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MCTC instructor: I was reprimanded for how I handled a discrimination debate

A classroom confrontation between a black Minneapolis Community and Technical College English instructor and three white male students has reportedly resulted in a reprimand for the teacher.

According to a news video by City College News, 38-year-old Shannon Gibney was leading a class discussion about structural racism during her Intro to Mass Communication course when a white student interrupted her.

In the video, Gibney recalls what happened:

"[He 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? "

I tried to say, 'You guys are trying to take it personally. This is not a personal attack. We're not all white people, you white people in general. We're talking about whiteness as a system of oppression.

And so I'm quite familiar, unfortunately, with how that works -- and how the institutional structures and powers reinforce this white male supremacy, basically, and that sort of narrative, and way of seeing the world.

And so I said, "You know, if you're really upset, feel free to go down to legal affairs and file a racial harassment discrimination complaint."

The students reportedly did, and MCTC administrators called Gibney to an investigatory meeting. She went with her union representative, and an attorney for the school also attended.

City College News reports Gibney received a letter of reprimand from the vice president of academic affairs, which the paper cites:

"Shannon, I find 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.

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.

For that reason, I have determined that a reprimand is warranted."

Gibney tells the reporter the reprimand is formal and will go into her file. She tells the reporter she may have to attend some sessions with the college's diversity director.

She says in the video:

"I don't feel safe in the class anymore. I definitely feel like I'm a target in the class. I don't feel like students respect me. 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.'"

Gibney would not comment on what happened when I called her. But she said she received an additional warning from administrators that she may have violated the students' right to privacy when she spoke about the incident.

She said she is not part of a class-action lawsuit -- as has been reported -- but is one of a handful or so of MCTC faculty and staff who have filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging workplace discrimination.

Gibney tells the college paper:

"As a vocal, black female, younger-looking ... faculty member here, unfortunately this is not the first time I've actually had multiple verbal and institutional attacks on me by white males, whether they were students, faculty, administration or staff."

WCCO reported the three students who complained aren't speaking publicly about the incident, and said school officials wouldn’t go on camera.

But it said they released this statement:

“At Minneapolis Community and Technical College we believe it is essential for our students to understand issues of race, class and power, and we encourage the faculty to actively engage students in respectful discussions about these topics and create an atmosphere in which students may ask questions as an important part of the classroom experience. That’s how we learn. As a diverse college we want to ensure that students, faculty and staff from all cultures and backgrounds feel welcomed and have an appropriate learning environment. We train our employees to ensure that these critical conversations around issues of diversity are constructive and lead to understanding.

The College has a thorough process for investigating and resolving complaints from students about faculty and from faculty and staff about students.

Under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, we are unable to comment on private personnel or student data.”

Meanwhile, the college's handling of the case has received criticism in a student commentary and an op-ed website, and Minneapolis artist Ryan Williams-Virden has written an open letter to the three students.

I have calls out to Gibney's union representatives as well as a college spokeswoman. We'll see what they say.

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