Update: Students say professor’s conduct was inappropriate

By Jade Inglada

Former female students from Communication Studies adjunct professor R. Steven Johnson’s classes have come forward with complaints of his inappropriate sexual behavior.

One of the students first dealt with Johnson’s behavior early into his career at East Los Angeles College.

His comments and actions toward female students occurred in and outside of the classroom.

“I took Johnson’s class around his first year of teaching here. You are greeted with an energetic, outgoing professor, which for us students is a breath of fresh air. As the semester continued and topics of sexual matters were discussed, I realized Johnson would say I had a beautiful face,” said a former female student.

“I was 246 pounds back then, and to a woman with low self-esteem, it would be music to her ears. For me though, it was very out of line. He would often sit on my desk looking down at me – which often felt like he was looking down at my chest, smiling. I would sit there, thinking how odd this looks to the class and how horrible it made me feel. The beautiful comments kept coming.

“I often thought, ‘Maybe it’s me? Maybe I shouldn’t smile or act like my lively self in class. Maybe that will help.’ It wasn’t me though. My best friend at the time even noticed it. Even though my fellow peers would tease me, ‘Johnson likes you!’ I would often tell my adviser that it felt very uncomfortable and creepy to me.

“One night, my ride didn’t come to class with me, and Johnson walked out the building with me and offered to walk me to my car. I didn’t drive at the time, nor (did I) have a car. I explained that. I started to proceed toward the E7 building and he just lingered. It was awkward. Uncomfortable is more like it. I have literally avoided him on campus for the past years because his stares made me uncomfortable. I wish I had spoken up sooner. However, like many women in a situation like this, it’s scary and overwhelming,” she said.

“I came in late (the first day of class) and there were no longer any seats, so I stood next to the door,” the second former student said. “I remember that he had stopped what he was saying and started gazing at me and said, ‘Nice braces. You got braces, they match your glasses,’ and in front of about 45-50 students. I felt humiliated, but since I was only around 18 years old and very insecure, I felt special. So his compliments typically followed that format, he would compliment me and the class and everyone heard it.

My naive self wrote a speech about why we should date someone older than us, and after my speech, he asked me in front of everyone, ‘So, what are you doing later?’ The class burst into laughter,” the second former student said.

Johnson has also hired some of his female students to work for him as interns to promote his book, create content for his social media accounts and his newsletter.

“After interning for him and feeling very attracted to him, I confronted him about his behavior, and he said, ‘That’s just how am I with everyone.’ He proceeded to prove this to me by flirting with a female custodian. So I was able to get him to be less suggestive with me, but he clearly proved that he did not heed my warning about not being so flirty. He definitely made me feel special, and this was just in the class.

“I also interned for him but was replaced by a whole team of attractive students of his. I didn’t allow myself to get upset over this because I thought I was just jealous. It wasn’t until they posted a Snapchat story of them drunk and the girls kissing him on the cheek and talking very explicitly about sex that I knew something was off.

“He hires mainly female interns from his classes and acts in the same flirtatious and downright sexual manner that he does in class,” the second former student said.

Although both former students revealed their identities to Campus News to share their experiences, they wished to remain anonymous due to the sexual nature of the complaints.

Johnson gave his students the chance to improve their grades by promoting his social media accounts and purchasing and reviewing his books for the past year.

His book, “Convertible Chocolate,” is based on his relationships with women and contains graphic sexual content.

It was published through StoverHouse Publishing, which Johnson also owns. Both comments from critics on the back of the book came from the same examiner.com review.

“LACCD has a district-wide policy that faculty, or any other school employee, are not allowed to engage in any exchange of money with students,” said Vice President of Academic Affairs Laura M. Ramirez. “The school manages any monetary exchanges through official outlets, such as the bookstore or the Fiscal office.”

The Board of Trustees’ rules states, “Faculty members are prohibited from engaging directly with students in their classes in the sale or rental of required or recommended materials or activities charges. When a faculty member wishes to distribute classroom materials for which students are required to pay, the faculty member shall use a voucher system through the College’s bookstore or business office and must substantiate that the materials are being provided at cost. Faculty members are prohibited from engaging in other financial transactions with students, except to facilitate participation in voluntary, extracurricular activities, such as theater trips or sporting events. In that case, the faculty member is required to provide appropriate accounting and receipts upon request to the supervising administrator.”

Johnson’s behavior also goes against the Faculty Ethics Policy. It states that faculty members “avoid any exploitation, harassment or discriminatory treatment of students.”

According to Section E of the policy, “Exploitation of students by faculty members can take many guises. Be it for personal financial gain, sexual gratification, or any other reason, such exploitation is to be avoided at all costs. It is a fundamental ethical principle that individuals in power and authority should not use their advantaged position for their own gain or to advance their own self-interest.

“Faculty members are in a position of power and as such there is no greater violation of authority and power in higher education than when a faculty member exploits the power of this relationship with students… To take advantage of individuals under these conditions is ethically inexcusable.

“For example, in cases where some students are being evaluated on the basis of academic standards while others are being evaluated on the basis of responsiveness to inappropriate advances or where personal services or favors are traded for grades, privilege or recognition, one can easily see that such behavior is a violation of ethics. Students must be evaluated solely on the basis of academic standards…”

ELAC’s Academic Senate adopted the Faculty Ethics Policy in October 2013.

Ramirez said Johnson’s situation is a personnel matter, but his interns on Facebook revealed it has been taken to the district administration.

“Hello speech 101 alumnus, well today I was notified that there was an article posted on the ELAC newspaper about Mr. Johnson,” Anahi Mora said in a past Facebook group for Johnson’s class. “I would have thought it was something positive since he is one of the most caring and greatest professors at ELAC. Unfortunately, it’s a defaming article. It’s sad that someone would write lies just to get attention. We all need to get together and support Mr. J. All this man ever did was prepare us and motivate us. If you guys are interested in helping, please let me know.”

“What the hell?” Alfredo Jose Diaz said about last week’s story on Johnson. “I say we start a petition to remove this article from the record and get this person removed from the editorial staff.”

“The writer’s name is on the front of the paper, let’s light the torches and get the pitchforks,” Kevin Fu said.


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