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UW administrator: ‘Do you read your Bible on campus?!’

Susana Asberry has been a full-time instructor at the University of Washington since 2006. She teaches English as a second language. On Monday, she shared exclusively with us how she has been put on probation for daring to mention God in direct response to a question from a student.

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Asberry also helped students in an argumentative essay writing class debate against gay marriage — a topic the students chose to address. As of Tuesday, she is being sent to what amounts to a re-education session. She is accused of being discriminatory and even racist. Asberry is white and married to a black man. Their children are biracial. She says she is being censored and feels threatened.

How did this all start? During a writing unit that involved American slang, the students learned about the phrase “bucket list” and submitted their own examples. A student asked Susana about her bucket list and Susana replied: “When I retire, I want to share the word of God with people.”

One student complained. As an observant Muslim, who covers her body as part of her faith, she said she was made to feel unsafe. According to Susana, that is when her career changed.

As she explained on the program,  she was drawn into an investigative process where her Director, James C. Evans, asked her in an angry, accusatory tone: “Do you read your Bible at on campus?”

That was just the beginning of her odyssey. I want you to hear Susana, who grew up in the former Czech Republic, describe how she was treated by the University of Washington. It reminds her of how her loved ones were abused by Russian authorities when the Soviet Union invaded her birth country.

Susana spoke out because she is concerned for future generations of teachers and students.

You can listen to our interview here.

We have reached out to the University of Washington for a response. Through a spokesperson, the University said they will consider making a statement.

I am sharing, below, her letter to us.

In 2015, a female Muslim student filed a formal complaint against me stating that I had made comments about God during and after my class that were offensive to her and that I had not promoted a positive learning environment. Once during this class, I was teaching the term “bucket list” because it was in our textbook chapter, and students had to make a list of what would be on their bucket list and that is when a student wanted to know what would be on mine. I replied that I would like to tell people about God. Another time with this female Muslim student was outside my classroom when she was crying. She was very upset and disclosed to me that her husband was cheating on her. Trying to comfort her, I simply told her that during difficult times, I pray. Her complaint was made soon after she received a failing grade in this class at the end of that quarter. As a result of her complaint, I was summoned to a formal meeting with my Director, James C. Evans and Human Resources, and a warning letter was issued saying that I had violated the UW’s executive Order 31, a Nondiscrimination and Non-retaliation policy.  Disregarding the fact that other Muslim students were in this class and that I had received high student evaluations at the end of that quarter. During this particular meeting, my Director asked me a question pertaining to my religion, “Do your read your Bible on campus?” In the final warning letter, the administration forbade me any mentioning of “God” or referencing to my religious belief such as praying. They concluded that my comments had harassed and discriminated against this female Muslim student. I disputed the incident with my union and only a copy of a letter of this incidence was placed into my employee personal file.

In the Fall Quarter 2017, two Chinese students who are two good friends, one of which is gay, collaborated and filed a formal complaint against me claiming that I had made their environment unsafe. This was soon after I was teaching argumentative essay, where students and I discussed “hot” topics and came up with various topics, including gay marriage. While teaching the opposing view, as an example gay marriage was used that was generated by my students. Thus, the pros and cons of gay marriage were discussed.  In this kind of essay, writers are required to mention the opposing views, therefore I was giving my students an exercise to help them come up with arguments for both sides. Soon after this lesson, the gay Chinese student filed a complaint against me making outrageous statements that I am “against homosexuals” and more of that nature, including that I am a racist (BTW, I am married to a Black man and we have two biracial sons, hence this couldn’t be more outrageous). Immediately, my Director James C. Evans along with HR placed me under a formal investigation and once again summoned me to a formal disciplinary meeting. While in the meeting, knowing that I am a conservative Christian, my Director James asked me a discriminatory question, “Are you against gay marriage?’ And also added at the end that both of these students claim that I am a very good teacher. 

Presently, since January 2018 I have been threatened with unemployment and have been ordered to follow harsh disciplinary actions. (Please see below the discipline order) On January 17, 2018 my union and I met with my Director James C. Evan and Joanna Hambrick, the HR person, to try to mitigate against their actions informally, but to my dismay without any success. During this meeting two serious incidences raised my concern and a real awareness of discrimination against me. Hence, I sent this to my union officials as follows: 

First incident during the mitigation meeting:

During the meeting James angrily walked out of the room to supposedly “cool” off. The behavior clearly showed his true feelings and his harboring of anger towards me. The HR person, Joanna witnessed this inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. My initial reaction was, “will HR discipline him for this conduct creating such an angry working hostile environment?” This particular action revealed his hostile feelings towards me without using any words. I also wondered if I as a teacher walked out of one of my classes to cool off like that what would be the consequences?  I would probably be immediately disciplined or at least “talked to”, especially if I were known to be “hot-headed” as James is.

