Challenges in Mental Health Care: The Sickness v. Wellness Perspective (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Mental health care is a challenging, but rewarding field.  There are many positive sides of mental health care, and also areas that need improvement.  One of the biggest rewards of mental health care is observing and experiencing progress, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients.  Healing, recovery, and a return to wellness of clients in mental health settings requires patience, understanding, respect, and sensitivity.  Agency and organizational stability is also needed for clients in order that they receive optimal care.  While each agency and/or organization has its own culture, a culture in which workers live in fear of becoming a statistic in extremely high turnover is unhealthy in itself.

As an individual working toward licensure in the mental health profession, I am one whose perspective is from a position of wellness.  First and foremost, one must view a person as a person.  To perceive and treat a person with respect, kindness, nonjudgment, and impartiality are requirements in supporting and empowering the wellness, healing, and recovery of clients.  In the counseling profession, one based on a view of wellness in people, there exists a positive and supportive hope for the overall optimal health of the individual.

This view is different from many other mental health professions in which the general view of the client is one of sickness.  Certainly, approaching an individual with a perspective of what can be improved is helpful, and for insurance purposes involving payment for services rendered, a diagnosis of the client is required, however it is my perspective that viewing the client from a wellness standpoint is much more healthy for all involved rather than judging a person as being sick.

Those who view and describe an individual as a “sick person” have already negatively judged him or her.  They have not viewed the person as a person, but as an “ill person.”  Such a perspective held by such individuals causes them to treat the client differently, as one who needs more and more treatment, more and more medication, more and more confinement.  In these situations, the positive view of wellness is gone, and is replaced by a judgment that the “sick person” is unable to become well.

While clients have challenges to achieving and maintaining wellness, it becomes even more of a challenge when many in the mental health field view clients as sick, and only they as the professionals who hold those views have the power and expertise to make them well – or they have already judged that they will never become well.  A professional who approaches a client from a perspective of wellness (a perspective that is in the minority), therefore, faces even more challenges, not only for themselves but also for their clients when others view them as sick and unable to become well.  A person is still a person, regardless of their diagnosis or disorder.  A person is still a person, and has the capability of becoming well.  A hopeful perspective toward client wellness must exist in the mental health profession – rather than client sickness – in order that clients are supported and empowered to experience that wellness.

A further challenge in agencies and/or organizations in which a “sickness” perspective prevails is that experienced clinicians fall into the trap of believing that their views and judgments about clients are the best – that they are the experts.  Certainly, the experience of a veteran clinician is extremely valuable in treating clients, however experienced clinicians who believe that only their views, judgments, and culture of sickness are the most helpful approaches create a potentially dangerous situations for their clients.  Clinicians of all levels of experience must be open-minded to considering and perceiving different views – including those from a wellness perspective – so that their clients receive optimal care and so that they profession, itself, can grow and develop in a healthy way.

Clinicians who view clients from a perspective of illness and negative judgment place their clients at risk for further illness.  Clinicians who are set in their ways of expertise toward mental health treatment, and who are unable to be open-minded toward viewing different perspectives regarding it have already erected walls around themselves that are harmful for themselves, their clients, the culture of their agency/organization, and the field of mental health.

What clinicians must always place as a primary priority is that people are people.  As such, people should be treated with dignity, understanding, kindness, respect, and sensitivity.  If a perspective of client wellness is lacking or absent, clients will likely experience a more difficult road to recovery and may not achieve wellness.  What is healthier – being an “expert” clinician whose views of client illness cause him or her to be closed to considering a client’s optimal recovery, or being a clinician who treats a person as a person, and who applies a wellness perspective that supports rather than negatively judges the client?  You be the judge.

UB – the University at Buffalo – as a Sexist Institution (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

When I first entered the University at Buffalo as an undergraduate student in 1989, I felt included. For me, as a woman, it is important to me to feel and be a part of any group or institution that truly “includes” women, both appreciating and respecting women. The atmosphere that is present at UB today, in 2014, however, has changed. UB has become a sexist institution that promotes a perspective and images that make men the priority. Women’s concerns and interests have taken a backseat to those of men, sometimes being entirely excluded. What happened?

The University at Buffalo (UB) is one of the four university centers within the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Being born and raised in Western New York State, I was aware of UB as an institution that was prestigious, with a reputation for educational excellence. As a high school senior, I was accepted at all of the eight or ten colleges and universities to which I applied. UB was actually my second choice behind Ithaca College, though I chose to attend UB because of the lesser cost, closer proximity to home, and excellent reputation as a research institution. I had been interested in pursuing a medically-related career at that time, and I am an individual who gets much enjoyment from completing research, so UB seemed the perfect place for me to go after high school.

After arriving at UB, I quickly gained the feeling that it was a place in which I could soar, and I was correct. In my first year there, I became a member of several student organizations in which I was interested; studied a science-related curriculum to prepare for a medical career; worked part-time in my dormitory complex; was active in the university wind ensemble and chorus; and was a member of both the indoor and outdoor women’s track and field teams. I was not, nor have ever been a “partier;” and I never put on the “freshman 15.” In fact, I became more busy and active at UB, getting into better shape, and structuring my life and managing my time so that I would be as successful as possible. While doing this, I also met new people, made new friends, tried out different avenues of interests and enjoyment, and stayed as focused on my studies as possible.

