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Racism talk leads to reprimand

discussion of structural racism led to a reprimand for Shannon Gibney, who teaches Intro to Mass Communications at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Three white male students complained they were singled out by Gibney, reports City Pages.

An English professor, Gibney also teaches African Diaspora Studies in a new associate degree program. About a third of MCTC students are African-American or African refugees. Overall, “people of color” make up 53 percent of enrollment and many students are the first in their families to attend college.

In a video interview with City College News, Gibney said she told Mass Communications students she was talking about “whiteness as a system of oppression,” but they took it personally.

[One of the white students asked,] ‘Why do we have to talk about this in every class? Why do we have to talk about this?’ I was shocked… It was not in a calm way. His 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.

Another white male student said, ‘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?’

She told students to “feel free to go down to legal affairs and file a racial harassment discrimination complaint.” So they did.

The vice president of academic affairs found it “troubling” that Gibney “alienated two students who may have been most in need of learning about this subject. . . . 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.”

MCTC issued a statement:

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.

“I don’t feel safe in the class anymore,” Gibney told City College News.

“I definitely feel like I’m a target in the class. I don’t feel like students respect me,” she continued. “Those students were trying to undermine my authority from the get-go. And I told the lawyer at the investigatory meeting, ‘You have helped those three white male students succeed in undermining my authority as one of the few remaining black female professors here.’”

A similar complaint was filed in 2009, after Gibney was invited to speak at a City College News editorial board meeting, a former student editor told City Pages. In talking about structural racism in the media, Gibney singled out white editors and criticized them for not rooting out bias, according to Ryan, who would not give his full name.

Ryan complained to Gibney about her “unprofessional tirade” in an email. When she circulated his email and her response to students and faculty, he filed a harassment complaint.

Gibney gives her account of the incident in Gawker.