Recent revelations of an ethnic studies student’s hateful, racist and threatening social media posts have led to the cancellation of the remainder of that course’s public events, according to professor Rabab Abdulhadi.
The self-proclaimed nazi student, Brian Cofield, is enrolled in an online hybrid Palestine ethnic studies perspective course under the Race and Resistance studies program. Students are required to attend at least two events outside of normally scheduled class time to pass the course and can still attend other events sponsored by the College of Ethnic Studies.
Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diasporas (AMED) studies professor Dr. Abdulhadi, who teaches the course, said she cancelled the two remaining public events in the semester due to safety concerns.
She said the public events that were canceled included a discussion with several indigenous feminist scholars about Donald Trump’s statements regarding Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s indigenous roots, and Abdulhadi’s lecture on the 1968 SF State student-led strike and Palestine.
Abdulhadi said when students sent her an email with dozens of racist and threatening images from his social media accounts on Oct 3. she immediately reached out to administration, but the response was disheartening.
Cofield’s posts are protected by the First Amendment, said SF State Campus Police Chief Jason Wu and Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.
Wu said the investigation into the sources of the flyers is ongoing. SF State Dean of Students Shimina Harris said the university doesn’t have a say in any student’s social media, even if the content is threatening to other students.
“Hate speech is still free speech,” Harris said. “Unless it incites criminal activity, is an imminent threat, or is an expression that constitutes criminal or severe discrimination or harassment.”
In an interview with the Golden Gate Xpress on Friday, Oct. 26, Abdulhadi and students enrolled in the AMED course said the administration’s response is alarming and a betrayal to its core value of diversity, knowledge and the safety of all students.
“This is not free speech,” she said. “I’m sorry it’s not. Something is wrong here, and we are supposed to be educating around that. We are an education institution and we are not doing our job.”
The issue came to light on Oct. 9 when anonymous flyers posted mostly throughout the Humanities Building showed anti-Semitic images from 37-year-old Cofield’s Facebook and Instagram accounts below the words, “Alert! Alert! Nazi on Campus.”
Wu said police officers responded to a notification at around 7:30 a.m. and removed about 28 flyers that showed Cofield saluting Adolf Hitler in front of a Confederate Flag with a Swastika tattooed on his abdomen.
Cofield deleted his Instagram account @nazibrian805 hours after the flyers were taken down, and he deleted the scores of neo-nazi memes, posts and photoshop collages on his Facebook as of press time.
He said Harris told him that he should reach out to campus police if more flyers appear or if he “feels harassed.”
His Facebook, which also contained scores of posts demeaning and threatening Muslims, Jewish people, LGBTQ+ and immigrants, while promoting white supremacist beliefs, was up for about two weeks after the initial flyer blast.
An SF State student who is enrolled in the Palestine course with Cofield said that the most concerning element is that campus police helped hide a potential threat by tearing down the flyers. The student asked for anonymity out of fear of possible retaliation from Cofield, or people who also support white supremacy.
Abdulhadi said students were deeply worried that Cofield could target event speakers of the course like Madonna Thunder Hawk, founder of the American Indian Movement.
“The students are really scared about it,” Abdulhadi said. “And I’m worried about what could happen to me, the students and faculty because of the stuff on his Facebook. When I received the shots [from the social media posts], it was really scary.”
Abdulhadi said she is confused about why he would enroll in a class that focuses on the negative effects of colonialism while promoting his racist views so openly online.
“We have no place in the Palestine support movement — no place whatsoever, categorically — for people who advocate white supremacy, who advocate racism, who advocate colonialism, sexim, homophobia or any kind of discrimination possible. There is no space,” she said.
Despite reporting the threat to campus police and administration, there is little a professor can do to prevent violence besides canceling classes, and treating him like any other student.
“I cannot kick the student out of my class. I can’t expel him,” Abdulhadi said. “I have to grade [Cofield] as fairly as everyone else. Two weeks ago he got an A on his assignment — you do the work, you get the grade.”
And the fact that Cofield gets off scot free can lead other impressionable students to give credence to these racist viewpoints, she said.
She said the xenophobic rhetoric coming from the White House is fanning the flames of hate.
“What does it mean when all this hate is supported?” she said.
Correction: The print version of this article inaccurately states the last two Palestine ethnic studies perspective classes were canceled. In fact, Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diaspora studies professor Rabab Abdulhadi canceled two public events that were required for the course. The print article also inaccurately states that Madonna Thunder Hawk is an SF State alumna.