As a member of the women’s track and field team at UB, I was one of the Royals. The men were the Bulls, and the women were the Royals. My specialty areas were in field events, including shot put, discus, and javelin. In my last two years of high school, I was recognized as one of the top competitors in shot put and discus throughout Western New York State. While I also competed in nearly every other event throughout the six years that I was a member of my varsity high school team, those two were my top events. As a Royal, I was a proud member of the women’s team at UB. Today, women’s sports teams are only known as Bulls, a masculine term that excludes, overlooks, and denies the “femaleness” of women. As such and in the manner that it is used at UB, the term ‘Bulls’ has become a sexist word that excludes women, and in turn, prioritizes only the gender, concerns, and interests of men.

Throughout most of my time spent at UB as an undergraduate, I was also a member of the university’s pep band. The Pep Band was a group that played songs during men’s home football and basketball games to liven up the crowd. The Pep Band also played at one away football game per semester. In my schooling prior to attending UB, I had been a member of the band and marching band for eight years. Included as a requirement for being a band member in high school was participating in both the marching band and pep band. Therefore, while UB did not have a marching band at that time, I was quite familiar with what was expected and required of musicians, whether they were extremely serious or playing just for fun. The Pep Band provided an outlet for students to play their instruments socially and recreationally.

Thunder of the East Logo (Retrieved on June 16, 2014 fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_of_the_East)

Thunder of the East Logo (Retrieved on June 16, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunder_of_the_East)

At UB today, there is the Thunder of the East Marching Band. The main logo that promotes the image of the group reflects a man playing a trumpet. Inequality and sexism are represented in the image because of this. There is no woman who is reflected in the logo. Women are completely excluded from being portrayed in the logo, though the marching band is not a group that is exclusively male. This reflects another situation in which men’s gender, interests, and concerns take priority over women, excluding women.

At UB, I never had a boyfriend. As a heterosexual woman, that was a part of my life that was lacking. At more than half way through my senior year, I was still a virgin, and was quite proud of it. I had prided myself in trying remain chaste for the “right” person. Certainly, I dated and always had many male friends, with many who were very good friends – respectful, caring, protective, and gentlemanly, more like good brothers. But, there was never one who could adjust to my busy and focused lifestyle; perhaps there was never a man who wanted to work as hard as it would be required to maintain an intimate relationship with me. My focus was on my studies and activities, ending up with completing two degrees in the less than 3.5 years, less than the amount of time that it takes most students to complete one degree. And, perhaps I was not willing to “make” the time necessary for which an intimate relationship would have required to be successful. Through all of this, it was still okay at UB for me to make my own decision in regard to the types and levels of intensity of my relationships with others.

In the latter part of 1992, in my last semester at UB as an undergraduate, a peer raped me. The rape occurred on a blind date with him that had been arranged by two mutual friends, one of whom was a fraternity member. This man was a fellow UB student, two years younger than me, from Downstate New York who was also a member of the same fraternity as our mutual friend. The morning following the violent and hurtful rape that I experienced, I informed my two friends about it, and one friend encouraged me to confront the rapist about it by phone, another hurtful experience for me. While four people knew of the rape, it was not reported until I reported it to UB campus police a few years later, having caused all those involved to protect the rapist so that he cleanly got away with his crime, as well as creating accomplices out of our mutual “friends.”

In later reporting the crime to public safety at UB, one of the police chiefs laughed about it, dismissing it and minimizing it. The case went through the legal system, but the perpetrator was never charged, nor prosecuted. He got away with a violent rape in which I was harmed and injured in many ways. No one at UB provided me with any support in coping with what had occurred. No one told me that women at college and university campuses may have a chance of being raped. No one told me that men who are members of many college and university fraternities believe rape is sex. No one told me that the assistant district attorney in Buffalo would deny that I was raped, telling me that I had not been raped. No one told me that my life would be forever altered by being trusting of a man who was twisted in his thoughts and actions, violently raping and harming me, and getting away with it. No one asks to be raped. And, when it happens, I have experienced that it is the victim or survivor who is blamed, revictimized, and punished by many in society who do not hold the offender responsible or accountable for his actions.

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/)

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/ 2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/)

Colleges and universities in which there is a rape culture present within their fraternities are not only sexist and harmful, but criminal. When all those who are supposed to protect women from harm, and support them in their reporting and recovery, but do not do so, and instead, support the actions of the rapist, they embolden and enable such men to continue their criminal actions, believing they can get away with it, because they have gotten away with it. It has been my experience that this hidden rape culture within certain fraternities at UB has continued and has been perpetuated. The annual tradition of fraternity men creating snow sculptures of ejaculating penises is only one reflection that this hidden rape culture within UB’s fraternities still exists, and is very much alive and well.

Lastly, when I completed my studies at UB in 1992, and returned to attend the graduation ceremony in 1993, it was a Division III institution. There had been a lot of talk and news about the possibility of UB going to Division I. Many students did not think it would happen; in fact, many hoped that it would not happen, including myself. This is because there was a belief among students that football would detract from UB’s reputation as a renowned research university in the Northeastern United States. My experience, as well as that of many students and faculty, was to observe that to occur.

