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.

 

 

“Completed Suicide Risk Highest Within First Six Months After Incomplete Suicide” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Child mental health is becoming an area of ever-increasing concern and research, including within the area of child sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that lead to suicide.  Recently, within the past two months, I had opportunities to visit a large metropolitan hospital in Atlanta at which mental health care is provided on an inpatient and outpatient basis for people of all ages.  I primarily made observations in the children’s mental health unit in which children from ages 4-12 were hospitalized as inpatients.

Since making my observations, I have done much research in the area of medicine and counseling related to depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that ultimately ends in the suicide of the victim.  I have also consulted with many professionals in these areas, including pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed professional counselors.  Further, I have communicated with school teachers, school administrators, school mental health professionals, school system administrators, and religious about these issues.  This blog article will share some of what I discovered related to these critically important issues in mental health care.

At the hospital in Atlanta at which I made my observations regarding inpatient child mental healthcare, the most significant part about it that was very noticeable was that most of the children were boys.  On one particular day, there were 16 children housed in the unit, and 12 of them were boys, with the majority of the boys being African-American.  Of the girls present, the majority of them were Caucasian.  It was also my understanding that the majority of the boys were hospitalized due to suicidality (and/or other mental health concerns related to it, such as depression, anxiety, and/or sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect).

To me as an untrained observer, I found this to be very significant because my personal expectation was to observe there to be a greater number of girls than boys present in the unit.  Because there were significantly fewer girls than boys present in the unit over a period of several days, it became important to me to understand the reasons for it.  I got to thinking about several possibilities to explain this reality.

Perhaps girls are more open about their feelings and experiences, and/or a depressed or otherwise upset mood in girls may be more visible to others.  Perhaps boys are keeping their feelings too much to themselves due to the societal and cultural expectations for them to “be a man,” and thus, not to show their feelings.  Possibly, adults were unable to recognize signs of suicidality or depression in boys compared to girls.

Further, it may be possible that adults did not view boys’ depression or suicidality to be as serious as that of girls until a crisis point was reached.  Culturally, it is also significant that most of the children housed in the unit were African-American boys.  Specifically related to cultural or ethnic differences, I do not yet have particular potential explanations for this.  Additionally, perhaps there are other general explanations and reasons that I have not thought of for there being significantly more boys in the unit than girls.

As I stated previously, since the time of my observations of the children’s mental health unit in the metro Atlanta hospital, I have researched several issues relating to child mental health, and I have consulted with many professionals in the field.  In a study completed by Cynthia R. Pfeffer (2001, p. 1057), she stated that during prospective follow-up into adulthood of children at risk for suicide showed that a “history of sexual abuse (RR: 5.71, 95%; CI: 1.9-16.7) imparted the greatest risk” for it.  Reading this was saddening and disheartening for me because it appears that most suicide attempters and commiters have internalized their pain and suffering, are taking it out on themselves, and appear not to be able to successfully cope.  They were hurt, have lost hope and trust, and are now hurting themselves, possibly in efforts to make the painful memories disappear.  For them, suicide seems to be the only answer for removing and escaping the emotional pain.

In a study by Stanley, Brown, Brent, Wells, Poling, Curry, Kennard, Wagner, Cwik, Klomek, Goldstein, Vitiello, Barnett, Daniel, and Hughes (2009, p. 1005), the researchers reported that individuals who attempted incomplete suicide are at the greatest risk for repeat attempts and/or actually committing suicide within the first six months following the incomplete attempt (as this study particularly relates to adolescents, aged 13-19 years old).  This is extremely important to understand because those who are untrained in this area do not understand the seriousness or severity of it, or are, perhaps, in denial that the situation is serious or severe.  Regarding children, I believe this particularly applies to those in education, including teachers, administrators, and other staff because they are not equipped with the knowledge and understanding about the manner in which to best support students who have been suicidal.

And sometimes, those adults in education who are bullies toward children truly have absolutely no understanding or compassion toward students who made an incomplete attempt at suicide because they simply do not seem to care.  In fact, those type of adults may even do more damage to the child through their insensitivity and failure to understand the situation by being even more punitive or retaliatory toward the student because the issue is one with which they, themselves, are unable to successfully cope.  It remains easier for such adult bullies of students in education to bully, blame, and revictimize the student victim.

