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Accusations of racism are all over the place at Minneapolis community college

December 5, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Just reading about all the discrimination complaints being made at Minneapolis Community and Technical College makes me tired.

This week, English instructor Shannon Gibney, who is black, has been in the news after writing about an incident back in October. She says she received a formal reprimand and was ordered to attend sensitivity training for discussing "structural racism" in an introduction to communications class. Two white male students in the class challenged her on the topic, asking why it was being discussed and why white males were being made out to be villains. According to The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Gibney responded: "You guys are taking it personally. This is not a personal attack. We're not talking about all white people, you white people in general. We're talking about whiteness as a system of oppression." She finished by telling them to go and file a racial harassment discrimination complaint with the community college's legal affairs department if they were really upset. And, of course, the young men took her up on her challenge and filed the complaint. The college investigated and apparently decided that Gibney had been out of line and made the young men uncomfortable with the way she discussed the topic. However, college officials are careful to say that it is important for students to learn about and discuss structural racism.

Apparently they just object to the way Gibney went about it. Gibney, who wrote an opinion piece about her experiences at The Gawker, which can be found at http://gawker.com/teaching-while-black-and-blue-1473659925, has said this was not the first time she clashed with the college administration. Back in 2009, a college newspaper editor filed a complaint against her after Gibney made some comments during a newspaper staff meeting. The editorial staff had discussed why readership was down and Gibney apparently had commented on black students not seeing themselves represented at or in the paper. He thought it was inappropriate for Gibney, the staff adviser, to make those comments and also objected to the tone of her emails. The alleged editor was interviewed and gave his side of the story in an article at http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2013/12 /shannon_gibney_mctc_prof_also_took_heat_for_structural_racism_comments_in_2009.php Judging by the atrocious spelling and grammatical errors in the editor's letter of complaint, the quality of the paper may have left something to be desired. At this same student newspaper, there had been an incident the previous year, when two black students complained after the previous editor hung a noose in the office to remind staffers of story deadlines. Nothing came of their complaint.

Another complaint was filed against Gibney by a former colleague, who objected to her department's use of "critical race theory" as a hiring qualification and claimed that a few faculty members created a hostile working environment for white males because of their promotion of "critical race and white privilege" theories. Gibney didn't receive a formal reprimand following that complaint, but apparently the college reviewed its hiring policies after the complaint was filed. Gibney and other instructors have now filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging workplace discrimination, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

I don't know what kind of instructor Gibney actually is, but I suspect she's one who spends a fair amount of time discussing white privilege and critical race theory. Over at Ratemyprofessors.com there are a handful of complaints from students who thought she spent far too much time on that topic and didn't spend enough time actually teaching writing. There are other comments praising her as a tough, but interesting, instructor who was willing to make allowances for students who needed it. Those kinds of evaluations should probably be taken with a grain of salt, since they are usually made by students who have an ax to grind with the instructor for some reason. Judging by her own essay, she'd be more than happy to change everything to do with the college. Putting it right in her eyes would mean "a radical change for the pedagogies, course curriculum, biased policies and the racial and ethnic make-up of the faculty and leadership on the college campus," to paraphrase her essay. Radicals tend to put others' backs up and it sounds like Gibney is an outspoken radical.

What's unfortunate here is how willing everyone involved, from white students to black students to white professors to minority professors, has been to file complaints against each other. This sort of mindset is common these days on college campuses. It's one of the reasons I've been a bit leery of going back to study for a master's degree.

 
 

Article Comments

(54)

ONTHEMOVE

Dec-10-13 3:35 PM

<<<CONTINUED>>> The students are right to file a complaint. They are paying for a topical education (English), not to be instructed about how they and people like them are racists – whether they realize it or not. My fear is that, one day, complaints such as theirs will not be taken seriously. We seem to be in an era of retribution rather than reconciliation. Following that road will only lead to very bad places.

ONTHEMOVE

Dec-10-13 3:33 PM

If the black/African American/people of color "leaders" and "thinkers" of today would carry on more like Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and the likes of Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., rather than like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Eric Holder and Barack Obama, this country would be far beyond this irresponsible promotion of dividing the races that is prominent now more than ever. People of their ilk (nearly said "those people" but didn't want to be accused of being a racist) thrive on putting forward every negative they can - true or invented - and working to redefine words, invent new concepts, divine the meaning of the thoughts of others, and find new ways to silent others on whom they project blame for bad things in their lives.

