation ceremony

The Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees voted to fire a professor Wednesday afternoon following allegations that she had elbowed a student while announcing names on stage during the college’s graduation ceremony earlier this year.

Kashara Moore, a part-time faculty member at the college for the past 10 years who was recently elected president of the part-time faculty union, had been on paid administrative leave since June, pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

The board announced shortly before midnight that it had voted 3-2 to terminate Moore. Trustees Virginia Baxter and Sunny Zia voted against termination.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, the college said it weighed the totality of the evidence in deciding to fire Moore.

“Long Beach Community College District takes seriously the safety of our students to ensure their academic success,” the college said in a statement.

Moore had been calling names during the June 9 ceremony and mispronounced Carmina Barraza, as “Carina Barajas,” which led to the incident in question.

Video of the incident shows Moore and Barraza speaking about the correct pronunciation before Moore leans into the microphone and correctly calls Barraza’s name, which is when Barraza claims the elbowing occurred. Barraza filed a complaint with the school the following day, according to the college.

The college’s investigation sought to prove if there was a mispronunciation and physical contact, and it concluded that both happened.

According to the report, campus police reviewed the footage and could not determine if physical contact was made or why Moore’s elbow “flinched.” They concluded it was unclear if it was involuntary, Barraza touching Moore’s arm, Barraza entering her personal space or some other reason.

Despite several witnesses on and around the stage saying they did not see physical contact, the report concluded it was intentional, but then went on to say that intent didn’t matter.

“Even if the act was unintentional, it demonstrates a big degree of unprofessionalism and poor judgement,” Loy Nahsua, the college’s vice president of human resources wrote in an email to Moore before concluding that she had engaged in professional misconduct.

Dozens of faculty members from both the full-time and part-time unions turned out to the meeting Wednesday afternoon donning red shirts and green ribbons—Moore played basketball at the University of Oregon—and held up signs calling for the board to go against the recommendation to fire Moore.

Moore addressed the board before it headed into its first closed session before 5 p.m. and said that the physical contact happened when she was bumped from behind while trying to restate Barraza’s name. She called the contact “absolutely accidental.”

She confided that she had overcome a speech impediment as a child and practiced for weeks leading up to the ceremony to ensure she was at her best and disagreed with the college’s conclusion that she showed no remorse. Moore can be heard apologizing on stage during the ceremony.

“I love this college, I love my community and I love my students,” Moore said. “No matter what you decide that will not change.”

In an email to the school, Barraza said she was elbowed “intentionally” and that she left the ceremony early because she was so upset over the incident.

“This is unacceptable by your LBCC employee,” Barraza wrote. “I will ensure you that I am heard, my name demands respect, and I did not deserve to be assaulted.”

Attempts by the Post to reach Barraza were unsuccessful.

Leading up to the meeting an online petition had garnered over 660 signatures in support of Moore. About 40 faculty members filled the board meeting room in solidarity Wednesday ahead of the trustees’ deliberations, with many voicing concerns for the precedent her firing could set for other faculty members.

Sean Dinces, a professor of history and political science, took issue with the report’s conclusion regarding the intent of the elbow saying that the logic in the report “stretched the available evidence so far beyond the possible conclusions.”

Dinces teaches a course titled “Facts, Evidence and Explanation” and said if his students tried to use the same level of evidence in an assignment “I would politely tell them to redo it,” he said.

Other faculty members called out the actions of Trustee Herlinda Chico, who is seen on the video interjecting herself into the situation, which some have said potentially inflamed the situation.  Karen Roberts warned that this would harm the college’s reputation and its ability to hire faculty in the future.

Roberts, a former president of the faculty union Moore was recently elected to lead, which filed a class action lawsuit against the college in April over alleged minimum wage violations, said that part-time professors across the state were watching what was happening at LBCC.

“Don’t sit in your small, small world and think this isn’t going to affect the college,” Roberts said. “It’s going to affect the college.”

Editors note: This story has been updated with a statement from Long Beach City College. 

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.
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