In 1994 and 1995, I returned to UB and took several classes as an open student. I completed undergraduate courses, a graduate course, and a post-graduate class. It was during that time that I realized that the atmosphere and mood at UB had changed. Football became the “all important” aspect of UB. An example of that occurred in my sociology class. In my class were three football players who had extremely disrespectful attitudes and toilet mouths. They were disrespectful to the instructor, resistant and angry about having to attend class (and often, did not do so), and sat in the back of the class, swearing and causing disruption. Unfortunately, because they were football players, they were “untouchable.” They got away with all of these behaviors, and appeared to have the support of the heads of the athletics department in their unruliness. They acted abominably and they got away with it. Professors were afraid to speak out and express themselves about the manner in which education was deteriorating at UB, having been replaced with football, so lauded and supported by the institution’s president.

Women who enter UB, as well as other colleges and universities, must be informed and educated about these types of issues that are present in institutions of higher education so that we can better empower, bond with, and protect ourselves. Our society so often teaches girls and women that we must sacrifice ourselves, our identities, our safety, our intelligence, our feelings, our bodies to men. In order to survive and even prosper, women have often learned that it is a man’s world, and that we must be submissive and/or subservient to men. There are men and women who perpetuate this societal standard when they promote issues such as sexism and inequality toward women, as well as issues including sexual assault and rape. Denying and turning a blind eye to resolving these issues only promotes a culture that becomes even more sexist, unequal, harmful, and violent toward women and girls.

Prestigious universities such as UB have an opportunity to get back on the right track. College and university leaders must remain open-minded when faced with issues such as sexism, inequality, and sexual assault on campus, including rapes experienced by both women and men. They must not attempt to hide, cover up, ridicule, deny, or minimize these situations. Doing so only worsens and perpetuates them. College and university leaders must promote environments on campus that are fair and equal, respectful and appreciative, caring and sensitive.

I went to UB to gain an excellent education. While I, indeed, obtained a great education from an outstanding institution, I also graduated from UB, unnecessarily, as a rape victim and survivor. 😦 No one did anything to prevent or stop it from happening then, and to my knowledge, the culture there has not changed for the better for women, thus still perpetuating its continuance now.  UB did not make it better for me, but it can still make things better for others.

Author’s Note: This post – along with dozens of others regarding campus sexual assault – is listed on the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence website as of January 1, 2015 at: http://www.ncdsv.org/publications_sa-campus.html .

UB Needs to get it Right (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

When I was a student at the University at Buffalo (UB), I had some really great experiences.  In prior posts in this blog, I have described many of my wonderful experiences.  I also had many unpleasant, hurtful, and traumatic experiences.  Describing about some of these situations, to follow, I will also provide some suggestions to officials at UB so that such situations are not repeated with other students.

1) In 1993, I earned a baccalaureate degree in psychology and a bachelor’s degree in political science.  This is a particular detail that is important to me, especially because the University at Buffalo Records and Registration Department (R&R) erred in identifying my accomplishment over a period of 10 – yes 10 – years. Additionally – and while I still very much appreciate it – UB’s President at the time, Dr. William Greiner – also erred on this detail in a recommendation he completed for me, such recommendation that is published in it’s entirety elsewhere in this blog.  On my official UB transcript from 1993-2003, R&R reflected that I earned only one BA, however that was incorrect.

When I went to R&R, personally, several times during the course of that decade, no one would listen to me.  I was brushed off and not taken seriously at all when I repeatedly told people in R&R that their records were incorrect.  Personally, I went to R&R and I wrote letters to several individuals over that period of 10 years until someone finally listened to me, verified that what I stated about my degrees was correct, and corrected my official transcript to reflect both of my degrees earned.

I am sure that anyone in my situation would feel similarly, particularly after experiencing what I have in regard to years of trying to see to it that my educational achievements have been correctly recorded and documented by UB officials.  This is particularly important when people read my resume, and other career-related documents, because I list my educational achievement of the two degrees correctly.

When this error was made during that decade, many believed that I was in error, and therefore, also dishonest, when it was UB that was in error.  I spent $10,000s on my education, including for the acquisition of my second BA at UB.  I also invested an obscene amount of credit hours to earn both of those degrees over a period of less than 3.5 years.  It is important, therefore, that UB has it right!

UB Partial View of Governor's Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 fromhttp://housing.buffalo.edu/roosevelt.php)

UB Partial View of Governor’s Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 fromhttp://housing.buffalo.edu/roosevelt.php)

2) In my first semester at UB, I experienced bullying by my roommate.  She was often disruptive in our dorm room by coming back in the wee hours of the morning with her boyfriend, who would also spend the rest of the night in our dorm room.  She also often moved my things and made many attempts at taking over my space, which we had originally divided evenly.  On frigid winter nights, she would also open the window to it’s full four feet, and expect that it would be acceptable to me that we should freeze.  She would often turn up her stereo volume loudly when I was quietly studying in our dorm room.  And, she had a nasty habit of slamming the door to our dorm room, which as you can imagine, endeared her to everyone on the hall (realize I am being sarcastic here).

I tried to speak with my roommate many times about my concerns, trying to reach agreement and compromise with her, however she always refused.  It always had to be her way.  Therefore, I repeatedly reported these situations to my graduate resident advisor, and repeatedly asked to move, though he did nothing until a situation occurred in which we were both required to move out of the dorm room as a result of our behavior toward each other.  Bullying and the creation of a hostile environment in dorm rooms are issues that UB definitely needs to take more seriously.

