What a welcoming gift Dr. Adrien L. Bennings was given on January 6th as she began her time as Kellogg Community College's (KKC) new President.  That gift was given to Dr. Bennings by KCC’s Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Jorge Zeballos.

In a nutshell, Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Jorge Zeballos caused quite a problem for himself, Kellogg Community College and President Bennings when he posted a picture of himself protesting at President Trump’s Christmas Rally in Battle Creek on December 18th.  He held a sign protesting President Trump, Senator McConnell and Graham that read:

  • F@%k Trump
  • F@%k McConnell
  • F@%k Graham

On his sign, the words F@%k were actually spelled out.

Mr. Zeballos and his supporters attempted to hide behind his First Amendment right of free speech while others believed this issue had nothing to do with his free speech rights and everything to do about his ability to lead KCC’s Equity and Inclusion department.

With all that thrown in the lap of Dr. Bennings on her first day in office, she has brought this dark period for KCC to an ending.  I have to give Dr. Bennings a lot of credit for what she had to take on from day one and seeing it to what I would consider the correct ending.

Dr. Bennings wrote to all KCC employees:

While KCC's strategic plan evolves, several initial priorities have emerged that are resulting in the immediate reallocation of the College's resources. Specifically, this includes the need for the institution's equity and inclusion initiatives to be driven directly from the President's Office under my leadership instead of through the College's Office of Equity and Inclusion.

This reallocation of responsibilities signifies the central importance of equity and inclusion to the leadership at KCC and enables me, as KCC President, to embed KCC's core values even more broadly across the institution. This change also requires fiscal stewardship, which includes the elimination of the position of Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer within the current fiscal year. Today, I formally notified the KCC personnel affected by this change.

To be fair Mr. Zeballos really gave Dr. Bennings no other alternative.  He did not appear to understand the gravity of his actions and only made it worse when he apologized for getting caught.  Mr. Zeballos posted on his Facebook page the following::

Recently I posted a picture on my page of me holding a sign at a rally to protest Trump’s visit to Battle Creek. While I stand by my first amendment right to express myself, I understand that my public and private actions have repercussions on the institution I work for, Kellogg Community College. Because of this, I deeply regret posting the picture on my Facebook page and the controversy it has generated.

Anyone that has interacted with me, both professionally and personally, knows that I strive to have respectful dialogue on some of the most challenging issues with anyone that holds a different opinion than mine. This incident doesn’t change who I am and what I stand for, creating a more equitable and inclusive society.

Notice that Mr. Zeballos did not apologize for his actions or the shame he brought to himself, his family, KCC, the Kellogg Foundation and the city of Battle Creek.  He only “regrets” getting caught.

Had Mr. Zeballos apologized for what he did and admit this was not the right conduct of someone whose job it was to create “an inclusive environment that fosters respect, supports cultural understanding, demonstrates ethical behavior and champions social justice” as KCC’s press release announcing his hiring stated, he might have saved his job.

Had Mr. Zeballos spoke to the people in the community via the media to explain that he understood what he did was wrong for a person in his position and he has learned from this experience.  An experience that would have made him a bit more tolerant, equitable and inclusive of other people’s ideas, he might have saved his job.

Instead, he stood defiant.

Now he will have to move on to the next phase of his career and I wish him well in doing so.  All any of us can do from our mistakes in life is to learn from them and grow as better men, women, husbands, wives, fathers, sons, daughters and colleagues.

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