By, Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu
Spring Term at Eastern Michigan University, one student who chooses to remain anonymous and will be called “Student A” found herself in the Ombudsman’s Office complaining of offensive language in her college text book. On page 33 of Student A’s, Feminist Theory Text book published by Blackwell Publishing, it was written as an example, “dirty nigger.”
In a telephone interview with Case Management Coordinator, Julia Heck, of The Ombudsman’s Office she described their responsibilities as follows:
“The Ombudsman’s Office handles policy or process, what to do if you are treated unfairly, how to navigate current processes and procedures, for addressing concerns and how to break down concerns into manageable parts, how to walk them through proper procedures to address those concerns with the instructor, or to move to the Department Head, or still further to the Dean.”
Heck said, “The Ombudsman’s Office helps to navigate until due process is heard.” On a recent appointment with the Ombudsman’s Office by Student A to ascertain what to do if college text books need to be scrutinized edited or omitted and a second issue of a grade grievance, several avenues were outlined with Case Management Coordinator.
Student A had previously met with her instructor and Department Head about her text book concerns and was disappointed in the outcome. No plan for investigation was outlined or to edit the text book. The said “Feminist Theory: A Philosophical Anthology” textbook by Ann E. Cudd and Robin O. Andreasen was described by both instructor and department head as a historical text. One specific essay highlighted for racism was “Second Sex,” By Simone de Beauvoir. Student A received an in person meeting but was dismayed, when Professors spoke in favor of the book citing perhaps it being “caught in translation,” or “ahead of her time” and “that’s the way it was.”
Heck instructed Student A, in a meeting to write 5 brief bullet points that were referred to the Dean of Arts and Sciences for resolution. In Student A’s letter to the Dean she wrote a brief introduction, illustrated 5 bullet points, which were followed with a brief conclusion. Student A expressed in her conclusion that “the class is in need of revision.”
Heck expressed to Student A, to utilize her “Teacher Evaluation” to reach the Dean or the Professor and comment on her experience in the course. Student A felt the Teaching Evaluation had too much brevity and did not allow her to analyze or fully express her concerns to the Dean, Department Head and Professor.
Heck says, “That Teacher Evaluations allow our students to evaluate the course environment, course structure, teaching style and areas for improvement to help teachers.”
“Grade Grievances are specifically for grades,” said Heck. According to Heck, “(Teacher Evaluations have to do with) overall how you would rate this course and allow students the ability to write comments at the end.”
Student A wonders if there needs to be a more comprehensive evaluations to improve teacher performance, but also to evaluate their course materials and the given course load. Students shouldn’t be expected, according to Student A, “to work 7 days a week on a class, teachers need to measure course load.”
Student A was described by History Department’s Head as “jarred” from the racial commentary in the essay “Second Sex.” The presence of racist text in the college text book caused her to not want to read thoroughly for fear of taking- in racist material. Dispute over Student A’s performance and grade passed through the Dean of Art and Sciences email and was later scheduled for a formal Grade Grievance Committee Meeting. There is immediate concern over historical texts or classical material that may have racist content which will be handled by the Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action. Student A found that everywhere she found the word “privilege” in the text book, there tended to be racist content. The case is still under investigation.
Student A after vocalizing her concern over the said text book infuriated her professor who eventually gave her an “F” in the Philosophy 226 Feminist Theory class. According to student A, perhaps it’s better to get an “F” in the course when “nigger” is in the text book, I wonder who got an “A.”
Student A speculates that her GPA and transcripts have been impacted until proceedings hopefully overturn decisions by three teachers to give her all grades below “C.”
What has been interesting for Student A is when confronted with this type of adversity when one feels their life has been ruined or college career severely marred, to look for options, bargain and guide committees, Deans and Offices towards a positive resolution. It could be suggested to give credit for the course without grade or to drop courses and receive a refund or even to receive a scholarship and grade change.
What was also apparent was that Grade Grievance Committee Members in the first of three filed Grade Grievances framed Student A as a bad student and their questions were not skilled, driven towards investigation or solution. Members of Grade Grievance Committee’s judgement may be impaired due to vulnerability of their position in the school. Teachers do not wish to oppose department heads or colleagues and would prefer to disregard one student than face job complications. Even students may not support another student and make negative assumptions or dislike conflict with faculty members.
Student A still has not received due process and hopes to overturn her grades for spring term and recall the book. It is rumored that Student A may be nominated for a “Martin Luther King Jr. Student Award” for her pioneering spirit in the face of adversity.
What really plagues student anxiety is when they peacefully broach a sensitive matter with a professor who appears to have incorrect emotions on the subject and fails to scrutinize, investigate or support the student. Never in this process did the Professor feel that it was incorrect to have “nigger” in the text book. Instead he fought to justify a failing mark that was excessively low, a whopping 48% in spite of all work completed and well done.
Student A hopes to deeply empower The Ombudsman’s Office to protect students, faculty and staff. Several cases are pending, stay tuned for the final results.