MattRothchild

Dec-10-13 11:02 AM

"Foolish"

EarlyBird

Dec-10-13 8:54 AM

Matt, my post was no more nonsense than this whole subject. What is it called if I would be prejudiced against your thoughts?

AndreaJohnson

Dec-09-13 10:23 PM

I don't know any of the teachers or administrators at this particular community college and I also don't have a course catalog. I couldn't give you a definition for their "status quo." The student population is apparently more than half minority and one article I saw in the Minnesota press indicated that the college had hired more instructors of color. Administrators have said that it is important for students to learn about racism. Based on that, I would guess it is a college where the administration does care about diversity, but they prefer that students and faculty members not be made unduly uncomfortable during the learning/hiring process. The status quo is probably Minnesota liberalism with a heavy dose of Minnesota Nice. This professor seems to think change isn't taking place quickly enough and that there isn't enough buy-in from white professors or administrators.

Dec-09-13 7:28 PM

Andrea,

You have used the term "status quo" to describe the ethos at MCTC several times. What IS the "status quo" at MCTC? How would you define it? I'm curious. Thank you. Chance

Dec-09-13 7:27 PM

Andrea,

You have used the term "status quo" to describe the ethos at MCTC several times. What IS the "status quo" at MCTC? How would you define it? I'm curious. Thank you. Chance

Dec-09-13 7:22 PM

This is a continuation of my last post. ND is paying $140,00 a year to profs whose intent and goal is to socially engineer the values of students whose parents would be horrified if they knew what Sally and Dick professor are teaching to their captive audience students. The name of the game is Liberalism, Political Leftism, Post-Christian doctrine, and as at MCTC "white privilege," etc. White males are being demeaned every day on our campuses by racist professors. Generalizing about white males is an affront to intelligence. The MCTC faculty member needs to take a chill pill and teach her subject.

Dec-09-13 7:02 PM

This is par for the course on U.S. campuses. Many English professors have no interest in teaching their subject. Many use the podium as a brain washing tool for their own political views. This is especially true in the humanities. It is doggedly true in Minnesota, from the community colleges to the universities. This is a passé approach, but the arrogant, dismissive profs keep it up. It's a rare English department that doesn't mix politically correct politics with classroom teaching. I've taught with English professors who wouldn't let abortion or the death penalty be written about by students because, as one said, "I can't stand to read papers filled with the ideas of pro-life students." The biggest problem with American education isn't the lack of critical thinking on the part of students, it's the complete lack of critical thinking and tolerance for the ideas of others by professors. North Dakota has its share of these fascists, too. And we are paying $140,000 to some of

MattRothchild

Dec-09-13 2:38 PM

Interesting.

AndreaJohnson

Dec-09-13 1:40 PM

== Continued == In the study, identified liberals were asked to respond to test questions as though they were conservatives and identified conservatives were asked to respond as conservatives. The conservatives were better at putting themselves into the shoes of the liberals. But just because they understand how liberals think and interpret situations doesn't mean that they agree with those interpretations. Likewise, Gibney, having been raised in a white home and attended white schools and being well-educated herself, probably understands with crystal clarity how the administration and her students have interpreted her lecture on structural racism. But understanding and education doesn't always lead to the kind of societal changes that people want. Maybe Gibney, for whatever reason, can't bring herself to go along to get along, which might give her a better chance of making gradual changes in the curriculum from within the institution.

AndreaJohnson

Dec-09-13 1:35 PM

The irony with the "you people" comment below is that it's been so well established as an insult to minority groups when it is used by whites.

One of the more interesting psychological studies I've read in recent months concluded that conservatives are better at figuring out how liberals think than liberals are at figuring out how conservatives think. It was a study conducted by Jonathan Haidt, a professor at the University of Virginia, back in 2012. Haidt concluded that conservatives make decisions based across the spectrum on six moral foundations: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; sanctity/degradation. Liberals put more weight on fairness and liberty and far less weight on (or simply have different interpretations for) loyalty, respect for authority and purity.

MattRothchild

Dec-09-13 12:30 PM

"Is it racism if a white person only wants to marry and multiply with another white person?"

That's nonsense. That would be like accusing a man of being prejudiced because he prefers brunettes over blondes or something like that.

