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A Bi-Polar Campus


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602125_10153490896725305_193691759_nRecently Shannon Gibney, an instructor of English and African diaspora studies at  Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), received a formal reprimand. She was leading a discussion in a political science and communications course. During a discussion about structural racism, she was interrupted by two white male students. They were upset that this issue was being discussed, and felt that Gibney was personally attacking them. At the end of the debate Gibney informed them that if they were truly upset, they were able to file a racial harassment complaint. The two students did so, and Gibney received a formal reprimand, which will be placed into her file. After speaking about the issue to City College News, Gibney was informed that she violated the two students’ rights to privacy (she did not mention any names, nor were any specific persons alluded to). She was threatened with potential further disciplinary action, including suspension or termination.

The issue is not whether Gibney overstepped her boundaries as an instructor; whether by being put on-the-spot and being truthful, she made two students feel uncomfortable. Structural racism is messy. It hurts, and no one should feel comfortable when discussing these issues. The real, hidden issue is the message that The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MNSCU) and MCTC sent by reprimanding Gibney and sentencing her to diversity training. By giving lip service to diversity and inclusiveness, MCTC inadvertently affirmed and reinforced the two students’ white male privilege. Furthermore, it reinforces that discussions of racial and social justice are optional; that only special classes specifically reserved for these matters are appropriate.

The first issue is the absence of student accountability. Where are the students in this?  Gibney is first and foremost an instructor at MCTC. As such, she is in a superordinate position to students, who have voluntarily come to MCTC and her class for enrichment. The lack of respect that these two white students showed to Gibney, and the institution’s response, reaffirms culturalisms tacitly enforced from childhood on. Men, especially white men, are taught to be loud, aggressive, and outspoken. They are taught that their voices and presences are always welcomed; they have never felt the shame of silence. Women are taught to be meek, quiet and never to speak out. Women of color are especially hurt by these cultural beliefs.

Whether or not the administration at MCTC meant to reinforce these tropes, they absolutely did so by punishing Gibney and not creating an open dialogue with the two students. If MCTC administration truly wanted to support diversity while creating a welcoming space, the students would have been included in the outcome following the complaint. A skilled moderator could have been brought in to facilitate a discussion between Gibney and the students. Fellow faculty members, administrative staff and students could also have been invited to the discussion.

Instead, the message that Gibney, and thus all students and faculty, are receiving is that these are issues we still must tip-toe around. We are being told that we have to make people “comfortable,” that somehow when talking about hundreds of years of systematic oppression, and how it plays out in modern life, it can be a “comfortable” discussion. That white men can never be made to feel unease (and subsequently, white women like me) is their given privilege.

    The second issue is the message that the MCTC administration has chosen to send when it comes to matters of appropriate context. The two students’ initial complaint was that they did not want to talk about structural racism; they didn’t see why it mattered in their traditional political science class. This is perhaps the most prevalent issue that keeps institutional racism reaffirmed. The true question should be: “Why aren’t these issues being discussed in introductory classes, as these matters are integral to the fundamental power plays and structures of the United States?” By censoring Gibney’s attempt to introduce the topic to those in need if it most, the administration at MCTC has decisively declared that structural racism is not a true issue.

Classes are offered where this ugly story is explained and analyzed. People like me, who already have an interest in social and racial justice, are able to take classes that stretch their knowledge, viewpoints, assumptions, and prejudices about the world and its many inhabitants. People like these students, who so dearly need this knowledge the most, are left ignorant and in a vacuum. In this way traditional power and the structural restraints are kept safe. A space is created for dissidents to come together and learn, but no real advancement is made in disassembling the current power structures.

As a student and an employee of MCTC, I am deeply hurt by the message that my college has decided to send. I am a global studies major with an interest in community development. I came to MCTC, after Normandale Community College, for its wonderful diversity of cultures, opinions, and beliefs. I was hired to be a student ambassador for the same reason. I want to connect with people from all walks of life and work with people to enrich our environment, our lives and our community.

To me, MCTC is a bi-polar creature.  I am allowed to take classes that probe, analyze and disassemble the historical racism of the world and the current oppression people face. I am a student ambassador because I believe in diversity, in open communication, in cross-cultural relationships. Yet, the top administrative officials of the MNSCU system and MCTC have taught me that this diversity is lip-service. It’s a lie. It’s a way to accommodate those we’ve downtrodden for hundreds of years. It’s a way to protect the status quo. It’s an illusion.

This letter is a response to City College Air: Discrimination on Campus

For more responses see:
An Open Letter to the Three White Men That Complained About Discussing Structural Racism
by Ryan Williams-Virden
On Power and History: Five False Equivalencies
by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre

Image by Ricardo Levins Morales, sourced from ryanwilliamsvirden.com

16 Comments

16 Responses to “A Bi-Polar Campus”

  1. Brian DeVore on November 18th, 2013 8:27 am

    Thank you Colleen Harris for your detailed and insightful letter. How do we raise the level of engagement with structural racism at the state’s most diverse campus? Kathleen DeVore, 13 year MCTC employee

  2. SooJin Pate on November 18th, 2013 11:12 am

    Thank you, Colleen, for this spot-on analysis of the racism at MCTC and the collusion of its administrators. That place is truly SICK, people. We need folks from the outside, as well as staff/faculty/students like Colleen to hold the college accountable. They won’t change without both external and internal pressure.

