Four weeks ago we posted a video about claims of racial discrimination from white, male students against Prof. Shannon Gibney after an Intro to Communications class. The video has since gone viral, and has been picked up by a mass of media outlets, both local and national — including WCCO, Slate, Salon.com, Huffington Post, City Pages, and MPR, to name a few.
We’ve received a lot of responses, ranging from well thought out arguments to blatant hate speech. Here’s a few of the best draws from the CCN mailbag:
First off is the press release from MCTC itself:
There has been a great deal of attention in recent days to issues around classroom discussions at MCTC and the effect that difficult conversations about race can have in the classroom, just as in society at large. Although we cannot comment on specific personnel matters, we want to clarify some of the misperceptions that have resulted from the recent media attention.
The college has taken no steps to prohibit faculty members from teaching about racism, including structural racism. MCTC has never disciplined a faculty member for teaching or discussing structural racism. Conversations about race, class and power are important and regular parts of many classes at MCTC and have been for years.
At MCTC, we believe it is essential for our faculty to actively engage students in respectful discussions in the classroom regardless of topic and to create an atmosphere in which students may ask questions as an important part of the classroom experience. Questions from students in classroom discussions are an essential part of the learning process. We expect that faculty will have the professional skills to lead difficult conversations in their classrooms and will teach in a way that helps students understand issues, even when students feel uncomfortable or disagree with particular ideas. We also expect that students act appropriately in the classroom; a student who does not do so may be subject to removal by the faculty member.
We want to stress to all of our students, staff, faculty and community members that MCTC remains deeply committed to promoting an understanding of the important issue of racism in all its forms. We acknowledge that we must work hard to eradicate the effects of historical and institutional racism. We understand that privilege often shields members of the majority from the realities and experiences of people of color and that the college environment provides an opportunity to learn more deeply about all of these issues.
Under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, we are unable to comment on private personnel matters unless permission is granted by the employee. These laws prohibit us from discussing the specifics of pending complaints, even if individuals concerned choose to disclose their involvement in the process. Information about complaints against employees remains private until all of the employee’s appeal rights are exhausted. Even when information provided by a student or employee about a complaint or disciplinary matter is not accurate or complete, the law prohibits us from responding to specific employment situations until a final disposition has been reached. Violations of student and employee privacy are subject to monetary and other penalties under the law.
While we must continue to abide by the requirements of state and federal law with regard to specific matters, we invite continued discussions regarding issues of race, racism, and power, and their role in our society.
We also received this letter of solidarity from MCTC’s English department:
As colleagues of Professor Shannon Gibney, we are troubled by the disciplinary outcomes that were handed down after students complained about a discussion in her Intro to Mass Communications class on October 2nd. Academic freedom must be protected for all of our colleagues in order for students at MCTC to become more adept critical thinkers and compassionate community members. This is part of our responsibility to our profession, to our communities, and to the students who come to us for direction.
We recognize that some of the classroom discussions that we conduct may make students uncomfortable, particularly students who are granted more privileges in our society. In addition, we recognize that female colleagues of color are more likely to be targeted for complaints from more privileged students who are not accustomed to seeing how structural racism and sexism are embedded into our society. The complaints against Professor Gibney are part of a larger pattern of inequity being discussed in anthologies such as Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class in Academia.
When students complain about feeling uneasy, we expect our administration to partner with faculty to transform these complaints into productive conversations so that faculty and students learn more about their responsibilities in a racist, classist, sexist, and homophobic society. In this case, student complaints were used to discipline Professor Gibney, a faculty member of color. The way that she was treated undermines academic freedom for all faculty members at MCTC.
We are writing this letter to register our solidarity with Professor Gibney and all faculty members who dare to hold difficulty conversations about race, class, gender, and sexuality in the classroom.
We got responses from places as distant as Yonkers, NY, where elementary school librarian Jennifer Walford had this to say:
What I find most disturbing about Gibney’s students complaints is that most of the white students questinioning (sic) her would not be American without the 14th Amendment, that was passed for Americans, yet those who immigrated enjoyed the right of citizenship as well. Gibney most likely trace her ancestry to the 13 Colonies, unlike many of the white students in her class whose families most likely immigrated to America long after its founding. It is not uncommon knowledge that many of the white people who settled in the Mid-West came to America long after its founding and culture were developed in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
I find it disturbing as an ethnic American (my ancestors lived in the 13 Colonies) that in 2013 we cannot discuss race which is a vital component of the American experience. I stand corrected, not just the American experience, but the experience of every new culture that has evolved since 1492 in this hemisphere. In the United States we openly talk about the Holocaust, but refuse to discuss racism and genocide which created America and made it the country it is today.
