By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

American River College President Melanie Dixon was the victim of racist threats recently. A suspect has been arrested for the incident. OBSERVER file photo

The Los Rios Police Department (LRPD) arrested Jamie Barnes on March 15 for violating a court-ordered restraining order for allegedly making racist threats toward American River College President Melanie Dixon, the first Black woman to hold the post. 

Barnes, a former student, was apprehended on the campus of Sacramento City College (SCC). The restraining order legally protected Dixon from Barnes and prevented her from stepping on the grounds of any Los Rios Community College District’s schools. 

“The individual was arrested after she called into LRPD dispatch from the SCC campus and made a number of claims, all of them as yet unsubstantiated and none of them this time indicating a threat to any individual or the campus community,” officials from the LRPD said in a written statement. 

Officials at the Sacramento County Main Jail said the former student was released from custody on the morning of March 16. The day before her arrest, Barnes called LRPD dispatch to make several non-threatening and unproven assertions.

Hours later, a janitor at SCC reported to LRPD that Barnes was in one of the restrooms on the campus long after the school closed. It has not been made known why she was at SCC, 13 miles from ARC’s campus. 

A source from a member of Los Rios Community College District Black Faculty and Staff Association (LRBFSA), who asked for anonymity, said the issue with Barnes had been “ongoing for a few years.”

“We’ve had these concerns of racism for quite some time. The word [N****r] has been said too many times,” the individual told the OBSERVER by direct message. “We’ve been concerned about our safety. The Los Rios Black Faculty and Staff Association held a meeting [on March 11] in support of Melanie.”

Dixon became the eighth president of American River College on Jan. 1, 2021. She has served the students of Los Rios colleges for six years, since moving to Sacramento in 2014 to become the Dean of Student Services at Folsom Lake College (FLC).

According to a March 10 email sent to the LRBFSA, the Los Rios Chancellor Brian King had “increased security” at ARC and for Dixon after it was identified that Barnes made racial comments.  

“The messages were aggressively vulgar and hateful. The messages were deeply, deeply upsetting, both personally and professionally,” King told ARC’s The Current, the student newspaper that initially broke the news of the racial issue.

Los Rios officials were not only concerned with Dixon’s plight but also ordered protection for the entire ARC and Los Rios community, King said to LRBFSA in a written message.

“We quickly filed for, obtained, and served the individual responsible with the [temporary restraining order], and already have a court date set for a hearing to make the action permanent,” King stated.  

As of the Fall of 2021, 26,735 students were enrolled at ARC. African American and Black students consist of 7.4 % (1,979) of the student population. Blacks account for 9.6% of the student population in the Los Rios system..

Created in 1954 as American River Junior College District, ARC (renamed in 1965), is a state-funded community college, part of the Los Rios District, which also includes Cosumnes River College, Folsom Lake College and Sacramento City College.

Prior to joining the Los Rios colleges, Dixon held a leadership position at Portland State University (PSU) in Oregon. She received the PSU President’s Diversity Staff Award in 2013 while serving as the Assistant Director of Diversity and Multicultural Student Services in Student Affairs. 

In that role, Dixon advocated for minority students on PSU’s campus as the African American student services coordinator.

Within three years, Dixon was promoted to Folsom Lake College’s Vice President of Student Services. She has served in a variety of different capacities for Los Rios, leading student success efforts at the district and college level as Los Rios’ Interim Vice President of Innovation and Success, Sacramento City College’s Interim Vice President of Student Services, and as Los Rios’ Associate Vice Chancellor of Educational Services and Student Success.

“As a Black woman, I think there is a calling to respond to some of the challenges that the Black community face, but also just underserved communities. The ‘have nots,’ if you will, the ‘less than,’ the marginalized,” Dixon told the OBSERVER in February, six weeks after she assumed the president position of ARC in 2021.

“On a very personal and professional level, that speaks to me, to lend my leadership and to step in with some courage around being able to speak to structures that are racist, speak to practices that require an overhaul, and speak to (structural) practices that require attention to be reflective in the communities in which we serve,” Dixon continued.

Dixon knows the value of community colleges well. She earned her GED at Portland Community College and returned years later to work on an associate degree for transfer to Portland State University. 

At PSU, she earned her bachelor’s in communications with honors before entering PSU’s PACE master’s program and completing a Master of Science in Postsecondary Education.

The racial incident at ARC brings to light numerous racial disturbances in educational settings around the Sacramento region. Los Rios’ filing of a restraining order signals that it takes racism seriously. 

“There is an extraordinary amount of work to do in our efforts to make Los Rios an anti-racist organization. That work must and will continue to force us to look in the mirror in deeply introspective ways about the role that we all must play in finding a way forward to make everyone in our community feel safe and heard,” King told The Current.

Los Rios officials also stated that Dixon has not publicly spoken about the threats but the district fully supports her privacy as well as the the entire ARC community college environment.

Before her arrest, Barnes had a court date to see if a judge would make the restraining order permanent. In lieu of the prior order, the former student now has two infractions related to Los Rios. 

“I can’t, and won’t, begin to suggest to know how Melanie feels in the face of what she is going through. “I do, however, understand that an attack on Melanie is an attack on our entire community,” King stated.

King also stated in the email to the LRBFSA, “In the weeks ahead, at her own pace, she will share her perspective as she sees fit. Her strength has been an inspiration to me, and her commitment to — and faith in — ARC, its students and employees, has never wavered.”