Also unhelpful are the student peer bullies with whom the suicide attempt survivor must cope.  Student peer bullies of the victim seem to bully the survivor even more because they are aware of the emotional vulnerability of the survivor, and they capitalize on that because it makes them feel good.  Therefore, in a school environment in which bullying goes unchecked, unresolved, and not corrected, suicide attempt survivors are at an even greater risk for a future successful suicide attempt because they experience bullying from adults and peers.

Additionally, O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock (2012, p. 15) reported in their study that “psychotherapy did not reduce the risk for suicide attempts in adolescents in contrast to adults.”  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) further reported that “psychotherapy did not reduce suicide attempts in adolescents at 6 to 18 months” into a suicide prevention treatment program.  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) also stated that “psychotherapy had no beneficial effect on suicide ideation beyond usual care” in adolescents.  These findings are shocking, disturbing, and disheartening, particularly when there may be the extant societal belief that counseling and psychotheraphy benefit individuals with emotional disturbances and/or self-destructive ideations.  If psychotherapy is not beneficial to adolescents who have attempted suicide and/or who have suicidal ideation, what benefit is psychotherapy to children who have had similar experiences and/or beliefs?

A professional friend of mine who is a psychiatrist provided me with an article written by a women who is a sexual abuse survivor, and who was hospitalized on three occasions throughout her life due to depression and suicidality related to her traumatic experiences.  The article, “How ‘Person-Centered’ Care Helped Guide me Toward Recovery from Mental Illness,” by Ashley R. Clayton (2013), was extremely helpful to me in better-understanding what is going through someone’s mind when they are hospitalized for a mental health crisis.  The article was further assistive to me because, as a graduate student in counseling who is working on my second master’s degree, it was important for me to perceive and understand the great value of Person-Centered Therapy in counseling suicide and sexual abuse survivors.

Because so much hope and trust has been lost in survivors of sexual abuse and suicide, it is obviously critically important for others, including mental health professionals, to be as sensitive and supportive as possible of them.  The author shared that she experienced the greatest improvement through the person-centered approach and caring relationship that a particular nurse developed with her.  This is something important for me to remember and put into practice in my own counseling of trauma survivors.

Further regarding children’s mental health in relation to surviving trauma and suicide attempts, as well as those areas in relation to children’s school attendance, I spoke with two pediatricians regarding the issues.  Both pediatricians took the issues seriously, however, they did not desire to take responsibility for children who were suicidal because they stated they were not trained or highly-experienced in those areas.  Both pediatricians also desired for parents to work with the expectations of schools, even though such expectations, stresses, and pressures may be too overwhelming for some children.  Regarding the experience of child sexual abuse, both pediatricians believed that counseling was needed for child survivors, however they both believed that medication to manage the child survivors’ moods were necessary as long as they believed the child was “functioning.”

For me, the perspectives of both pediatricians – both of whom are Caucasian women with many years of experience in pediatrics – were discouraging in many areas.  First, both doctors appeared to be very quick in the desire to refer suicidal patients to other medical professionals.  While that has advantages and disadvantages, it places those at risk in the position of believing that their doctors are unable to properly care for or understand them.  Both also believed that child survivors of sexual abuse need not be medicated if they were “functioning.”  I believe that it is one thing to survive, and quite another thing to thrive.  Merely “functioning” is not fully living or thriving, to me.  And also, both pediatricians appeared to also be too quick to go along with schools’ expectations for students, including maintaining the same academic and/or disciplinary standards for students who are trauma survivors.  As an individual who is an experienced teacher, I know that students have different learning styles; placing everyone in the same category is detrimental to those who have suffered trauma.

Both a psychologist and a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with whom I consulted about difficult, damaging, challenging, and/or overly stressful and overwhelming school experiences of child trauma survivors both believed that people in education are or may be unable and/or unwilling to change in a manner that is more supportive, understanding, and compassionate toward them.  The psychologist believed there is not likely any school that would be able to meet the needs of a child who is a trauma survivor.  And, both the psychologist and the LPC believed that schools are part of the problem in not successfully supporting and understanding trauma survivors and their needs.  Those who are in education – perhaps including school counselors and school psychologists – may be unequipped in schools at being able to fully or successfully support children who are trauma survivors; this can and does have devastating effects on such children.

