She didn’t need to hear more to understand what was happening. Standing right beside him was a campus security officer, who ordered Morgan to show her campus ID, prove she was on the faculty and that she did in fact live in the squat white bungalow she was already standing inside.
The “surreal” experience, Morgan, 36, told The Washington Post, shocked her and yet was an entirely predictable incident all at once.
“No one ever wakes up in the morning thinking that these things will happen,” the English professor said. But “being Black in America means there is an expectation that you have to show your papers, that you have to prove you are who you say you are and you belong where you say you belong.”
That Morgan was asked to do just that — on the idyllic Jesuit campus in Silicon Valley, where about 2 percent of the student body is Black and she is one of just seven Black faculty members — has rocked the tightknit school, bringing massive online attention to a county that recently declared racism a public health crisis.
In a letter to Santa Clara’s students and staff on Saturday, President Kevin F. O’Brien said he was “deeply sorry” about the incident, adding that “racial bias or profiling has no place on our campus.”
But Morgan said the incident was not any worse because of where — or to whom — it occurred. All Black people are too familiar with these kinds of experiences, she said, no matter their standing or accomplishments.
“There is no respectable enough. There is no articulate enough. There is no ‘enough’ that can protect you from this kind of trauma,” she added. “I wasn’t surprised. I was just hurt that it was taking place in this place that I love.”
A specialist in African American satire and comedy, Morgan had long dreamed of being a professor. While in college and graduate school, she especially looked up to Henry Louis Gates Jr., a celebrated Black Harvard literature professor whose texts on theory and criticism were often the first on her classes’ reading lists.
Like Gates, she told friends, she wanted her work to have an influence both within academia and in popular discourse.
A few years later, though, the Harvard professor attracted a very different kind of attention. Police officers in Cambridge, Mass., arrested him in 2009 as he was attempting to enter his own house, sparking a heated national debate on racial profiling that culminated in a “beer summit” at the White House.
A little more than a decade later, Morgan found herself in an on-campus situation eerily similar to what her academic icon experienced.
This weekend was supposed to be a reunion of sorts with Fuentes, her 32-year-old brother, a pianist, composer and music teacher who lives nearby in Sacramento. Although the two had made plans to see each other in the winter and early spring, the coronavirus pandemic had kept the siblings apart since Christmas.
Earlier this month, Fuentes was finally able to undergo a strict, 14-day quarantine and drive over to visit his sister and her husband. On Saturday morning, he left Morgan’s house for an 8:30 a.m. video call. Across the street on campus, he found a scenic outdoor spot, got out his books and laptop, and got to work.
Then, as Morgan recounted in a Twitter thread that went viral over the weekend, campus security officers approached Fuentes in the middle of his meeting and ordered him to move along.
“He’s been Black his whole life,” she wrote, “so he said ok.”
Four campus security cars then followed him to Morgan’s front door, where one officer — whom Morgan declined to identify — “very aggressively demanded” to see her campus ID.
The officer said her brother had been in the bushes and appeared to be homeless, telling Morgan, “[You need] to prove you are who he says you are and that you actually live here.”
Her husband, Matthew, who is White and works at Santa Clara’s marketing and communications office, joined in to push back. So did the officer’s supervisor.
“Well, it’s not your home,” the campus safety officers told the couple. “The University owns it.”
Like others on the block, their house is owned by the university and leased out to early-career, tenure-track faculty, she told The Post. But when a neighbor left their house nearby to walk their dog that morning, the officers declined to ask them for ID, Morgan said.
Moreover, she added, the incident points to how Black students and faculty at Santa Clara have been disproportionately targeted by the school’s security force. In recent weeks, she told the officers, White students have been smoking marijuana up and down the street without masks and without incident.
Deepa Arora, a spokesperson for the university, said in a statement to The Post that the school’s campus safety office is entirely staffed by non-sworn officers. Municipal police in the city of Santa Clara were not involved in the incident with Morgan and Fuentes, she added.
O’Brien, the university’s president, said that campus safety officers would undergo racial sensitivity training and that he’s planning a schoolwide conversation on the incident. Santa Clara’s division of equity and social justice has also launched an investigation.
Yet Morgan said the implications of her Saturday morning go far beyond campus.
“It’s not extra sad or extra troubling because this happened to a college professor,” she said. “It’s explicitly sad because this should not be happening in the year 2020.”