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/) (Definitely offensive to UB rape survivors)

Ejaculating Snow Penis at UB in 2010 (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from http://photographsbyseon.wordpress.com/ 2010/02/27/the-snow-phallus-is-back/) (Definitely offensive to UB rape survivors)

3) What I will always remember as a traumatic and negatively life-changing experience at UB was when I was sexually assaulted in my dorm room during my last semester there.  Four people were aware of what occurred, though no one reported it.  Two of those people became accomplices to the man who raped me by not reporting it.  It took me about 2.5 years to gain the courage and overcome the humiliation to report this crime.  When I did so at UB, one of the public safety chiefs laughed out loud about what had occurred.  I felt like an ant that had just been smashed.

That was only the beginning of the repeated process of revictimization I experienced as a result of this crime that, to this day, has not been resolved to my satisfaction, and regarding which the offender was never charged or prosecuted.  Additionally, a description of what occurred, as well the offender’s name and other identifying information such as his birthday (both of which I will always remember, by the way), have been deleted from the report that I filed at UB.  I am thankful, however, for the female public safety officer who treated me with kindness and respect.  She was the only person in the entire legal process who supported me in any way.

When I attempted to reach out, prior to finally officially reporting the sexual assault, to several UB administrators and/or their family members, I was ostracized and turned away.  On a number of occasions, I tried to reach out to UB President Bill Greiner by sending him short correspondence.  The answer that I received to my correspondence was from then-Dean of Students Dennis Black, threatening criminal action against me if I continued my communications with Bill!  These were communications that were appropriate, and in which I was merely attempting to reach out for some emotional support and assistance.  I did not get that from anyone at UB except the female public safety officer who originally took my report, and who was kind and professional toward me.

Shortly after reporting the sexual assault and experiencing repeated revictimization through the legal process of doing so, I wrote and posted about my experience at UB and other area campuses in an effort to educate and inform other students about my experience, in the hope that they would be able to protect themselves against something similar happening to them.  One day when I posted my writings at UB, a UB official approached me and told me not to post my information.  This only caused me to post and write about it more.  Such insensitivity and lack of understanding was incredible to me!

UB Partial View of Ellicott Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from Google Images of the University at Buffalo)

UB Partial View of Ellicott Complex Dorms (Retrieved on May 28, 2014 from Google Images of the University at Buffalo)

Therefore, I have a number of suggestions to UB officials in regard to these situations.  For #1, there should be an audit process at UB that reviews students’ degrees to be sure that the information on record is accurate.  For the information about my degrees to be recorded and repeatedly documented incorrectly, over a period of 10 years, and still to the present day, is absolutely unacceptable.  Also unacceptable was the treatment that I received by individuals in R&R who repeatedly refused to listen to me, nor consider that my information to them was correct and that they were in error.

In association with #2, all too often bullying and a hostile environment are created when people take no action to stop it and/or resolve the situations.  The graduate resident advisor to whom I repeatedly reported these situations did nothing until a serious situation occurred that was unresolvable.  Those who oversee the welfare of others must take seriously the issues of bullying and a hostile environment so that worse situations are not provoked into occurring.

Regarding #3, no one was there for me at UB when I was sexually assaulted.  When I turned to many people, no one helped me.  Being so hurt and humiliated by this violent and traumatizing experience in which I was internally-injured, I blocked it out for a period of a few years before returning to UB to report it, as well as to seek support and assistance for my recovery outside of UB.  I have spent $1,000s on my recovery from this painful trauma, such assistance having been a great benefit and self-help for me.  For any UB official to minimize, ridicule, disbelieve, overlook, deny, and/or cover up this crime, as well as to revictimize me as the survivor is abominable, and there were a number who did so.

UB can establish programs to support sexual trauma survivors, and can also educate about sexual trauma, including how it occurs and how vulnerable individuals can protect themselves from it.  UB can also train it’s officials in regard to responding more sensitively and effectively to those who have experienced sexual traumas on campus.

Myself on Graduation Day at the University at Buffalo, New York, May 16, 1993

Myself on Graduation Day at the University at Buffalo, New York, May 16, 1993

Individuals at UB are what make up UB.  Each individual is a part of the whole, and when any individual is harmed, the whole is also harmed.  The institution should not be more important than the individual, however that was repeatedly proven to me in what I experienced.  So, while I had many wonderful experiences at UB, many of which I have written about in this blog, I have also experienced these hurtful situations.  I expected more from UB, but in regard to these specific situations, I received less.  As a result, I am speaking out, and have already spoken out in several capacities, particularly in regard to being sexually assaulted.

UB will not silence me, nor overlook, minimize, or ridicule my experience, nor succeed in revictimizing me.  Rather than attempt that, why not take action to help and support survivors and victims of sexual trauma that has occurred on campus? Indeed, I have become an activist and advocate for those who are minimized and bullied, as well as for those who have experienced sexual trauma.  I am also a supporter for the recovery of those of all ages, including children, who have suicidal ideation, particularly as a result of sexual trauma.

