“Higgy” Vasquez Responds to Accusations of Sexual Harassment

The mural currently rests on Moulton Hall. Photo by Marcella Zizzo

Artist Emigdio “Higgy” Vasquez, who was commissioned by Chapman University to create a mural celebrating diversity on Moulton Hall, denies sexual harassment allegations made by two Chapman students.  

Vasquez is a local artist, whose father is known as the godfather of Chicano art. He was paid an unknown amount of money to craft a 27-foot mural to celebrate the college’s historical ties to the city of Orange.

But, its cultural relevance has now been eclipsed by accusations of Vasquez sexually harassing at least two students who volunteered to help him create the piece.

In September, The Panther reported on the initial claims made my two current students, with allegations that Vasquez referred to one female student-volunteer as “baby,” and contacted her “day and night, including a creepy phone call.”

The mural was installed on Chapman’s campus on September 12th, with an unveiling ceremony to celebrate its completion. Vasquez’s accolades were also met with student protests and demonstrators who opposed the mural’s showcase because of the allegations against the artist.

The mural’s initial goal was to showcase diversity on campus. Photo by Marcella Zizzo.

Vasquez said he considers the allegations defamatory and doesn’t know why his communication was interpreted as harassment. He refused to comment on his intentions behind his contact with the students.

“[The allegations were] fabricated, pure evil. Defamation,” Vasquez said in an email.

Prowl reached out to Izzie Panasci, one of the women making allegations, via Facebook messenger. Panasci declined to comment.

“I am not interested in talking about the muralist case until further notice. Please respect my decision,” Panasci said via Facebook message.

The other student has not come forward publically.

Vasquez, who declined a phone interview said by email the students who protested at his mural’s unveiling are misguided.

“Well, pity those misinformed kids, they should get a refund from the University,” Vasquez said via email.

One of the women who reported the misconduct had an issue with an Instagram direct message he left her, he said.

“The contention came over Instagram banter and comments,” Vasquez wrote. “All after her volunteer visits, not during. None of my comments were ever threatening, sexual, or even hateful in any form. She did not want to be peaceful and forgive and forget for the sake of community… I even feel sorry for her but the real crime is this girl trying to ruin all my hard work and name. I struggle to understand what makes people act out in this way. This has really affected my personal life. Now I am forced to defend myself,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez says he is struggling to figure out what happened.

“It’s actually complicated,  I’m even trying to find out all the who, wheres, and whats happened and how could they call this ‘sexual harassment’ when it had nothing to do with sex or gender. It was more like friends breaking up. It happens all the time,” Vasquez said.

He said he was “a person of high awareness of the #MeToo [movement],” and disappointed in the university.

It appears as if the mural, will survive the controversy that surrounded its creation.

“From my perspective, [the fate of the mural] is a really difficult thing to voice. That was two and a half years of really hard work,” said Denise Johnson, lecturer in art history.

Johnson is one of the Chapman faculty members who solicited Vasquez to execute the mural

Johnson said working in the art building every day has kept her privy to the aftershock this mural has created for students.

“As [students] were walking by the mural, they were very affected by it, started to walk around the backside of the building, sort of to avoid Higgy but also to avoid a sort of trigger, if you will,”  Johnson said.

Chapman University officials declined to comment on the mural or its fate.  

A receptionist in the office of Chapman’s Human Resources said he would not transfer to anyone willing to speak on the specifics of Vasquez’s commission process.  

Lead Title IX Coordinator DeAnn Yocum Gaffney said she could not disclose any details on whether or not the students made official claims of sexual harassment or misconduct to the university or law enforcement.

Lindsay Shen, Director of Art Collections at Chapman, declined to comment, stating that she was previously misquoted in another publication.

Shen led in efforts to fund the mural, as well as had a handle on the painting’s production, according to Johnson.

The mural’s existence presents a conundrum for Chapman, as an artwork celebrating diversity must now be reconciled with women vocalizing allegations of sexual misconduct.

“It’s extremely controversial to still have the mural up,” said Maya Cowen, a sophomore psychology major.

“I don’t know who’s in charge,” [of keeping the mural up,] said Cowen. Knowing it’s there “makes me feel a little bit worried for those students and if they’re feeling like their safety is being compromised,” she added.

Chapman received a $30,000 donation from the Ellingson family to help facilitate the mural’s creation. It is unknown how much, if anything, Chapman contributed to fund the project.

Shen also declined to answer questions on whether donations in addition to the original $30,000 donations were obtained.