Open Letter Melissa Raybon

Quoting the entire letter:

October 8, 2018


An Open Letter to the California State University, Long Beach Office of the President, Office of the Provost,  Division of Administration & Finance, Office of Equity & Diversity, College of the Arts, Office of the Dean, and University Art Museum



To Whom it May Concern and Should Concern:


I am a CSULB alumnx, class of 2018, matriculating with a Bachelor of Arts in Textiles and Clothing. It is with great reluctance, sadness, and extreme disappointment that I am writing this letter. I had my first prolonged experience at the University Art Museum at Cal State Long Beach during the summer of 2017 as a Getty Multicultural Curatorial Intern, hired specifically to promote the narratives of people of color within institutions like this campus and its subsequent museum that have both traditionally and historically violated and disregarded said narratives. More specifically, I was hired to do research on and for the coming exhibition which would showcase the work of noted black female conceptual artist lauren woods. I felt honored as a womxn of color who identifies as half black and half xicanx to work on the project. I was also elated to find that Kimberli Meyer was working to implement an anti-racist framework within her workplace.


However, I was just as equally dismayed to find that the staff did not appear to be interested in actually putting this framework into practice.  It was during these three months that I came to the realization that I was in an environment that was not only hostile toward, but threatened by, my mere presence and existence. I also witnessed staff being antagonistic and insubordinate to Kimberli’s leadership.


Once staff realized that I was in complete support and alliance with the initiatives that Kimberli had set into place, it seemed that the hostility toward me was made even more apparent. During my internship, as part of the first “Mission and Vision” meeting, I gave a performative presentation about my lived experience as a womxn of color.  Shortly after that, I was cornered in a senior staff member’s office for what she said would be an opportunity for me to look at some archives she had pulled. Once the conversation began it became clear to me that she had other motives. She used the opportunity to relate her belief that I, as an intern, was working in a way that was “above” my position (i.e. uppity).  By the end of the confrontation, after I expressed my discomfort with her tone and the nature of her discourse, she attempted to gaslight me, claiming it was she who felt “threatened.”


I brought my concerns about the encounter to the Office of Equity and Diversity (OED), but in our discussion, they attempted to downplay the fact that this senior staff member was out of line throughout the interaction. The following is excerpted from an email I wrote to OED afterwards:


As you were able to witness in our meeting, my emotional and physical distress becomes very apparent in these types of situations. For many reasons, including the fact that this isn’t the first time I have faced discrimination, and the fact that it continues to be a daily part of my existence as a young queer womxn of color…  


As I mentioned in our meeting, I began to speak to XXXXX regarding her experience in curation and through that exchange, her answer naturally began to shift toward her personal experience as an intern. …her tone was already indicative of someone who wished to exert their knowledge and expertise over that of another. In other words, in a very condescending mannerism and tone she begins to tell me that, “An intern is someone who should quietly observe,” and in this statement I have no conflict. …she begins to let me know that “the staff is “very left,” and that they are also “black lives matter protesters,” but also that there are other staff members, who she names as XXXXX XXX XXXXXX, who have degrees in what she feels constitutes the work that I am doing here at the UAM.  


As soon as I express my opinions, she completely negates that they might hold any value by interrupting me and basically indicating to me that there is no value in my opinion based on my age and experience. Once I was able to voice to her that I was uncomfortable, she began to mirror my reaction by stating that she also felt uncomfortable and threatened and that she would speak to Kimberli about the situation.


I cannot truly begin to put into words how it felt to be ostracized within a new work environment as a 26 year old womxn of color, when my sole intentions both now and upon entering said environment were to help. To have this CSULB staff member spin a narrative about how she was “afraid” of me, a CSULB student, and how she was a victim in all of this, without intervention from the university administration was devastating.  If it is frightening to CSULB staff for a queer black xicanx student to speak unapologetically about her lived experience, and if staff cannot be mindful of power and positionality in a discussion, then why is that “afraid” person working at an institution that serves one of the most diverse student populations in the region? It is not lost on me that socialized fear of black people directly contributes to the epidemic of police brutality.  


We cannot segregate “art” from life.  As a creative, an artist, and an empath, when I am presented with an issue, I automatically set out on providing solutions. However, it seems that outside of Kimberli Meyer, the staff at UAM–perhaps this entire CSULB administration–would like to continue to maintain a particular status quo — not only inflicting violence on communities of color through alienation and misrepresentation, but shutting down conversations and programming centered around lauren’s work which serve to critique a society in which we have allowed for the wrongful murder of black men and women.


