On Tuesday evening, New York’s Hunter College fired artist Shellyne Rodriguez, an adjunct professor with the school, after video circulated online showing an incident in which she confronted a group called Students for Life of America on the school’s campus on May 2.
Rodriguez had taught in the art department at Hunter, which is part of the City University of New York system, since 2017. She is known for work that deals with “strategies of survival against erasure and subjugation,” according to an artist statement on her website.
In a statement sent to ARTnews, Rodriguez said that the May 2 incident had involved the “use of profanity” and the “tossing [of] the postcards and the metal container of rubber fetuses” that the students had at the table.
In the video that was circulated by Students for Life of America, a nonprofit group that identifies as “one of the leading pro-life advocacy organizations in the world,” and was subsequently picked up by right-wing outlets like Breitbart and the Citizen Free Press, Rodriguez appears to tell the students, “You’re not educating shit. This is fucking propaganda.” The students do not appear to have been harmed in the incident, according to the footage.
Shortly thereafter, Rodriguez said Hunter College administration had asked her “to issue an apology … which I did,” adding in her statement, “Yet before the process could be completed, on May 19th, Students for Life circulated a manipulated video of the incident on social media and mobilized their members and supporters to attack me. For the past two weeks, I have been inundated with vile and hateful emails, texts, and voicemails nonstop.”
Earlier this week, Breitbart and Fox News picked up the story. In a follow-up story published on Tuesday, the New York Post released video of Rodriguez appearing to confront Reuven Fenton, a reporter with a byline on the story that contained the footage, which labeled her a “manic art professor.”
Fenton had gone to Rodriguez’s apartment in the Bronx and had, according to the story, identified himself as a journalist. A spokesperson for Rodriguez said that Fenton and the cameraperson did not identify themselves and “did not use the intercom to gain access, and appear to have been trespassing inside the building when they pounded on her door and started yelling at her through the door.”
According to the article, Rodriguez allegedly shouted from behind the door, in a moment not captured on video released with the story: “Get the f–k away from my door, or I’m gonna chop you up with this machete!” In the video, Rodriguez emerges from her apartment with what appears to be a machete and holds it up to Fenton.
Rodriguez’s statement did not directly address the incident with Fenton, though she did say that the entire situation had “taken a toll on my mental health, robbing me of my sense of safety, and creating reasonable fear that they would show up at my home to cause me physical harm, as has happened with so many other women who have similarly had their personal info exposed as a form of politically motivated harassment.”
In a statement circulated to the press on Tuesday evening, a spokesperson for Hunter College wrote, “Hunter College strongly condemns the unacceptable actions of Shellyne Rodriguez, and has taken immediate action. Rodriguez has been relieved of her duties at Hunter College effective immediately, and will not be returning to teach at the school.”
When contacted by ARTnews, a spokesperson for Hunter declined to confirm the timing or specific cause of the firing and referred back to its press statement.
Rodriguez said in her statement that the school had “capitulated” to “racists, white nationalists, and misogynists.”
Following the Post report on Tuesday, the publication ran a follow-up an article written by its editorial board that was headlined “Hunter College freakout proves left loves violence and hates speech.”
In her statement, Rodriguez wrote, “As much as this incident has stakes for my life, it is ultimately just one part of a broader political struggle taking place across the country. Right wing media organizations are weaponizing and sensationalizing this case to further their agenda, and using me as a prism through which to project their attacks on women, trans people, black people, Latinx people, migrants, and beyond.”
Wendy Olsoff, a cofounder of P.P.O.W, the New York gallery that represents Rodriguez, compared the situation to when the American Family Association and Reverend Donald Wildmon went after David Wojnarowicz, whose estate is also on the gallery’s roster. Wojnarowicz was gay and spoke openly about governmental ignorance of AIDS, causing some Christian groups to term his art “blasphemous.”
“Now I feel like nothing has changed and, in fact, the strategies of these organizations have gotten more sophisticated,” Olsoff said in a statement to ARTnews. “Now all organizations, like the AFA, have to do is manipulate an iPhone video and characterize Rodriguez as an insane gay black woman professor. With the click of a button, their hateful message of fear, violence, racism, sexism, and homophobia can be sent across the country and the world—meant to target people of color, the LGBTQAI+, women’s rights and anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their agenda.”