MattRothchild

Dec-09-13 12:28 PM

Using "You people"--or any of its derivatives, such as "You Xs" or "You Ys", you get the point--is a bad idea for anyone. Deal with people as individuals, please.

...or is asking that also a microaggression of some sort?

AndreaJohnson

Dec-09-13 11:31 AM

To give that a serious answer, I don't think any rational person would consider someone racist based on what characteristics he finds attractive. There are certainly cultures (Orthodox Jews, for instance) who strictly enforce religious or cultural rules against marriage outside the group. Is an Orthodox Jewish parent out of line for threatening to disown a son or daughter who marries a Christian or is he doing what's necessary to preserve the religion and family line?

I'd personally find it far more problematic if a white parent threatened to disown a kid who took a black date to the prom or didn't want anything to do with mixed race grandchildren. Gibney, at least based on her bio, is biracial, with one black and one white biological parent and was raised by white adoptive parents. If we want to talk in terms of privilege, I would guess she may have had more privilege than many others.

EarlyBird

Dec-09-13 10:08 AM

Is it racism if a white person only wants to marry and multiply with another white person? If so what pigeon hole does that fit into?

locomotive

Dec-08-13 6:05 PM

I've mentioned the "you people" reference more than once. It doesn't matter to some.

AndreaJohnson

Dec-08-13 12:14 AM

I've read some of the recent research on microaggressions and backstage racism. I'm comfortable with the definition I gave for both. "You people" is considered offensive in certain quarters too, by the way.

locomotive

Dec-07-13 6:17 PM

“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color.” Those who inflict racial microaggressions are often unaware that they have done anything to harm another person.”

Source: Sue, D.W., Capodilupo, C., Torino, G, Bucceri, J., Holder, A., Nadal, K., & Equin, M. (2007). Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice. The American Psychologist , 62 (4) 271-286

I posted this because PJinfinity didn't have the time...

AndreaJohnson

Dec-06-13 6:47 PM

I answered my own question. Gibney is a fairly well-known writer who is active in the transracial adoption community. Apparently she is biracial and was adopted by a white family from Michigan. She is quite a good writer, judging by her essay, and I don't doubt she has a lot to offer her students.

AndreaJohnson

Dec-06-13 5:33 PM

Yeah, I remember writing the blog. I don't know what happened after that to the guy. He refused to play by the rules and complained about the diversity training seminar that everyone else attended, some of them likely rolling their eyes. Gibney is not good at playing politics either, though she's at the opposite end of the political spectrum. One of the administrations' chief complaints about her seems to be her demeanor and the way she worked with others. She isn't willing to settle for the status quo and, while they pay lip service to diversity, they aren't willing to make all the changes she wants them to make.

I wonder if Gibney is from Minnesota. Some of this may be a cultural clash, not necessarily a clash over race.

MattRothchild

Dec-06-13 3:43 PM

9/30/13

It was Entitled: "Ph.D candidate has meltdown over required diversity training"

MattRothchild

Dec-06-13 3:41 PM

I am curious too. In college, I took a course in business writing, but what happened in the class was somewhat similar to what is described in this incident. Yeah. Business writing.

"In today's academic climate, professors and administrators pretty much have to toe the party line on diversity even if they don't really agree with all aspects of the message"

Do you remember, AJ, that posting you did here a month or two ago about the guy who made a big deal about "the party line" and was fired?

AndreaJohnson

Dec-06-13 1:01 PM

I would be curious what she actually said in her lecture that day in October as well as how often she had raised the topic in the class prior to that. Was it part of her syllabus that this would be the focus of the class? If so, the students had no reason to be surprised.

Reading between the lines and translating academic double talk into English, I think she's probably right that some of the administrators and her fellow professors would prefer to maintain the status quo and are paying mere lip service to diversity, though it does sound like they hired several more instructors of color earlier this year. In today's academic climate, professors and administrators pretty much have to toe the party line on diversity even if they don't really agree with all aspects of the message. She wants to do things completely differently and they prefer more gradual change that doesn't make students unduly uncomfortable. She's a radical coming face to face with Minnesota Nice/passive aggression.

MattRothchild

Dec-06-13 12:32 PM

"though I question whether they needed to file a complaint."

She dared them to do it and they called her out. She just learned an important lession in gambling: don't bluff too big if you have nothing and your opponents have enough to bury you.

 
 

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