The ostracization was compounded when I sought recourse regarding this aggressive interaction from the Office of Equity & Diversity, a department that is supposedly set up to address the concerns of people that are part of a defined protected class.  While OED did email the forms to file a grievance, in person, the staff member minimized my concerns and efforts to formally address the situation. This ultimately influenced my decision not to file. In hindsight, I made the decision that was best for my own personal well-being at the time. Had I felt supported and encouraged that my efforts would have made a difference, perhaps there would have been no need for this letter.

CSULB, in multiple statements in response to lauren woods’s call for a restorative process, is attempting to justify problematic behavior and actions by stating that they were concerned about student and staff emotional well-being regarding American MONUMENT.  As Terri Carbaugh, Associate Vice President, Office of Public Affairs says in defense of the questionable request for 25 transcripts, CSULB administration wanted to, “gain a clearer understanding if the campus would need to invest in counseling staff who could assist any student who might experience an emotional trigger as a result of the intensity of the exhibit.”   I ask Terri: if CSULB is so concerned with students and “emotional triggers,” where was CSULB’s support for me, when I was actually, not theoretically, “emotional[ly] triggered” by an employee’s aggression? A response that was a product of her own implicit biases, latent racism, and white fragility? Progressives are now calling on people to “believe women.” I ask: did that apply a year ago? Does that apply to me, a queer black and xicanx womxn, today, when it comes to addressing the spectrum of white supremacy?


So far this heavy burden has been left to shoulder by artists like lauren, allies like Kimberli, and people of color such as myself who have nowhere to turn within our own institutions and nothing to lose in a place that seeks to inflict harm and curtail progress.


In 2018, CSULB continues to boast “major” technological advancements and “green” initiatives that, while important, can also be read as superficial markers of progress. For me, for Kimberli, for lauren, for the students of color on this campus, and generations to come, a real mark of progress would entail something so simple, something that has been completely thrown to the wayside–which is to teach people, specifically “white” people and POC with “white proximity,” how to treat others with respect in the face of their discomfort with change.


I have decided to come forth with this open letter because…


For an entire year I felt traumatized by this interaction at UAM and alone because of OED’s inability to acknowledge my concerns in a meaningful way.  The Getty Multicultural Internship Program is supposed to build pathways to success for marginalized students. However, instead, my experience at UAM served to reinforce this marginalization.  After my internship ended, I did not set foot in the UAM again until a year later when I attended the launch of American MONUMENT. It was a cathartic and validating experience to see lauren use her power as an artist to make a stand for “the work” that clearly needs to be done in service of racial justice.


I am redacting names not because I believe that this UAM staff member should not be explicitly called out, but because I want to respect the restorative process that lauren has called for and is modeling. I want to believe that restoration is possible. The women who are involved in this incident, the UAM staff member and the OED staff member, know who they are, and I want to offer this to my former co-workers:  


Instead of moving on to the next show on the exhibition calendar, I hope that you use this pause that lauren woods has called for to do some deep self-reflection about the ways you contributed to this moment that we now find ourselves in, in which this important work is left stalled and unsupported.  I also believe that we all should take a moment of pause to reflect on the ways we are all complicit in helping structural oppression to continue. At the end of that reflection period, we should be compelled and ready to act. Acting goes beyond declaring you are a “black lives matters protester.” As lauren stated, we cannot begin to attack police brutality if we cannot attack the institutional violence that happens on a daily basis as well as our own biases and shortcomings.


This open letter is in support of Kimberli Meyer’s reinstatement as Director of the University Art Museum.  lauren’s work has served to shed a light on the dark parts of this very campus — a light that not even the “muzzling” of students, staff or various campus officials can dim.  CSULB needs the building of American MONUMENT to continue.  We need the transformation of the UAM into a more culturally relevant institution that actually speaks to the needs of CSULB students and the larger Long Beach community to occur with urgency.  


We are long overdue for a radical shift in this institution. The time is now.



Melissa Raybon

CSULB Alumnx ‘18

Former Getty Multicultural Curatorial Intern, UAM, CSULB





Colored My Existence with Tears, Performative presentation shared at the first UAM Mission & Vision staff meeting as a Getty Curatorial Intern, Summer, 2017

Petition to “Un-Pause” American Monument”