UW professor discriminated against for Christian faith

Apr 12, 2018, 1:25 PM | Updated: 1:28 pm
cherry trees...
(University of Washington)
(University of Washington)

It may appear as though the world in 2018 has gotten more tolerant than ever before, but discrimination is still rampant — even, it seems, on a college campus.

Susana Asberry, an English as a Second Language professor at the University of Washington, told KTTH Radio’s Todd Herman that the university is persecuting her for her Christian faith.

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Asberry is currently on probation for reasons she says she doesn’t understand. She can only conclude that the university has it out for her due to her religion.

“It is very frightening,” she told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. “I am scared. I am disturbed.”

The problem began when Asberry assigned her students the task of writing an argumentative essay on a contentious topic in politics. Students chose hot-button issues such as immigration, gun control, and gay marriage as essay prompts.

“In this kind of essay, writers are required to mention the opposing views,” Asberry explained. “Therefore, I was giving my students an exercise to help them come up with arguments for both sides.”

Asberry assigned her students the task of coming up with views for both sides of the debate.

“It shows that you are tolerant,” she said. “This is what we promote at our university — tolerance and being able to listen to others’ opinions.”

To Asberry’s shock, one of her students, a gay Chinese man, filed a formal complaint with the university in which he alleged that Asberry was not only homophobic, but also a racist. The student said that he felt unsafe in her classroom.

“I have absolutely no clue where this came about … absolutely no idea where this came from,” Asberry said.

Asberry said that allegations are ridiculous because she is married to a black man and has two biracial sons.

While the complaint stated that Asberry made fun of the Chinese language, the English professor said that this is entirely untrue. Asberry, who herself is a Czech immigrant with a strong accent, said that she was simply discussing accents with her students.

“We were using as an example, not just Chinese, but other languages, my own language,” she described. “And out of that, they claim that I am a racist — because I am making sounds.”

In a recent meeting to discuss the allegations, Asberry’s director — who she said is aware of her Christian beliefs — blatantly asked her if she is against homosexuals.

“I was floored,” she said. “I did not know what to say. I started shaking, and it was frightening.”

She replied that she was not against anyone. The director stated that he believed the students and not Asberry.

“I am a Christian, so therefore you don’t believe me,” Asberry said. “That is exactly how I interpreted his behavior.”

Asberry ran into a similar issue in 2015. As part of an assignment on idioms, Asberry asked her students to write about the goals that would be on their bucket lists. One of the students asked Asberry what was on her own bucket list. She responded, truthfully, that she would like to tell people about God.

“From this, I guess, there was a Muslim female student who filed a formal complaint about me stating that I had made statements about God during class … that were offensive to her and that I had not promoted a positive learning environment,” Asberry said.

The same student one day had been outside of the classroom crying. Asberry tried to offer her words of comfort.

“I was concerned about her and I was trying to comfort her because she shared some very private information with me,” Asberry said. “And I just said to her, simply replied, that in difficult times I pray. I never said the words ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ or anything.”

Nevertheless, Asberry’s HR director summoned her to a meeting in which she was informed that she had violated UW’s non-discrimination policy and was given a warning.

The most disturbing part of the meeting for Asberry came, however,  when the director – who Asberry said was aware that she was a Christian – interrogated her on her outward faith practices. The director asked Asberry if she reads her Bible on campus, a question that Asberry said took her back to her childhood, behind the Iron Curtain.

“It was almost as if I was reading some forbidden book … this is exactly what the Soviets did,” said Asberry, who as a child escaped the former Czechoslovakia with her mother.

“I don’t hide my faith; my faith is not something I’m ashamed of,” she said.

Because the university provides prayer areas for Muslim students, Asberry believes that there is a double-standard for Christians.

“If I were a Muslim teacher, I don’t think they would forbid me to pray between classes and pull out my rug … It ought to be my right to read my Bible on campus. Not in class of course, because that is not my job – my job is to teach English.”

In her car or at lunch, however, she feels that this should be her right.

“I never knew that this was a crime,” she said.

Now on probation, Asberry must attend a workshop on tolerance that she said is just like “what the Soviets did to my parents.”

A passionate English teacher, Asberry wants to continue working at UW, but said that she lives in fear.

“Right now I am scared. I am going to work with an upset stomach,” Asberry said. But she added, “I’m trying not to think about it – I’m just trying to do my job.”

Dori Monson on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
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UW professor discriminated against for Christian faith