If you’ve ever been in a class in college where the topic of race was brought up to the disgust and discomfort of your white classmates (for me, it was the fraternity and sorority loving, trust fund baby bunch), clearly this is a more common issue than you might have previously thought. One a teacher can get in trouble for. According to Raw Story, Shannon Gibney, a faculty member at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, decided to speak about structural racism in an Introduction to Mass Communication class. Gibney says that when she began her lesson, she was interrupted by one student, a young white male, who asked her point blank, “Why do we have to talk about this in every class? Why do we have to talk about this?” When speaking on the way the young man delivered his complaint, Gibney said this in an interview according to City College News:
“[h]is whole demeanor was very defensive. He was taking it personally. I tried to explain, of course, in a reasonable manner — as reasonable as I could given the fact that I was being interrupted and put on the spot in the middle of class — that this is unfortunately the context of 21st century America.”
But the young man wasn’t trying to hear it, and neither was another student male student who jumped in with the guy to argue and said, according to Gibney, “Yeah, I don’t get this either. It’s like people are trying to say that white men are always the villains, the bad guys. Why do we have to say this?”
Gibney says she tried to tell the students that they were taking the lesson a little too personal, but the students kept trying to argue with her and a debate ensued. At one point, she eventually said to them, “if you’re really upset, feel free to go down to legal affairs and file a racial harassment discrimination complaint.” Unfortunately, they called the professor’s bluff and did just that, and she’s since been reprimanded. According to the Raw Story though, this isn’t the first time she’s been reprimanded for talking about race. An editor of the college’s newspaper filed a racial harassment discrimination complaint against Gibney in 2009 for a class discussion that was also centered on race, but this time, the Vice President of Academic Affairs wrote her a letter scolding her for the situation. He said that he found “it troubling that the manner in which you led a discussion on the very important topic of of structural racism alienated two students who may have been most in need of learning about this subject.” He went on to say the following:
“While I believe it was your intention to discuss structural racism generally, it was inappropriate for you to single out white male students in class. Your actions in [targeting] select students based on their race and gender caused them embarrassment and created a hostile learning environment.”
Clearly he didn’t even try to back up Gibney, so she is filing an anti-discrimination lawsuit with six other professors against the school. Gibney says that the Vice President of Academic Affairs, by reprimanding her, has “helped those three white male students succeed in undermining my authority as one of the few remaining black female professors here.”
This is all just ridiculous when you think about it. If she tries to speak about the realities of racism in our society in the future, will Gibney have to change her whole lesson plan if one student gets up and says they don’t want to talk about it? The fact that people are so scared or bent out of shape to speak on something folks face every day is proof that we really do need to have a discussion about racism. It’s one thing to quietly be willing to be ignorant about such issues, but to argue with someone and say that folks need to get over it just proves that we have a long way to go.