Stand in Solidarity

In June 2020, faculty at Collin College were informed that we were
expected to continue teaching primarily in-person through the rest of the
year. Traditionally in higher ed, faculty are considered a body worthy of
consultation in important matters, but not so at Collin. The college president
and his allies have cemented a culture of fear, mutual mistrust, and
depressed morale. Our president released repeated statements about a fake
and overblown pandemic and publicly ridiculed those who expressed
concerns. Dissent is not tolerated at Collin College — and that’s why this
story of solidarity is so powerful.
In the face of college leadership’s unyielding blockade against science-
based health measures, plus a disturbing trend of retaliation against those
who dared speak out, a few of us faculty members decided to form a local
chapter of the Texas Faculty Association (TFA). TFA is an advocacy group
for educators, basically a college teacher’s union, defanged under Texas
law but explicitly allowed by our own college policy. Yet college
administrators channeled the spirit of Henry Ford, warning us to never
mention TFA to our colleagues and to never use the college’s name
anywhere near the letters “TFA.”
Despite intense fear and pressure from other faculty to keep our heads
down lest we lose our jobs, our little chapter doubled, then tripled in size
over the course of a few months. The quietest, gentlest people I know
showed up at recruitment events and began researching, volunteering, and
strategizing like seasoned politicos. In a crushing blow that we feared but
did not expect, in January the college told two of the three chapter officers,
my colleague Suzanne and myself, that our contracts would be “non-
renewed” after this term. Fear rippled through the community, and several
people who had promised support backed out, apologizing that they just
couldn’t lose their health insurance over this. Yet that same day we were let
go, we added three new members to our TFA chapter, all in full knowledge
that risking retaliation is a real part of membership.
People from every walk of life stepped up to support our efforts—not just to
get our jobs back, but to change the toxic culture that is now the norm at
Collin. Former and current students wrote letters to the Board of Trustees
expressing their dismay and then showed up to Board meetings to make
public statements. Faculty from Dallas College (DCCCD), UTD, UNT, and
Texas A&M Commerce showed up at virtual meetups and in-person at
those Board meetings, forcing two overflow rooms to be opened for all our
supporters. Local activists and parents organized a protest that got wide
media coverage. Former Collin faculty going back over a decade reached
out to us to ask how they could help. Even the parents of former students
offered to write letters and connect us with media sources who would
amplify our story. A student I taught back in 2008 who is now a medical
doctor offered me a part-time position online through his teaching hospital,
just to get me back on my feet.
When teamsters from the next county over call you to say “We found child
care. We’re bringing signs and supplies, and we will speak on your behalf
at your college’s Board Meeting tonight,” it instills a kind of awe in the
sincerity and drive of these helpers — the ones who drop what they’re
doing and show up in any way they can.
In the midst of the silence of too many of our friends, the joyful voices of allies new and old continue to invigorate this movement.
That is the spirit we evoke when we remind people that we stand “In Solidarity.”

By Audra Heaslip and Dr. Suzanne Jones