Discrimination at the college level


I am so angry I could spit, or fight. In fact, my eyebrow was raised practically the whole afternoon class and the smile on my face was really because my teeth were clenched and I was trying to keep from punching the librarian in the face. And then kicking her in the face when she was down on the ground. Because her treatment of my students was so overly-the-top rude that I cannot let it go and will be speaking to my supervisor about it on Monday.

My students were working on a collaborative assignment facilitated in a computer lab at the college library. When the librarian came in, she was tense already, which is something I’m unacustomed to. Normally all of the staff I’ve met on campus are quite friendly and don’t openly seem to treat my students with disdain. I have to remind myself that the stigma of being a “high school dropout,” or an “at risk youth,” is something these students fight daily. While often annoyed, I am fiercely protective of my students. They are beautiful individuals and should not be shamed or bullied because of some arbitrary rules.

So, the students had been broken up into their groups and were beginning to work on their assignments. One of my students got a phone call, and stood up, saying “hey dad I’m in class, I’m going to have to call you back.” We’ve all been there, right? The awkward phone call where you just have to get off real quick but if you don’t answer you know you’ll be in trouble, or the person will be worried, etc. The librarian FREAKED THE FUCK OUT though. Now, keep in mind, we were not in the middle of the library. We were in a private computer lab. Nor was she presenting. They were working independently. And she didn’t acknowledge that he had turned away from the group (in order to keep it quiet) and had said “dad I need to call you back.” She raised her voice and got in his face saying, “you need to get off the phone. NOW.” and then she repeated herself when he said, “it’s my dad. he’s dying of cancer and he’s in the hospital. I’m telling him I’ll call him back.” She clearly did not listen (or thought he was spinning a story?) and said again, almost shouting, “I SAID GET OFF THE PHONE.”

Incredibly rude.

What’s worse, is this student is on the Autism Spectrum. He has many accommodations, is freaking brilliant and works SO HARD to fit in socially and do “the right thing.” He is super polite and I know that he would never take a call if it weren’t an emergency. By this point (which all happened within 30 seconds), I was up and standing next to him. And she said to me, “they are not allowed cell phones in the library.” And I replied, since he had left the classroom after she directed him to, “he has autism. his dad is dying of cancer. I am aware of the cell phone rule, but he has accommodations that are allowed to him.”

I wanted to punch her. I’m surprised I kept my cool enough, because I was livid. I don’t care if there’s a cell phone rule or not, shouting at someone is NOT the way to handle it. Correcting a student’s behavior has a time and place, and I just know that if he wasn’t seen as an “at risk” student, he would NOT have been yelled at like that. No way. If he was 50, or 25, and talking quietly on his phone? Nope, nobody would yell at him.

And I also wonder.

Was it because he was black? Or because he’s 6’4?

Because I can’t imagine her yelling, in the same fashion, at one of my less intimidating physically white students. Or maybe she would, but even if my student wasn’t black, or on the autism spectrum, or have a dad dying from cancer. But it was rude. And I think it needs to be addressed.

As we walked out of the library, after the presentation, I took him aside and said:

“Hey dude, I just wanted to apologize for how she talked to you. I think it was inappropriate for her to address you that way, and I informed her that you were telling the truth. I sometimes think faculty here profile CEO students and how you were treated was not okay. Just know that I was angry about the situation, and angry on your behalf, because it really wasn’t okay.”

His response? Ever so sweet he said, “thank you Ms. Monk-Monk. I appreciate that. Have a good weekend.”

And he tipped his hat and lumbered off into the rain, all the while lugging his gigantic over sized backpack.

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2 Comments

  1. On behalf of librarians everywhere, I’m sorry this particular librarian was really rude and inflexible, despite the circumstances. In general, we’re kind people who enter the profession because we like to help people find information they need and want. Please don’t let this experience sour you on librarians or libraries, though I agree it may be helpful to address what happened with a library supervisor.

    • Oh yeah, when I took this up with my own supervisor I made sure that he knew it was this one particular instance. The morning librarian and the guy I’ve used in the past have been FANTASTIC at recognizing the unique needs of my students. I guess that’s why I was so shocked. Here I am trotting along thinking everything is good and then facing the discrimination/meanness first hand was certainly eye opening!

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