Viral video of North Carolina police taking a Black college student out of class in handcuffs as classmates looked on in horror raised questions about whether law enforcement intervention was necessary and outraged some, as it unfolded at a historically Black institution.
The incident, which occurred Wednesday in a classroom at Winston-Salem State University after a dispute between the student and her professor, was captured by multiple students on their cellphones. At least one video on TikTok had gained more than 4 million views by late Thursday afternoon.
In the video, two police officers put cuffs on the student. While she can be seen and heard berating the professor, the student later says she is only responding to the teacher, who had raised her voice first.
"I swear to God I hate you. You're the worst teacher ever," the student says. "You get me taken out of here because you don’t want to apologize because I won’t apologize? You started yelling at me. You tried embarrass me about my paper. You're a terrible teacher."
The TikTok post did not capture the argument that preceded the arrest. Some said the incident is another example of police being called on Black people for seemingly nonthreatening activity, something that has been gaining national scrutiny in recent years.
"In any classroom power struggle or dispute, there is not a single scenario in which a law enforcement officer should be called into a classroom," said Erika Strauss Chavarria, an organizer of Black Lives Matter at Schools. "That goes for public schools, pre-K through 12, colleges and universities."
That police were called on a student at a historically Black university, an institution that is intended to be a safe space for Black students, was not lost on some.
As one TikTok user put it: “Using the police as a weapon at an HBCU is wild.”
Chavarria said: “The fact that this professor, who teaches at an HBCU and still doesn’t have the historical knowledge or background or common sense to not call a police officer on a student, is beyond me.”
Arrest described as a last resort
In a statement, school officials said they “understand that the weaponization of police is a prevalent problem in our community; however, that is not what happened in this incident.”
Chancellor Elwood Robinson said Wednesday, “There was an incident this morning involving a student and a faculty member that has escalated on social media.”
The "significant commotion" in Carolina Hall prompted another "WSSU employee nearby" to call campus police "to de-escalate the situation," Robinson said.
"We strive for a safe, inclusive, thriving, and intellectual community where all our faculty, staff, and students feel respected and supported. To that end, we will take swift and appropriate measures against any situation that contradicts those ideals."
It was not immediately clear, in either the TikTok video or the school's statement, what the student was doing that made her an urgent threat in need of prompt removal.
University spokesperson Haley Gingles insisted Thursday that the arrest was a last resort and that the confrontation was at least 10 minutes long before the arrest was made.
"From the time the initial disturbance started until the end when the video clip started, it was a significant amount of time," Gingles said. "Certainly it was more than 10 minutes."
Professor has received threats
A woman who identified herself as the student in the arrest video posted a lengthy Instagram video statement explaining what she said led to the classroom confrontation.
In the video, the student says she and her classmates were part of a group project that included a written assignment and a live presentation that was set for Wednesday.
The student says the professor contacted her hours before the presentation, telling her to redo the written part of the project.
The student says she declined to rewrite the essay at that late hour and insisted on going through with the presentation.
After class was briefly delayed by a fire alarm, the student says, the professor asked her about the essay.
At some point, the discussion became heated, says the student, who says she raised her voice after the professor raised hers. She was given two options: apologize or leave the classroom.
The student says she chose to remain in class because the presentation was a large part of her grade.
The student identified the professor as Cynthia Villagomez, who is listed as a co-chair of the university's political science, history and social justice department.
The school confirmed that Villagomez was the professor in the middle of the fray but insisted she was not the person who called police. The call came from another instructor who heard the argument from another classroom, Gingles said.
"She's struggling with the incident that happened yesterday," she said. "Over the course of the day, she has received threats and people have been vicious to her online."
The university has not decided whether to take any disciplinary action against the student.
The student's mother declined to discuss the arrest. "We are not making any statements to the media," she said.