Friday, November 27, 2009

November 27

It’s almost two weeks since my last entry, but at least I’m writing on a Friday. Today, in fact, is the day after Thanksgiving and I am here alone in my apartment.

Well, Michael was right: there have been negative consequences indeed for Danielle over the incident with the black student. Danielle’s attempts to get him arrested, expelled, or suspended all failed due to lack of any witness to his allegedly shoving her. Furthermore, the student has filed charges of racial discrimination against her with the university, citing the two low grades she gave him as well as her calling him an “asshole”—which several people overheard, including Michael. The student claimed that since assholes are black, Danielle’s calling him an “asshole” was a racial slur. The Charles University Office of Equity and Diversity Services has launched an investigation.

For once, I did not learn all this from Michael. Instead, I read about it, along with everybody else, in last Friday’s student newspaper. The article, which started on the front page, did not mention the black student’s name; the editors explained that they were not identifying him in order to protect him against racist reprisals that might be made against him. I was struck by the editors’ sensitivity. Even though I know the student’s name, I will follow the same practice here to protect him against the possibility of future reprisals either when my biographers quote from this diary or it is eventually published.

The paper, though, did publish Danielle’s name. Things got even worse for her afterward. Word quickly spread that day that there would be a demonstration against “racist TA’s” in front of our building, Case Hall, on Monday morning. I saw some demonstrators, including Michael, when I was coming to the building for Briggs’s class that day.

Briggs was a little late for class that morning. When he came in, he launched a diatribe against racism here at Charles University, citing what Danielle had done as only the latest instance of it. He really gave an impressive speech. It was too bad there were no black students in our seminar to hear it. They would have been deeply impressed, I am sure.

Briggs then announced that he was canceling class in order to participate in the demonstration against racist TA’s. He said that we were all free to join him in making a statement against racism or not: it was up to us. Almost everyone, including Doug and me, went with him. I must admit, I felt a little bad about demonstrating against Danielle, who had always been nice to me. I decided, though, that making a statement against racism was far more important than feelings of personal friendship.

(I can’t help but note that neither Craig Hatfield nor Lisa Dudwick came with the rest of us to the demonstration. I won’t speculate as to their motives.)

Back outside, the cohort from our seminar served to double the size of the demonstration. We were certainly a diverse group of mainly white graduate students and black university employees, mainly from the Office of Equity and Diversity Services. In addition to Briggs, Prof. Asquith was also there from our department. There were also a couple of reporters there from the student newspaper. I thought it was a little strange that, apart from the student involved in the incident with Danielle, there were no black students there. Perhaps they hadn’t heard about the demonstration.

The demonstration probably would have broken up after ten minutes or so except for two things that happened. First, Danielle herself happened to come by, apparently on her way into the building. Upon seeing her, Briggs, Michael, the black student involved in the incident with her, and the head of the Office of Equity and Diversity Services all got us chanting, “Down with racist TA’s! Down with racist TA’s!”

Even while I was chanting, I felt very sorry for Danielle. She looked genuinely stunned. She, apparently, had not heard about this demonstration. She stared at us for several seconds. She tried to say something to us, but I couldn’t hear her because the chanting then grew louder. It looked like she was starting to cry as she turned around and started to go into Case Hall when something else happened.

Just as she was opening the door, Prof. Trizenko was coming out at the head of what looked like his entire lower division comparative politics class (the one for which Danielle is his TA). (I guess it was to go to that class that she had been coming to Case Hall in the first place; obviously, she was running late.) Trizenko took her by the hand. It looked like he was speaking quite earnestly to her until all of his students were outside and he began leading them in a chant of “Justice for Danielle! Justice for Danielle!”

Trizenko’s classroom apparently overlooked the front of Case Hall, and so he and his students undoubtedly saw and heard our demonstration. Danielle threw her arms around Trizenko and was openly weeping. She seemed even more surprised by Trizenko’s demonstration than by ours.

