Muskaan Sandu and Taykhoom Dalal, student trustees for Campbell Union High School District, spent months surveying their peers to prepare for their year-end report to the board last week. Their findings, presented at the May 17 meeting, were alarming: rampant use of “the N-word” and teachers outing queer teens without consent.
But trustee Matthew Dean wasn’t buying it. The real problem, he explained by way of a parable about fat-shaming his son, is that kids need to toughen up and find the “diamond” in whatever insult someone hurls their way.
Sandu, 17, calmly dismantled Dean’s not-so-bon mot.
“When you’re called the N-word, there’s no diamond in that,” she said, adding, “there is danger in that, there is oppression in that.”
Dean, apparently, had more whitesplaining to do.
“One thing I do a lot is I play basketball,” he continued. “The No. 1 group of people using that word is not Caucasian.”
Instead of rebuking her fellow trustee, Stacey Brown tried to explain away his remark. The rest of the all-white board—Kalen Gallagher, Kristiina Arrasmith and Linda Goytia—then proceeded to change the subject. But video of the exchange popped up on NextDoor, where it continues to offend an even wider audience.
Gallagher, the board president and one of six candidates running for San Jose’s District 9 City Council seat, issued a vague, diffident statement three days later distancing himself from the cringeworthy quip without condemning it. He later quietly scrubbed Dean’s name from the endorsement list on his D9 campaign website. Dean, for his part, apologized in an uncharacteristically tame email Monday, but only after doubling down on his inflammatory hot-takes in a phone call with Fly just 72 hours earlier.
“If we let students sit around waiting for the system to protect them, then we are raising a generation of completely sad and weak people,” the father of five and former mayor of Campbell cautioned.
Dean went on to deny the existence of systemic racism, extol the virtues of European colonialism and lament the perils of complimenting women amid the #MeToo movement—“you might get charged with harassment”—before fondly describing the innocent days of yore when he spent recess playing a ball game called “Smear the Queer.”
Below is a copy of the email from Dean, who comes up for re-election this fall.
In regards to the meeting, I felt it important to share my thoughts in a written form.
Last week, two of our district’s student leaders came before our board to share their views on the issues they feel need our attention throughout the District.
Unfortunately, in an attempt to create a teachable moment, I not only failed in the message and words that I was delivering, but equally, failed in recognizing the courage it took for our student leaders to stand before our board to share their point of view on topics that are clearly impacting their lives.
To our student leaders, I simply want to state, from the bottom of my heart, that I am deeply sorry if I made you feel as if your voice did not matter. Not only does your voice matter, it is so strong that I feel that the teachable moment I was seeking to achieve for you became a teachable moment for me.
Our district is driven by the principle that every student matters. I want you to know that I too am driven by that principle.
And here is the statement from Gallagher.
“As a board we believe that student voice is critical to the decisions that we make, and we are proud of our student board members’ willingness to share honest accounts of how students are experiencing our district.
Trustee Dean’s comments in response to the student board member presentation at our May 17 meeting were his own and do not reflect the views of the Board nor do they align with the mission and guiding principles of our district.
I have directed our superintendent to provide the board with a plan for addressing the issues raised by the student board members in their report. Additionally, I will work with my fellow board members to ensure that we have the time, training, and experiences necessary to develop mindsets that are better equipped for serving our students.”