Failure to listen leads to racial harassment charge

Failure to listen leads to racial harassment chargeA Purdue University employee and student has been accused of racial harassment simply for reading a book. The book that got Keith Sampson into trouble was the critically acclaimed Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan, which surveys Notre Dame and anti-Catholic bigotry during a troubled time in U.S. history.

According to the Freedom for Individual Rights in Education‘s (FIRE) The Torch,

First, a shop steward told Sampson that reading a book about the KKK was like bringing pornography to work (apparently this holds true in his eyes regardless of the context in which a book discusses the KKK, the position it takes, and so on). Likewise, a co-worker who happened to be sitting across the table from Sampson in the break room remarked that she found the KKK offensive. On both occasions, Sampson tried to explain what the book was really about. Both times, the other individual refused to listen.

A few weeks later, Sampson was notified by Marguerite Watkins of the school’s Affirmative Action Office (AAO) that a co-worker had filed a racial harassment complaint against him for reading the book in the break room. Once again, he attempted to explain the book’s content, but Watkins too had no interest in hearing it.

(Emphasis mine.)

Apart from the significant threat posed by “an over-aggressive application of employment discrimination laws poses for First Amendment rights in the public employment context”, in the words of Concurring Opinions blogger Paul Secunda put it, what is deeply disturbing to me as a dispute resolution professional is the utter failure of anyone to listen to Sampson. Had anyone bothered to do so, any concerns about the subject matter of the book would have been instantly allayed.

A little listening would have meant a very different outcome for everyone involved — including Sampson. Consider how many misunderstandings, the vast majority below the radar and unreported, arise out of the failure to communicate — and how many complaints, lawsuits, and conflicts might be avoided if people assumed less and listened more.

(Hat tip to Concurring Opinions.)

3 responses to “Failure to listen leads to racial harassment charge

  1. Pingback: Du danger d’examiner les faits sans tenir compte des commentaires… « Réseau Médiation

  2. I saw this article last week while I was in Domestic Relations training but was too brain dead after 9 hours of lecture to comment on it on my blog. The article I found reprinted a second letter that Sampson received from the Office of “Affirmative Action”

    http://nuvo.net/images/articles/022708/letter020708.pdf

    Take note of the fact that the low-level apparatchik who threatened this man’s job by declaring that his conduct “constitutes racial harassment” is now “unable to draw any final conclusion” as to his intent. What made me laugh out loud was not this bulls**t two-step, but the fact that the SECOND letter was cc’d to the University’s general counsel.

  3. Wreaks of a quest for power by the employee that filed on Sampson.
    The individual “using” the very mechanisms that were supposed to prevent a dominant people from trying to rise above others through racism and cultural dominance. Now we see those who were once feeling persecuted and discriminated against doing the very thing that they hated so much in their “persecutors and so called discriminators.” No one wants equality, they want power and superiority. This a sad fact concerning the of the nature of selfish human beings. Sampson’s accuser wants to feel empowered by notifying the S.S. (superiority seekers) of a breach in their ranks that may prevent their rise to (power) equality. This S.S. (ignorance) is what is offensive to me, no some antiquated group from the past.

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