  3. Bobbi Chase Wilding on November 18th, 2013 11:27 am

    Awareness of this issue is spreading far and wide – witnessed by a friend of mine in New York City sharing a link about the issue on my facebook page. More and more, people around the nation are watching what happens at MCTC. It matters. Thank you, Colleen, for this piece and for your analysis of the context in which it’s unfolding.

  4. Tatiana Ormaza on November 18th, 2013 12:27 pm

    Thank you for this wonderfully on-point letter. As a former MCTC student, I’m so sad to see the state of affairs at the state’s most diverse campus. “Diversity” and anti-oppression conversations always result in discomfort because they are bound to challenge the privilege and world view of some and draw from the painful realities of others, but that discomfort is where the real learning begins. How shameful that administrators halted an excellent learning opportunity by choosing to coddle the privilege and ignorance of two students who got uncomfortable. I hope the MCTC community stands together to support Ms. Gibney and the many students of color who need a campus that seeks to dismantle systemic racism, not one that models it.

  5. Keith Olson on November 20th, 2013 6:57 pm

    “Men, especially white men, are taught to be loud, aggressive, and outspoken.” Really, Colleen? If you believe this, you are either the most unintelligent individual to have ever attended college or the most ignorant. That statement, frankly, is PATHETIC, and you should be ashamed of yourself for surmising it.

  6. Keith Olson on November 20th, 2013 6:57 pm

    “White male privilege”? Give me a break. Good for the students for standing up to PC college professor propaganda and not remaining silent on the matter.

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  12. Miranda K. Godwin on December 3rd, 2013 1:43 am

    Wait so all the teacher review sites say she is racist and hates white people… she’s been reprimanded in the past for hating on white people… and she did so again now… and You are STICKING UP for the racist bitch? Racism is racism, her color doesn’t give her the right to harass students.

  13. Brian DeVore on December 3rd, 2013 8:42 am

    @ Miranda K. Godwin the repetition of an experience reveals a pattern. Your read is that the pattern is Prof Gibney’s “racism” my read as a 13 year faculty member at the same college is that the pattern is an institution unable to support the haaard work of educating folks about racial identity formation and its role in perpetuating exclusive practices in schooling, hiring, housing, policing, media practices (the focus of the class in question)etc. Do you blame the systemic structure that reproduces patterns or the witness who calls out the pattern?

  14. Craig Hart on December 3rd, 2013 3:27 pm

    “Men, especially white men, are taught to be loud, aggressive, and outspoken.”

    So you pin part of your attack on the diversity of MCTC using a broad, insupportable generality that you can’t possibly prove, involving a gender you quite clearly aren’t?

    As a white man, I was taught to be none of those things. But I suppose in an effort to completely obfuscate what happened – you were neither there, nor do you go into detail about what occurred or how or why the students felt singled out (did the teacher refer to them by name? were they the only white males in the class? what was the teacher’s word choice? what proof did the reviewing authority to find to reinforce the students’ conclusion?) – you reach for the lowest common denominator – insult a bunch of people you aren’t and don’t know (but feel inherently better than) to make Gibney a victim of anything other than the actions of Gibney. Because her pattern of behavior? To all proof available, it’s habitual.

    So you are elitist and sexist, and if I thought you (personally, not all women in general, mind you) had the capacity to feel shame, you should probably do it now. This “bad students, poor Gibney” nonsense doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

  15. Mark TenPas on December 7th, 2013 11:27 pm

    Hi Colleen. I think this is a well-written article, but my understanding is that this was an Introduction to Communications class. While a discussion on race would probably be fairly appropriate in a Political Science class, I am less sure that a very in-depth discussion specifically on how white men create structured racism is appropriate for an Introduction to Communications class that has a fairly well defined curriculum.

    There have also been some reports that this topic was covered in multiple classes- not just one time. Students on campus probably know more about this than I do.

    One last point is the awkward student-teacher relationship. While students are subordinates of the professor, they are also paying customers. When you enroll in MCTC, you pay tuition. That tuition doesn’t give you the right to the grade you want or to skip important components of the course, but it does entitle you to get the curriculum for “Introduction to Communications” if that is the course you sign up for.

    Colleen, thank you for a cogent defense of the Professor. I’m not sure I agree with you, but you’ve given me a few new things to think about.

  16. carbon0green on November 23rd, 2016 12:25 pm

    I know how the complaint system works and you can start one for literally any reason and all of them will be investigated. The severity of this incident is overstated.

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A Bi-Polar Campus