My experience of being sexually assaulted at UB has been singular in my advocacy for sexual trauma survivors.  So, while being sexually assaulted at UB created much hurt and pain in my life, the good thing is that it has caused me to become an advocate for others who have had similar experiences.  I also try to be aware of speaking and reaching out to those who will actually be helpful to survivors and victims.  Particularly in this area, UB can do better!

Recently, a UB official contacted me via LinkedIn through my personal email account, and requested that I write a recommendation for UB.  Due to the above-described information, I am unable to author a recommendation for UB, however information about many of my positive experiences as a student at UB can be found in prior posts within this blog.

There is good and bad everywhere and in everything, however UB still needs to show me that it can get it right with regard to these issues!

Author’s Note (June 5, 2014): Since posting a UB article about Nursing Week, and how UB could potentially take some initiative within the nursing program to implement programs for student survivors of sexual trauma that has occurred on campus, my comments and posts in the LinkedIn group, University at Buffalo Alumni, have been restricted.  I have attempted to post additional comments and articles, and have requested of the group manager that I be free to post, however she has responded to me that I am, however she has not approved my comments or posts.  Currently, this is the only LinkedIn group (out of 51 groups) in which a manager has not changed my settings to be free to post, nor has approved all of my comments and posts.

It also seems that this is a greater reflection on UB that when controversial issues arise, there are attempts at silencing them.  This is another reason why The Spectrum, the student newspaper at UB, is independent of the university – because of the politics involved in students previously being unable to publish freely, without experiencing retaliation, threats, and/or attempts at silencing them from UB officials.  My view is that my article is an opportunity for people at UB to take initiative regarding these issues and make improvements rather than attempt to silence them and prevent freedom of speech.

 

 

“Experiencing Workplace Discrimination and Retaliation” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Shiloh Middle School Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Shiloh Middle School Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

From 2007-2008, I taught at Shiloh Middle School in Snellville, Georgia, located in Gwinnett County.  Shiloh is a public school, and is a school that is part of the largest public school system in Georgia – which school system is also Georgia’s largest employer.  Due to unbearable discrimination and retaliation that I experienced as a teacher at Shiloh, from school administrators, and as a result of upper administrators doing nothing to stop it, I taught there for only one year, having already had several years of prior outstanding experience, positive recommendations, and excellent formal evaluations of my teaching at other schools.

During the painful experience that I had at Shiloh, I resigned mid-way through the academic year with such resignation taking effect at the close of the academic year, hoping that the discrimination, racism, harassment, bullying, and retaliation that I was experiencing would stop, but it only increased and escalated.  😦  For the past five years, my experience has been so painful that I have not shared about it, publicly.  However, I believe that it is important for my experience to be shared; perhaps sharing about my experience with help others who are coping with similar discrimination.

Discrimination – in particular, workplace or employment discrimination – is something that people typically do not want to talk about, recognize, or address.  In my experience, it was also something that virtually no one who had the authority and ability to stop it did so.  😦  The discrimination that I experienced included many different actions by school administrators, such as deliberately falsifying my students’ county benchmark test scores and thereby reducing my teacher performance rating, stating that I had more below grade performers than was accurate on the school system’s internal rating instrument, termed the Results-Based Evaluation System (RBES).  It also included creating a hostile work environment in many ways, including being administratively unsupportive of me – and instead, supportive of the student – when the student threatened me with physical harm in class.   

Other ways in which I experienced an unsupportive and hostile environment were when administrators placed me on a type of “improvement” plan, evaluated me approximately 25 times during a three month period, and had virtually nothing positive to say about my teaching in any of their evaluations.  Note that I came from all prior teaching employment positions with positive recommendations and satisfactory evaluations; my reputation was outstanding.  Yet, when I successfully completed all of the facets of the “improvement” plan at Shiloh, further “evidence” was fabricated by the principal to support that my teaching was “unsatisfactory,” thus causing him to fulfill his goal in “proving” that my teaching was not satisfactory.  Additionally, when administrators observed several lessons per week in my classes, many students found it amusing and entertaining.  Thus, my credibility and reputation were diminished, and it made it more difficult and challenging to teach effectively. 

Chemicals in Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Chemicals in Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Further discrimination I experienced were denials from administrators for me to participate in off-site professional development opportunities, as well as the school system purposely failing to supply the Professional Standards Commission with any of my professional development hours and credits earned during that year to go toward my recertification.  Other discrimination I experienced included not being provided with the necessary educational materials for required curricular lessons (though I repeatedly requested them and they were not ordered by administrators), and using such lack against me in evaluations and performance reviews.

Other types of discrimination that I experienced included when the principal gave false information about me to a human resources employee, also causing such employee to be completely unsupportive of me as a competent and valued employee of the school system.   I was also subjected to dozens of “disciplinary” and performance-related meetings; and was required to observe the instruction of several colleagues as part of my “training,” including that of an inexperienced, first-year teacher.  Because I stood up for and defended myself to my immediate superiors, many upper administrators within the school system – up to and including the superintendent – as well as by providing documentation about my experiences to leaders at the Georgia Department of Education and Professional Standards Commission, I experienced even more discrimination and retaliation from the school principal.  While an official from the state education commissioner’s office contacted me and was supportive of me, he stated that the department did not have oversight pertaining to the issues that I was experiencing.  And, the state standards commission for educators did not recognize any policy or ethics violations of my administrative supervisors, expunging the cases.

