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MCTC prof reprimanded for alienating white students during structural racism discussion

Shannon Gibney
Shannon Gibney

:::: UPDATE :::: Shannon Gibney, MCTC prof, also took heat for structural racism comments in 2009

Shannon Gibney, a 38-year-old professor at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, received a formal reprimand from the school's vice president of academic affairs for the way she handled a discussion of structural racism in her Intro to Mass Communication course.

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The reprimand came after three white male students complained that they felt singled out by Gibney.

In a video interview with City College News, Gibney gives her version of what happened during her controversial structural racism discussion:

[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?'

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 indeed filed a complaint, and administrators found merit with their case. The City College News quotes the letter of reprimand the VP of academic affairs sent to her -- a letter that will go into her file:

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.

In the wake of the reprimand, Gibney told City College, "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," 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.'"

In 2012, more than half the students at MCTC were "students of color."

WCCO reports that Gibney is one of seven employees of color who have filed a class-action lawsuit against MCTC alleging that the campus is a discriminatory workplace environment. In a subsequent conversation with MPR, Gibney denied that report, but acknowledged she is one of several MCTC faculty and staff who have filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging workplace discrimination.

In a statement addressing the controversy, MCTC officials said they 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."

But officials go on to say they "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." It's apparently on that score they think Gibney fell short.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.


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