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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, 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 /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 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



Dec-16-13 3:44 PM

, indeed, the minority and was ignored or disregarded by the majority. (Govt service) - I have had my words twisted in an effort to suppress what I had to say. (Life in America) - I have been told what words I can and cannot say, while others used the very same banned words with reckless abandon. (Life in America) I could go on, but you get the point.

Many White people have suffered greatly, fought and died so that ALL people may be treated fairly. It is the ultimate insult that those who benefitted nowdays victimize others in the same manner from which they were relieved by the facrifice of others. That is why I view it as a retribution environment in which we now find oursleves. It is so unfortunate that President Obama weakly followed that path when he could have boldly lead us in the direction of final reconciliation. I fear he has set us back decades. Again, these students did the right thing. They are the example to be followed.


Dec-16-13 3:40 PM

From Legend: "...some racism is just bullies practicing their behavior and i find it disgusting."

I agree, and I think it makes the case that White people are not the only people capable of being racists.

As a White person... - I have been told to stop frequenting certain areas of my school because "This is our corner now." (Black students to White students at MHS in the late 1960s). - While I was in the military I was told that nothing could be done to the Blacks who refused to do their jobs but that I would pay the price if I "tried pulling that crap." (1970s) - I have been forced to support and celebrate exclusively "non-white" heritage days, weeks, and months while being told it was only fair because you people (Whites) already have your holidays...and having to take on the work of those who were too busy planning, "training" and running those events to do their own work. (Govt career) - I have been in settings in which I was


Dec-14-13 8:31 PM

Now we're going to discuss the idiotic white supremacists in Leith? Last I heard they were still in jail. This is getting pretty far off topic. No, I do not like or excuse people whose criticism of Obama takes on a racist taint. On the other hand, I think it's entirely possible to disagree profoundly with everything the man has done and everything he believes and also to allude to his upbringing and how it might have influenced said beliefs without being racist. How many times did people allude disparagingly to Bush's wealthy and privileged background?

For that matter, it's possible to disagree with everything the community college professor believes and teaches without being racist. Where you draw that line may differ from where I draw it. I wince at crude name calling or images that are directly in reference to race or Africa, for instance.


Dec-13-13 11:20 AM

I think you can disagree with Obama's policies without being racist, but I do have a problem with the content of some of the criticism of him, which is clearly based on race. As far as his family background goes, it probably had an impact. Certainly, he seems to be a much better father than his own father was to him and a much better husband than his father was to his mother. That's a mark in Obama's favor, no matter what you think of his politics.

Dec-12-13 6:57 PM

Obama would certainly be another person had a been born to other parents. His parents both abandoned him. His father was a brute, and his mother chose her career and another man over her son. He may not be the racial divider he is, had he had any kind of so-called "normal" upbringing. A psychologist would have to explore it, but when you have a white mother that abandons you and a violent black father who abandons you, that is not a recipe for a content child. Maybe that is why Obama sees any criticism as racist. The federal deficits are 1 trillion a year, but he thinks he gets criticized for this because he's black. His approaches and philosophy are the problem


Dec-12-13 9:54 AM

People murder others for all sorts of reasons and hatred of the other is certainly among the reasons. When a step parent or boyfriend of the mother kills the children, I would guess it's in part because the child belongs to another man and they have less tolerance of the child's misbehavior. That's killing because the child is "the other" too.


Dec-12-13 9:48 AM

Well, Obama wouldn't have been Obama if he had a different set of parents, would he? I think he likely understands white Americans better because he was raised by his white grandparents and had a white mother. During his first presidential campaign, I remember a TV ad that ran in North Dakota that played up his grandparents' roots in Middle America. For some part of the population, Obama's European heritage was probably reassuring. I don't know if he would have been elected without it or if he would have been elected if he were raised by the African relatives entirely abroad.

On the other hand, he doesn't escape the negativity directed at his race. There's certainly a lot of nasty racism directed at Obama that can be found in the comments section of any article about him. That level of vitriol directed at race or personal background wasn't directed at Bush or Cheney, even though plenty of people disliked them too.

Dec-12-13 9:46 AM

Do you really not "get" the point of the narrative I posted about the nurse and baby? Racism and fear of the "other" runs very deep. In Africa, the fear of the "other" is extreme in many countries. Black on black murder because the "other" is of a different tribe is not the same as evil people doing evil things to children. Andrea: Certainly, you don't need to a sociologist to elucidate this passage for you.


Dec-12-13 6:00 AM

What's the point of that story? Evil people do violence to children in every society, unfortunately, just as people adopt and raise other people's children in some way. Kids are at greater risk on average from an unrelated step parent or live in boyfriend.

Dec-11-13 11:10 PM

I saw a public television show on hunger in Africa in which a nurse passed out food and milk to individuals waiting in line. An African woman with a baby came by and was given milk for the baby. The woman explained it was not her child, that the mother had died and she was nurturing the child. When the woman appeared in line a few weeks later, she did not have the child. The nurse asked where the baby was. The woman said that her tribal males did not recognize the baby as one of their own and killed the child.