Eventually, the school principal had so much documentation against me that he was able to falsely substantiate changing my teaching position from that of a science teacher to being a careers teacher.  Removing me from my team of core teaching colleagues, he informed parents by letter sent home from school through their children of his “personnel change.”  Eventually, my replacement in my subject area of science was made through cronyism, the fact that the school administrators placed one of their close faculty friends in my position.  Interestingly, for some time during and after the “personnel change,” this replacement faculty colleague of mine was not identified on the school’s website as even being employed at the school; her name was removed from the website.

Upon the change in subject area that the principal forced upon me for the last quarter of the academic year, he directed that my work space be the school’s science storage room that housed flammable chemicals.  So, not only did my workspace change from a formal classroom to a storage room – it was a storage room in which there were many flammable chemicals and materials, most of which were not properly stored.  In this storage room, I was provided with a desk and chair only.  I was not provided with a computer or any access to an intercom or other communication device, as were present in each teacher’s classroom.  Throughout this article are found several photographs that reflect this workspace that the school principal directed me to use. 

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Upon my being required to use the science storage room with the flammable chemicals as my workspace by the school principal, I wrote to and informed the regional director of OSHA about the situation, and received a response from him that because my workplace was a public rather than private employer, nothing could be done to stop or change it.  I wrote to the state’s governor.  I wrote to the school system’s superintendent and internal resolution director.  Prior to that, I wrote to and met with the human resources division director.  I contacted the superintendent on three occasions, and never received a reply.  When nothing was changed or improved, I contacted each member of the school system’s board of education.  It was only through those communications did the superintendent act to have the human resources chief officer meet with me, at which time I explained to her what was occurring, including being required to work out of a science storage room, filled with flammable chemicals.  As a result of meeting with her, the discrimination and additional racism that I experienced continued, though my work space was changed to an outdoor trailer.

One particular racist situation that I encountered was when a school administrator who was African-American, directed me not to eat my lunch during a staff development meeting, however she did not inform or direct my African-American colleagues not to eat their lunch during the same staff meeting.  When I approached the school principal and informed him about the unfairness of this situation, he became angry with and yelled at me, stating that he was “disgusted” that I brought race into the situation.  I brought race into the situation?  Race was made a factor in the situation by the school administrator; I only approached and informed him of it so that he would be aware of it and so that such types of situations would cease.  This situation, however, worked in my favor because this particular administrator happened to be my second main evaluator, and because of the situation and the racism that I expressed that I experienced, my evaluator was changed to a different administrator who was somewhat more supportive. 

There were also several other racist experiences that I encountered, including being overlooked for off-site professional development opportunities that were instead issued to African-Americans, being nearly prevented from participating in certain school-related activities such as judging in the science fair, and being repimanded for my class being talkative though certain classes of my African-American colleagues were out-of-control, without that being addressed at all.  Several of my colleagues also experienced racist encounters with school adminstrators, the same and/or similar to those that I did. 

All of those 15 of my colleagues who experienced those similar encounters left the school, as I did.  When the “leaders” of large corporations such as that which this school is a part treat their subordinates in the manner in which we were, many employees discover the harsh reality that they and their well-being do not matter, and that money and image are indeed more important than they are – the hard-working and dedicated talent who comprise the very foundation of the company.  It was proven that people don’t matter to these corporate “leaders” – only money and image matter.

Throughout my employment at Shiloh and as a result of the constant and unending discrimination that I experienced from school administrators, I experienced a variety of health problems, and sought and obtained regular medical treatment for them.  In all of my employment positions, I have been a dedicated worker, and have been absent during very few days during each year.  During my year at Shiloh, I missed 20 days due to the stress and medical problems that I experienced as a result of the discrimination I endured there.  Both my physician and legal representative repeatedly encouraged me to leave Shiloh as soon as possible, however I was unable to do so because 1) I love teaching; 2) I needed an income; 3) I was unable to obtain a teaching position with a different school system; 4) I was not released from my contract; 5) the state stipulates that a teacher must not abandon their contract; if that occurs, then licensure could potentially be revoked; and 6) human resources did not honor my request for a transfer.  Additionally, this particular time in my life was the worst due to experiencing severely stressful issues outside of employment, including divorce, grief, and a family situation that involved trauma.

During my year at Shiloh Middle School and throughout the discriminatory experiences that I had, I survived my experience through the assistance of my legal representative with the Georgia Educators Association, a professional teachers’ group.  My legal representative, a man of about 30 years of experience in providing professional support and legal suggestions about how to proceed and how to best protect myself, is a graduate of a prestigious Ivy League university.  In addition to his advice, my legal representative also informed me that the school system, in fact, trains their administrators on how they can discriminate and retaliate against employees.  I will always be thankful and grateful for this man’s assistance as he helped me through this extremely painful employment experience.

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Shiloh Science Storage Room Teacher Workspace, March 2008

Following my departure from Shiloh, I contacted a few attorneys about the situation that I experienced, and none wanted to take my case.  My educators’ association legal representative had also informed me that unless there were others who were willing to come forward about their experiences (there were 15, however no others pursued the matter, and instead transferred, retired, or left the school), a legal case would likely not be successful.  He also informed me that individuals who had similar legal cases against the school system, at that time, were already in their fourth to sixth years in adjudication, with no end in sight and no guarantee of success. 