Of all those in the medical and mental health fields, I believe those who are most fully trained and equipped to successfully both treat and understand trauma survivors – in particular, those who have experienced sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts – are psychiatrists.  Psychiatrists are in the best position to provide urgent and necessary medical and mental health care to suicide attempters, including hospitalization, evaluations, medical care, and medications.

I assume that the psychiatrists are those who most often see patients who are suicide attempters; and they see them at their lowest points, emotionally.  Therefore, psychiatrists who truly have what is best for their patients in mind seem to help suicide attempters and trauma survivors become stabilized and recover as quickly as possible.  Psychiatrists are in a wonderful position with their patients to be supportive, understanding, and compassionate; and to inform and educate society, in general, about the medical issues and needs experienced by suicide attempters and other trauma survivors.

In communicating with several people who are education professionals regarding survivors of sexual trauma, suicide attempts, and bullying (both by peers and adults in school), I have largely encountered  biases against the survivors, as well as an incredible absence of sensitivity toward them.  Such refusals of understanding, sensitivity, and compassion toward survivors by the majority of education professionals with whom I communicated can possibly be attributed to a lack of or refusal toward being educated and informed about the needs of the survivors.  Such outright insensitivity by the education professionals – the majority of those who were insensitive toward survivors were administrators – could also be attributed to a denial about the seriousness or severity, or fear due to stigmas or the unknown, regarding the issues related to survivors.

In some situations of communicating with administrators, upper administrators, and school psychologists of schools and school systems related to student survivors of sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I also encountered not only insensitivity and a lack of understanding toward the survivors, but also inconsistencies in their behaviors toward them.  In most school and/or school system administrative personnel and school psychologists with whom I communicated, I encountered adult bullying by them toward the child survivors that was sadistic.  In such education professionals, it appeared that their incredible harshness toward the survivors was something that they wanted to occur, regardless of the outcome or effects that may or may not have resulted in actual suicide.

In other situations in communicating with education professionals about such survivors, however, I encountered empathy, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward them.  Such supportive actions were those exhibited by other particular school system administrative personnel and/or educators and counselors.  Such desparities in the treatment of survivors by various school personnel reflects that education professionals must be on the same page in order to consistently understand and support, as well as be compassionate and sensitive toward survivors.  This appears to be direly and desperately needed in education in order that students who are trauma and suicide attempt survivors receive the greatest possible support and understanding in their educational environments.

Therefore, it was personally extremely shocking and disturbing to me in a life-changing manner that some of the very leaders of schools and school systems not only do not support said survivors, but are actually bullying and sadistic toward them.  In these situations, I believe it would take not less than a miracle to convince such individuals to even consider a different and more positive and understanding perspective toward said survivors.

In regard to particular religious leaders with whom I have communicated about issues related to survivors of child sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I have – thus far – experienced their compassion, kindness, and prayers toward survivors.  I have also learned, however, to carefully choose which religious to approach; not all religious are as understanding and supportive as others.  And, I am further aware that there are those religious who would take such information and use it against the victims and/or survivors in order to revictimize them.  Presently, however, that is not what I have experienced in my recent and present communications with particular religious about these issues related to survivors; and I am thankful for and relieved about that.

I believe that society has come a long way in supporting and understanding the experiences and needs of trauma survivors, including those who have experienced sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, trauma, bullying, and suicide attempts, however there is still much more progress to be made.  Those who best-recover from traumatic experiences are those who have positive, stable support in their lives.  Stressful and overwhelming situations are serious set-backs that only cause them to regress, and to continue not to hope or trust.

It is so critically important for sexual abuse survivors and suicide attempt survivors to have the consistent and unconditional support of those around them, including family members, community members, those who are in education, and others.  Without such support, compassion, and understanding – and, in fact, if the survivor experiences the opposite of those – he or she could make a future suicide attempt that is successful.  Such tragedies are avoidable and preventable if everyone practiced more patient, respect, appreciation, and compassion toward each other, particularly trauma survivors who have attempted suicide.

