Artist Shellyne Rodriguez, who confronted anti-abortion activists at Hunter College and was later terminated by the school after she was filmed threatening a reporter of the New York Post tabloid with a machete, was granted a plea deal in Bronx Criminal Court today, October 2. The conditional deal stipulates that Rodriguez’s misdemeanor charge will be withdrawn upon completion of a minimum of six months of behavioral therapy and compliance with good behavior.
On May 2, Rodriguez approached an anti-abortion group tabling at Hunter College’s 68th Street campus. In a video captured and widely circulated by Students for Life of America, Rodriguez can be seen confronting the group, which she accuses of spreading “propaganda” and “triggering her students,” and disheveling their display, including pamphlets and rubber fetus models. In the weeks that followed, Rodriguez was the target of violent threats and racial and gender slurs as her phone number and email address were revealed online while Students for Life of America continued to share the video on its social media pages and website, characterizing her as “fetusphobic” in a blog post, and right-wing publications further amplified the story.
Three weeks after her encounter with the anti-abortion organization, on the morning of Tuesday, May 23, Post reporter Reuven Fenton and a photographer appeared at Rodriguez’s home in the Bronx and knocked on her door, seeking an interview with the artist. A video of the incident taken by the reporters shows Rodriguez opening the door of her apartment and holding a machete to Fenton’s neck while verbally threatening him. No one was injured, and in an interview with Fox News after the incident, Fenton said that he “didn’t believe in [his] heart …. that she was going to hurt me.”
Shortly after, Hunter College notified Rodriguez that she had been let go from her position as an adjunct professor in the arts department and condemned her actions in a press statement. The School of Visual Arts (SVA) in Manhattan, where she sometimes taught classes, also terminated the artist.
Rodriguez was arraigned the following day and charged with menacing in the second degree and harassment in the second degree.
The plea deal struck today with the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office stipulates that the menacing charge, a misdemeanor, will be vacated on the condition that Rodriguez completes at least six months of dialectical behavioral therapy and has no new arrests between now and her sentencing date, scheduled for May 15, 2024. The harassment charge is a violation, which is not considered a crime.
Over the months leading up to today’s disposition hearing, the case has garnered fervent coverage by the right-wing media, which has relentlessly reported on even the most minute details of the proceedings and Rodriguez’s professional life. Dozens of articles and segments in the Post, Fox News, and other conservative outlets describe the artist as “crazed” and “unhinged” and analyze everything from her tattoos to her facial expressions.
In the wake of these attacks, hundreds of artists, cultural workers, scholars, and others have expressed solidarity with Rodriguez and condemned the conservative-led campaign against her. One petition, signed by over 600 people including scholar Ariella Aïsha Azoulay and artists Xaviera Simmons, Dread Scott, Nari Ward, and Guadalupe Maravilla, criticizes Hunter College and SVA for their responses. “We repudiate the silence, inaction and active betrayal of institutions that would sacrifice their integrity rather than their funding,” the letter reads, urging universities to “defend artists and educators who speak against the vile attacks on all of our freedoms.”
Rodriguez’s case has sparked a dialogue about the ways in which institutions should handle similar incidents of right-wing persecution, with groups such as Faculty First Responders advocating for the more widespread adoption of harassment response and prevention plans in the academic space.