In order to make myself “heard” and to receive possible support from government agencies, therefore, I applied for unemployment compensation through the Georgia Department of Labor, and was denied.  I appealed the decision, and was again denied.  The reason that I was given was that, basically, the employment situation that I experienced was not of a quality that I should have resigned.  It wasn’t?  Following those denials of support, I called up my bravery and courage, and submitted a charge of discrimination with the EEOC in Atlanta.  Again, I was unsupported; and the case was closed, with the EEOC investigator informing me in March 2010 (more than 1.5 years after placing my charge) that the agency was unable to conclude that a violation of statutes was established, though it did not mean that the employer was in compliance with the statutes.  So, it would appear that all of what I experienced was entirely legal – or, my case was not strong enough.

Since working at and leaving my employment at Shiloh, I have been unable to secure employment in teaching – the career that is my passion.  I have volunteered as a teacher and/or adult leader on numerous occasions and throughout many years with particular schools, churches, and organizations, so my life continues to be enriched and fulfilled by being able to teach.  However, the eduation for which I built my teaching career has not continued in the manner that I had anticipated.  Though there are other interests that I have pursued, and that I am able to be more fully available as a mom to my son, I miss the opportunity to teach and more fully utilize my education and background to support others and assist them in reaching and exceeding their potentials.

I believe that the discrimination that I experienced by the school administrators at Shiloh was a result of being outspoken and perhaps being intellectually threatening to my superior(s).  Because I am a person who likes to learn and understand, I have a natural capacity to question.  Sadly, people may misjudge an individual’s questions as being threatening when they are only trying to learn and/or support themselves in understanding others.  I always put in extra time on the job, always went the extra mile, always bent over backwards in my work.  When I saw something that could be improved or done better, I identified it and supported it to administrators.  When I observed student gang activity at the school, I became outspoken about ways to stop it.  The principal was angry and hostile with me about it, and therefore, did anything possible to be professionally and personally unsupportive of me. 

Additionally, during the prior academic year, the school did not achieve a passing rating on Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), so it had been officially identified as a failing school.  And, the much-loved and experienced veteran principal had retired at the close of the previous academic year.  Because of these two issues, as well as the student gang activity, faculty morale at the school was extremely low; I took the initiative and met with the principal on three occasions early on in the academic year, sharing my suggestions with him on how to raise and improve faculty morale.  As a result, I believe that the principal and his administrative colleagues did whatever they could to attempt to silence me and/or force me out so that their own actions or inactions regarding particular issues would not be called into question.    Simply because I desired to learn, understand, and contribute to creating a better and safer school for everyone, I experienced discrimination by the school administrators that was the most severe of anyone at the school.

Shiloh Middle School, Snellville, Georgia, 2013

Shiloh Middle School, Snellville, Georgia, 2013

Some people have advised me not to publicy-share about my experience, while others have.  Those who have advised me to remain silent believe they are protecting my best interests so that no further retaliation toward me will occur in other avenues.  I have been particularly inspired by two people to share my experiences, publicly.  Those who have encouraged me to share about my experiences have stated that by being silent, I am protecting the offenders.  As I have gotten older and have reflected upon many experiences in my life, I do believe it is important to inform others of our experiences – as a way of it being individually therapeutic, but also so that others will know and understand my experiences, and perhaps be able to change and improve such situations for others. 

By sharing my honest and true experiences, publicly, I would like to request positive change, and for people to support – rather than harm – each other in the workplace, and in our society.  My article provides an opportunity for agencies, organizations, and employers to recognize and support individuals, such as myself, who have had experiences similar to mine.  It is much easier and more cost-effective for employers to support employees rather than focus unnecessary and inappropriate energies on harming them.  Recognize and support good employees for who they are; no longer harm them through harmful and negative control, bullying, intimidation, and domination.  Please pray for, reflect upon, and support this occurrence.

As a further result of my workplace experience while teaching at Shiloh, I created the LinkedIn group, “Educators Against Retaliation,” in September 2011, later renaming it “People Against Retaliation and Bullying.”  This is an open group in which any member of LinkedIn can view and/or join.  The main purposes of the group are to identify and address bullying, retaliation, intimidation, and bullicide (suicide due to bullying), as well as the prevention of all of these.  Participating members have helped and supported each other by sharing their experiences and/or the experiences of others, related to workplace bullying, school bullying, bullicide, and retaliation.  One group member actually shared her personal success story in winning her legal case against her employer for wrongful termination.

With bullying and retaliation having come to the forefront of social issues within our society, people must realize the seriousness and severity of such actions.  😦  When adults are bullied at work by other adults, when children are bullied by peers and/or adults at school, and even when citizens in the community experience bullying throughout our society, it is clear and obvious that the issues must be identified and addressed, and for improvement and positive change to occur.  When large corporations can get away with the type of illegal actions at work that I experienced, one realizes that such actions are engrained in our workplaces, culture, and society.  Countries throughout Europe have strict laws against the types of discrimination and retaliation that I experienced.  It is long past time for such laws to be enacted and enforced in the United States, in order to protect the rights of individuals who have experienced such wrongs, rather than shielding employers from being accountable and responsible for the actions of toxic employees who are free to utilize such harmful practices.

“How do you Treat Others?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

If you are uncomfortable with people or issues, do you just stick your head in the ground?