Dec-11-13 5:41 PM

There's bigotry aplenty on both sides of the political aisle.


Dec-11-13 12:49 PM

Yes, from a genetic standpoint, race has more to do with gene clusters that are shared by certain populations. Whites can have black ancestors; most American blacks have on average about 20 percent of white ancestry and may be lighter complected than their relatives in today's Africa. That has some relevance when it comes to prescribing drugs that work better in one population group than another.

In today's America, "race" has a whole lot more to do with appearances and skin color, like it or not. Obama is half white and half African, but identifies as black. Shannon Gibney had one black and one white biological parent but identifies as black, even though she likely is more than 50 percent white if her black parent had white ancestors. If you saw either of them on the street, you'd probably describe both as black.


Dec-11-13 12:47 PM

Oh by the way Matt it was funny!! lol!!


Dec-11-13 12:44 PM

Matt I was pointing out the seeds of the rotten apple called racism. When any race consciously plans to mate only within their own race and when each group of people who think/believe differently than each other group thinks/believes will intentionally or unintentionally pass those thoughts/beliefs to their own children. Can you see how racism can grow from those seeds?


Dec-11-13 12:10 PM

Well, come on, EB! You left it wide open! Can we have no humor here?


Dec-11-13 11:56 AM

physical or ecological boundaries. While relative isolation does preserve genetic differences and allow populations to maximally adapt to climatic and disease factors over long periods of time, all groups currently existing are thoroughly “mixed” genetically, and such differences as still exist do not lend themselves to simple typologizing. “Race” is today primarily a sociological designation, identifying a class sharing some outward physical characteristics and some commonalities of culture and history.


Dec-11-13 11:55 AM

race noun (Concise Encyclopedia) Term once commonly used in physical anthropology to denote a division of humankind possessing traits that are transmissible by descent and sufficient to characterize it as a distinct human type (e.g., Caucasoid, Mongoloid, *****id). Today the term has little scientific standing, as older methods of differentiation, including hair form and body measurement, have given way to the comparative analysis of DNA and gene frequencies relating to such factors as blood typing, the excretion of amino acids, and inherited enzyme deficiencies. Because all human populations today are extremely similar genetically, most researchers have abandoned the concept of race for the concept of the cline, a graded series of differences occurring along a line of environmental or geographical transition. This reflects the recognition that human populations have always been in a state of flux, with genes constantly flowing from one gene pool to another, impeded only by


Dec-11-13 11:12 AM

== Continued == As a white person, I acknowledge that those problems still exist, but I also am not prepared to blame every single problem that exists on "white supremacy" or completely restructure society to "decentralize whiteness." Hopefully that is not what is happening at that college.

The only obligation I feel personally is to treat everyone, no matter their race, fairly and politely to the best of my ability and to vote according to my conscience. When the Gibneys of the world start talking in terms of changing curricula or hiring people on the basis of race alone, I am willing to listen but not willing to make wholesale changes. I think the white colleague who complained about the community college's hiring practices may well have a point about it being unfair. I also don't think discussions on race need to be held during every class or used to analyze every piece of literature to the exclusion of other methods of analysis.


Dec-11-13 10:57 AM

I do think racism and unconscious bias can still be a problem holding people back. As a white person, I don't know what it's like to walk into a store and have a clerk eye me suspiciously because she assumes I might steal something. As a white person, I don't really worry about a patrol officer stopping me simply because I'm white. Blacks and Native Americans complain about being followed in stores or stopped for "Driving While Black or Indian." Blacks are also less likely to get a call back for an interview and might find it harder to rent an apartment. There are very few black or American Indian actors in TV or movies, at least compared to whites. Those are some of the things Gibney was probably talking about when she talked about structural racism and white privilege. She wasn't necessarily saying that the white students are at fault as individuals; just that this is the way society is set up.


Dec-11-13 10:27 AM

yeah Matt when people like you consider other peoples opinions/thoughts nonsense and foolish you really help make it a better world.


Dec-11-13 9:30 AM

"We seem to be in an era of retribution rather than reconciliation"

Truth. So much that goes on now seems focused on taking punitive action against "those people", doing anything possible to harass and otherwise make life difficult for anyone we dislike or disapprove of. Go and look at nearly every political issue out there. You see it all the time.

Dec-10-13 5:46 PM

OntheMove: You are absolutely correct. Obama, Sharpton, et al divide the races using extreme rhetoric because if they didn't, they wouldn't have power or be IN power. Obama is the worst because he sets the tone for everyone in the country who listens because, guess what! Can you believe it? This racially divisive incompetent is our President. So, you are right on.

Dec-10-13 5:40 PM

An excellent answer, Andrea. I take your points. Thank you for that.


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.


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.


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