Second incident during the mitigation meeting:

When asked why my input was not validated, James replied, “Based on what the other colleagues say about you, I BELIEVE those two students!” Hearing this outrageous statement confirms that he is trying to build a case against me. In addition to the incident 2015 (which was dismissed to informal counseling) he is now adding comments by my colleagues. How is he doing this? Is he listening to rumors, eavesdropping, talking to teachers behind my back? How can he be using what my colleagues say about me to build a case around this specific incident that supposedly happened only in my classroom with these two students? He is prejudging me because I am a conservative (based on what he’s heard about me), so then I must be guilty of the crime!  He is using these prejudgments to create just cause and thus formally disciplining me. This is completely unethical, unprofessional, and inappropriate that he has been talking to or hearing what others say/think about me. I need to know exactly how it is that “I am”?  In other words, James’ statement says that he is making a great effort to get “dirt” on me. What if I were a gay, Muslim or transgender teacher and he had said this to me, “I know what other teachers say about you?” And again, how do any of the statements from others relate to the “incident” in my classroom?  This statement is clearly discriminatory, and now I understand why I am being harassed and punished. His comment clearly reveals that he is discriminating against me because of my religion.

After this informal mitigation meeting with James and Joanna, I came to the conclusion that I am nowhere near a reasonable resolution. 

As of today, I am on a “probation” and under the following conditions:

The following are expectations for the following year (four teaching quarters):

1.       Attend the “Race, Bias, and Dissonance” POD class in spring 2018. A substitute will be arranged for your classes if needed to accommodate attendance. (Optional: you are encouraged to attend the “Cultivating Cultural Competence” POD class in summer 2018. Should you choose to attend, the course will be paid for by UWC2 and a substitute will be provided for your classes, if needed.)

2.       Administer regular student evaluations as well as open-ended questions for each class you teach. You will receive copies of the student comment sheets, as well as the Assistant Vice Provost or her designee. Copies will be placed in your annual file.

3.       Be observed (i.e., classroom observation) during a few unannounced drop-ins by James Evans, Director of ELP.

 This letter serves as your final warning. The University will not tolerate on-going violations of Executive Order 31. Should the above expectations not be met, or should additional concerns be substantiated, which may include offensive and unwelcome comments regarding any of the protected categories noted above, the result may be your separation of employment. The terms of your employment are outlined in the collective bargaining agreement and nothing in this letter should be construed as a guarantee of employment. 

Naturally, this experience has been devastating and traumatizing to me for the majority of my students’ evaluations are consistently very high and positive. As a matter of fact, in the Fall Quarter 2017 class from which the complaint was filed, I received a 4.9 with 5.0 being the highest, and also a student from this particular class made very complimentary comments about me as an instructor in front of all students and administration at the end- of- the- quarter ceremony.  

Due to these outrageous disciplinary actions ordered by my administration, I feel that I am being discriminated against and harassed. In fact, the Executive Order No. 31 they say that I am violating is being violated against me as a member of the University community. According to Article 31.4.B2, “

A. Discrimination is conduct that treats a person less favorably because of the person’s race, color, creed, religion, national origin, citizenship, sex, pregnancy, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity of expression, disability or veteran status.
B. Harassment is conduct directed at a person because of the person’s race, color, creed, religion, national origin, citizenship, sex, pregnancy, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, or veteran status that is unwelcome and sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that: 
1) It could reasonably be expected to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment, or
2) It has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance. Harassment is a form of discrimination.

As a result of this informal meeting, in January of 2018, I filed a discriminatory complaint against my Director James C. Evans at the University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office (UCIRO) and an open investigation began on January 31, 2018. The investigation came to close on March 30, 2018 without any results. Ian Messerle, the manager and investigator came to no supportive conclusion and according to him, no real evidence of discrimination by James C. Evans had been found. According to him, he reviewed documents and interviewed six people who all work very closely together with James. Nonetheless, at the end, Ian’s comment included, “By the way, James and all the interviewees say that you are a very good teacher.” By the way, my union officials were surprised because they were not interviewed by UCIRO being that they were involved in the process. 

Due to discrimination and harassment because of my religion, my work place has become a hostile environment, and I am now afraid to teach. I did not, never have and do not discriminate against nor harass any of my students. 

Sincerely,

Susana Asberry

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