I love this picture.  I just think it’s so funny, but also sad.  Locating it today while reading a fellow blogger’s post, I thought it appropriate to borrow for my own post on how people treat each other.  Too often, people think ill of, mistreat, and/or misjudge each other.  Like this ostrich, for many people, it’s just easier to stick one’s head in the ground, so to speak.  Then, people are free to misjudge and mistreat each other because they refuse to see, understand, deal with, or cope with others and issues. 

In the past year, I have worked hard at and have achieved a presence on LinkedIn.  My connections span more than 800 people around the world, representing people of all backgrounds and professions, with all types of interests and beliefs.  LinkedIn provides me with a vehicle to connect with others – of similar and different interests and backgrounds – throughout the world.  It also provides me with a professional support system for those who are like-minded, and who stand up for causes for which I also support and in which I am active. 

On a smaller scale, I have also worked to achieve a much smaller presence on WordPress with this blog.  Admittedly, I have not worked hard at it, and that was not my intention.  However, it has been my intention to share, educate, and inform about causes in which I believe, views that I hold, and certain life experiences.  It has been refreshing, energizing, and inspiring to connect with and be supported by others who share similar beliefs, by others who work to further certain causes, by those who stand up for and take action for the good of others.

What is particularly interesting, and perhaps somewhat saddening and discouraging, are those folks who place roadblocks in the way of understanding, relating, empathizing, and/or simply communicating a good and/or supportive word.  What I have noticed is that many people who are aware of the causes that I support, as well as what I say or communicate which may not be what they want to hear, stick their heads in the ground, similarly to the ostrich in the photo. 

Because these folks feel uncomfortable with hearing about, knowing about, and/or even communicating about issues related to bullying, retaliation, child physical and sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, sexism, sexual harassment, women’s and children’s rights and welfare, and women’s equality, they misjudge, mistreat, turn away, and put up roadblocks to a greater understanding and awareness surrounding these issues. 

These folks have already made their judgements and/or misjudgements about me as the messenger, advocate, and activist, as well as about the issues.  Once they have turned themselves off, it is typically like talking to a wall to encourage and promote interaction due to their discomforts and unnecessary judgements.  It causes me to wonder how discouraged and disappointed Jesus – a wonderful, compassionate, innocent, and loving man – must have felt when so many people turned against him and condemned him.

Sadly, I have experienced certain people whom I had considered friendly and/or friends to be avoidant or mute, lacking in interaction and communication, even turning away and shutting me out – simply because they are uncomfortable with those issues, what I communicate about those issues, and/or that I am at all associated with those issues.   Is it so uncomfortable to them to communicate with and/or interact with another individual who supports improvement in each of those areas?  For many, I see that the answer is, “Yes.” 

Perhaps, too often, people have their own issues and problems with which they are dealing, and they are unable to deal with or cope with hearing about, supporting, and/or advocating for positive change in those areas.  They, therefore, may misjudge, mistreat, and/or blame the messenger.  To me, such actions reflect that people, too often, may react toward certain people or issues without fully listening to, understanding, and/or delving more deeply through the superficial layers that they solely wish to perceive.  And, as a result, such reactions are disappointing and discouraging. 

I feel sympathy for those who do not understand, for those who blame the messenger, for those who – by their own inability to cope – are unable to stand with and support others who are working toward positive change for everyone.  It always saddens me to “lose” a friend simply because I have exercised my right to free speech and have shared particular hard truths with them about certain issues.  When people are unsupportive of others who promote activism and positive change for important issues, respect for and confidence in them by the activists is also lost.  That stated, I am not one who is afraid to tackle the tough, challenging issues.  And, I have a profound appreciation and respect for comrades who stand up for others in order to achieve improvement and positive change. 

Throughout my life, there have seemed to be few who are willing to take risks and go out on a limb to promote important causes, and be activists and advocates for improving various areas of human life.  Therefore, it is, indeed, disappointing to witness so many who are content and satisfied with simply walking away from such issues, refusing to become more educated about them, thinking such things won’t happen to them, turning their backs on others because someone says what they don’t want to hear, thinking they can avoid the people and the issues – until they have personal experience with them.

I find that most people are conformists, going with the flow, not wanting to make waves, not rocking the boat.  In order to make our world better for ourselves and our children, we must be willing to take those risks in standing up for and supporting what is good and right.  We must denounce those who harm others in any way.  We must be role models for them and provide education in better, more successful ways to respond and react toward injustices, crimes, and/or mistreatment – ranging anywhere from poverty to bullying to rape and murder.  We must remain compassionate, kind, and nurturing, but also honest, direct, assertive, and active. 

All of the issues that I have identified in this post are likely those that many people do not wish to hear, however such issues must be addressed in such a way that will make the future better – not worse – for those who come after us.  The issues are reflective of those relating to human rights, feminism, and social justice.  They are good and important issues, as are the messengers who advocate for and support positive change regarding them.  Therefore, let people not blame the messengers of the news that they don’t want to hear, but let them get involved, become more educated, achieve greater understanding, and work to create improvement and positive change so that the world is a better place for everyone!

References:

 Ostrich photograph.  From “All Tied up and Nowhere to go: Ostriches lead us to our doom.”  September 26, 2012.  http://atung.net/2012/09/03/ostriches-lead-us-to-our-doom/.