My ancestors were Native, indentured, and slave. It is what it is, history is ugly. I’m proud to be an American, and the more I learned about the expereince (sic) of my Native and slave ancestors and how they never waivered (sic) and fled from their homeland. Their experiences shaped and molded American culture and I can never be ashamed. It is common knowledge how slavery shaped the culture and economy. Yet is never discussed that without the Eastern Woodland cultures the US economy would never have developed.
What is shameful is the response of those who assume because they have white skin that they somehow share the same ethnicity as George Washington. No they don’t, their ancestors were NOT here in the colonial period. Without the systemic disenfranchisment (sic) of ethnic American descendants of slaves and Natives their families would have no rights or the honor of being American. If “they” cannot handle the truth, then they are not proud to be American. For centuries ethnic American descendants of slaves and Natives have been depicted at the parriah, when that was far from the case. The truth is England, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal settlers created this world we live in. It was not the people of color. These people need to learn to deal with American history and be proud that our country still stands, many countries in the hemispehre (sic) are struggling to do just that.
Here on campus, students were eager to speak with us about the issue. Jewlene Bellamy writes the following letter about race at MCTC:
Hello, My name is Jewlene Bellamy I am a student that majors in Business Management at MCTC. Although I have never met this profound woman Shannon Gibney, I can assure you that I don’t agree totally with what she proclaims to be true on this campus. Yes, racism still exists and this is very evident everywhere we go but, I have never experienced this from the faculty that are caucasians or any other staff. It is my Academic Adviser that encourages me to strive to complete my assignments in my classes and gave me great tips on how I can stand out in class and get more favor in becoming mentored and taken serious from my professors. My academic adviser knows me as the determined student and the strong black single mother. She has welcomed me and my child in her office with open arms. In my first semester there was another caucasian professor of mines that I was scheduled to meet with one on one to check the progress of my preparation for college classes. During this meeting I confessed in tears how discouraged and heartbroken I was from a friendship and possibly a developing relationship diminishing from one of my classmates who was a white male. This, of course, being new to me was called an interracial relationship. This same dynamic professor comforted me, and explained to me all the different reasons why this has become a barrier to me and my white male friend-life. She assured me through her personal stories and through books that there is proven research on how racism is affecting all of us as a people, black and white, and how much work and compassion must be implemented in order to grow from it and empower each other through it.
This current Semester I over estimated myself. I did so well last semester with 4. 0 GPA that I thought I could take on more classes. I broke down this semester, I was ready to throw in the towel. I am a part of the AME, SAAB, SAAS program. That is an African-American program in our School that empowers African American Students to Succeed in their Academics and personal Growth. Those are my brothers and sisters. They encouraged me to keep fighting for my education throughout this semester, which I needed. However, I would never forget the Young White Woman with pretty blue-green eyes. That looked me in my eyes when I was breaking down in school because of the pressure of juggling my classes and my family life. She told me to not give up and keep going and she used her hands to wipe my tears away. That forever healed me of all the pain of racism that I have ever encountered in my past and it gave me a new perspective on life. This happened at Minneapolis Community Technical College. You see — all people, especially white people, are not the same. It’s not what you say, it’s how you deliver a message. You should always take in what you do and say. This affects others around you and that are relative to you whether you like it or not! I refuse to be in Shannon Gibney’s shadow when I tell a person or company that I am a student that attends MCTC. You can’t attach that stigma to me. I have had unique experiences, I won’t allow it, and I’m a different kind of Black woman.
Also check out some of the letters we’ve previously published related to this story, and stay tuned for a complete write-up in our Dec 10 print edition.
A Bi-polar Campus by student Colleen Harris
MCTC’s Roller Coaster of Diversity by former Editor in Chief Verta Taylor
Haven’t seen the video yet? Set aside 15 minutes of your day to see what all the fuss is about.