We were quite surprised by his demonstration too—especially since it was a lot bigger than ours. Not only that, but it rapidly got bigger as several passers-by—including Shivvy—joined it.

Briggs and Asquith were furious over what Trizenko had done. “How dare he?” demanded Asquith.

“I don’t care what Stavros wrote in his favor,” said Briggs grimly. “Leading a demonstration in defense of a racist TA is going to sink his tenure application when it gets to the college promotion and tenure committee. The students at this university may be unprincipled right-wingers, but the people I know on that committee are not.’

It was a sign of just how upset Briggs was that he would talk like this in front of Michael, Doug, and me. I remember Cohen back at Barstow telling me that professors were never supposed to talk about tenure decisions and other sensitive personnel issues with students.

The “Justice for Danielle” crowd was growing intimidatingly large when the campus police arrived and positioned themselves between our two groups. I was glad they arrived, because who knows what the right-wingers might have done otherwise? The cops announced that it was time for everyone to cool down. After putting up a brief show of not wanting to leave, both groups dispersed shortly after Trizenko led Danielle away from the building.

The fallout continued. The next day, a sign appeared on our office door saying that Danielle would no longer be holding office hours here, but in Prof. Trizenko’s office instead. She apparently didn’t want to be in the same office with Michael, Doug, or even me. Michael told me that she and Trizenko came and got all her stuff. Michael is absolutely positive that she will not get any fellowship support for the spring semester now. He even thinks that Lisa and Craig not joining our demonstration will be a black mark against them. At least they didn’t join Trizenko’s demonstration; that really would have cooked them with Briggs and Asquith!

Before we parted company that morning, Briggs asked Michael, Doug, and me if we’d like to come over to his place for an “alternative Thanksgiving” on Thursday. Michael accepted immediately and so did Doug after making sure he could bring Angie. Much as I wanted to accept, I could not: I had already agreed to spend the day with Shivvy and her family. Damn!

Shivvy and I had a furious argument Monday afternoon about Danielle and over the two of us being in opposing demonstrations. Fortunately, our relationship is strong enough that we were able to overcome our differences. Besides, neither of us could afford to spend time thinking about Danielle and her problems since we both had a lot of work to get done. The end of semester crunch has definitely arrived!

Although I didn’t get to attend Brigg’s “alternative Thanksgiving,” I heard all about it earlier this evening from Doug and Angie, who were kind enough to invite me to their place for dinner (like most undergrads, Shivvy is spending the entire Thanksgiving break with her family; it is only impecunious grad students like Doug and me who have to stay on campus).

It was mainly Angie who described what happened. “It was a good thing I was there,” she said laughingly, “otherwise these boys wouldn’t have had anything but beer and potato chips for their Thanksgiving dinner!” Briggs had apparently not prepared anything and was just going to order pizza for his guests. At Angie’s insistence, though, he and she went out and miraculously found a store that was open. “He bought and I cooked!” she explained. Since there were only four of them for dinner and cooking a whole turkey would take so long, she had him buy a chicken instead.

“When we got back,” Angie told me, “Michael and Doug here were having a furious argument over whether the word `asshole’ is a racial slur. Michael was saying it was because assholes are black while Dougie was saying it wasn’t because they are brown.

“After they each made their case to Barry,” she continued, “he told them that the only way they could settle the issue was to ask Professor Asquith, since he was more familiar with assholes than anyone else in the department!” Angie laughed uproariously at this, but Doug did not look pleased. I had a feeling that they were still not completely in harmony with each other.

I have to admit, I was just a little taken aback to hear Angie talking dirty like that. I don’t know why, but I was.

1 comment:

  1. Assholes are neither black nor brown, but like any other body membrane.. a shade of pink! More importantly, this student is playing the "race card" to the extreme and should be punished for his actions. Perhaps the TA could have handled her situation more professionally (however it certainly sounds like she was attempting to avoid a physical assault from an "empowered minority"). As an organic chemistry TA at a large public university in the northeast, I myself would have sent the student, whether black, white, brown, yellow, or purple, packing from my office with a nice red "F".


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