A former student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College says the situation at the root of a black faculty member's recent complaints about racial harassment in 2009 was more complicated than the narrative the professor offered last week.
MCTC instructor Shannon Gibney has lodged federal complaints against MCTC, accusing it of workplace discrimination. Various media outlets picked up an interview she gave last month to the student newspaper, City College News, in which Gibney accused the college of punishing her this fall semester for discussing racism in a way that made white students uncomfortable.
Gibney also published an essay last week on Gawker, in which she claims she received backlash in 2009 from white students on the City College News staff when she highlighted a lack of coverage on issues that interest minority students.
But one former student and newspaper staff member, Ryan Trainor, told The Huffington Post that the white editors of City College News felt personally attacked by Gibney. The incident ultimately led him to file a formal complaint with the college accusing her of racial harassment in 2009.
Trainor said that Gibney that year brought her journalism class to sit in and observe a regular meeting of the City College News staff. At one point, he says, Gibney offered some unprompted advice to the paper's editors.
According to Trainor, Gibney said the newspaper's readership problems were partly due to the "systematic oppression of non-white males in journalism," and that "it's white men that are the problem in this newsroom." Trainor said the staff felt vilified and singled out.
Trainor said he subsequently emailed Gibney to voice how upset he was about the episode, saying that her remarks were "racist," an "unprofessional tirade" and unfair toward the all-white staff, according to emails provided to HuffPost. Trainor, who was the newspaper's opinion editor at the time, said the paper had never turned away anyone of color.
"We never tried to discourage anybody from writing," he told HuffPost. "We'd never done anything to discourage any point of view. The makeup of our staff was not our fault."
The email exchange between Trainor, Gibney and a few others continued for more than a week, according to copies obtained by The Huffington Post.
Gibney stated in one email that she had shared the correspondence with several other students and staff, who she said were members of the MCTC community "working on issues of equity" at the time. She also said that some colleagues with whom she shared the exchange were "shocked that a student would address a faculty member in this manner. Several faculty said that they were even scared for my safety, given the message's threatening tone."
The newspaper's faculty adviser said in one message he did not think Gibney's comments were directed at anyone personally. But another student editor chimed in, "In your accusing us of being a racist, patriarchal organization, you said things yourself that came across as being, at least to me, racist in their own right."
In one email, Gibney wrote:
I really don't understand how *any* of you on the editorial staff *cannot* understand the racism and other structures of oppression that are undoubtedly deeply rooted in CCN as an organization and as a culture. It's also an interesting piece of irony that you are now accusing the one Black faculty member that has ever been associated with the journalism program of "being racist," isn't it?
Eventually, Trainor filed a formal complaint with the college. The college has declined to discuss the specifics of the complaints against Gibney.
"It was a gesture I made to open up the dialogue on these important issues, which were community issues after all," Gibney told HuffPost of the incident. "I was mistaken that this student was interested in that, since he decided to file a racial harassment claim with MCTC's Legal Affairs Department directly following this exchange instead."
Barbara Hager, president of the college's faculty union, could not be reached for an interview, but she did tell MPR in late November that faculty have been asking for diversity training.
"[T]hey're frustrated," Hager said. "They don't know how to respectfully approach the racial differences between themselves and other faculty and between themselves and students."