References

Clayton, A.R. (2013).  “How ‘Person-Centered’ care helped guide me toward recovery from mental illness.”  Health Affairs, 32 (3), pp. 622-626.

O’Connor, E., Gaynes, B.N., Burda, B.U., Soh, C., & Whitlock, E.P. (2012).  “Screening for and treatment of suicide risk relevant to primary care.”  Annals of Internal Medicine, pp. 1-22; pp. W-1 – W-5.

Pfeffer, C.R. (2001).  “Diagnosis of childhood and adolescent suicidal behavior: Unmet needs for suicide prevention.”  Society of Biological Psychiatry, 49, pp. 1055-1061.

Stanley, B., Brown, G., Brent, D.A., Wells, K., Poling, K., Curry, J., Kennard, B.D., Wagner, A., Cwik, M.F., Klomek, A.B., Goldstein, T., Vitiello, B., Barnett, S., Daniel, S., & Hughes, J. (2009).  “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP): Treatment model feasibility, and acceptability.”  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48 (10), pp. 1005-1013.

“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.

“The Many Ways in Which School Children are Bullied by School Employees” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Bullying and retaliation are issues that have come to the forefront of our society in recent years.  There is bullying in schools.  There is bullying in the workplace.  There is bullying in social organizations.  There is bullying that occurs in society, in general.  Bullies, themselves, feel good and empowered when they bully others.  They get to throw their weight around, intimidating, degrading, ridiculing, humiliating others.  Bullying in schools definitely creates a downward spiral in the morale of the school.  When students must protect themselves from their bullyish peers as well as adults who are bullies, a stressful and hostile atmosphere is present at schools for these children.

Many victims of bullying keep it to themselves, thinking they can handle it, and they often end up being more taunted, more bullied, and then, the bullying escalates.  Some victims of bullying are pushed over the edge, believe they are worthless, are convinced that they are nothing, and kill themselves.  Other victims of bullying try to stand up for themselves – some are successful in defeating and overcoming their bullies, while others are disbelieved and/or do not receive the support they need from adults to whom they go for help.

In schools, sometimes students get a double whammy with bullying.  Not only are they bullied by certain peers, but they are also bullied by particular adults who are school employees of the school.  What is worse is when the very leaders of the school practice bullying through policies that lack sensitivity, flexibility, and understanding.  Policies in which minor mistakes and insignificant misbehaviors of children such as talking without permission, for example, are enforced by requiring students to run several laps, serve a lengthy detention, or in some schools, be paddled, are excessive, unnecessary, and reflect an authoritarian, punitive, unforgiving, and bullying atmosphere in the school. 

In one school with which I am familiar, a parent survey was issued to students’ families within the past one year that asked many questions about various factors related to the quality of the school.  Regarding bullying, 26% of respondents reported that bullying is a problem at the school.  What is truly sad is that bullying is more of an issue regarding adults bullying students than with students bullying students.  And, of course, when students see adults bullying their peers, they believe it is acceptable, and bully their peers, as well.  What is even more sad is that the adults who are bullies and whose policies are bullyish do not recognize it, they do not care, and the situation worsens, becoming more institutionalized.

There are many ways in which school children are bullied by school employees in schools.  Some of those ways include: 1) issuing excessive disciplinary consequences and punishments for minor misbehaviors; 2) requiring students to run laps as punishment and/or discipline; 3) not providing, denying, ignoring, and/or overlooking needed services to the student; 4) not contacting the parents or guardians when the student has been severely injured at school; 5) denying a sick child the opportunity to see the school nurse or clinician and to go home; 6) denying and/or preventing the student from receiving guidance counseling or other counseling services when requested; 7) not reporting actual abuse or neglect of students to the proper authorities; and 8) issuing unspoken punishments to students that are not identified in the school and/or student handbook.

Additional ways that school employees bully school children include: 9) issuing punishments and/or disciplinary consequences that are more excessive than what is identified in the school and/or student handbook; 10) blaming the child for misbehavior that the adult could have improved by providing the child with greater care and understanding; 12) not recognizing and/or praising the student for outstanding academics or accomplishments; 13) outright lying about and/or misconstruing the truth about situations involving the child; 14) not keeping confidences about the child; and 15) different school employees throughout the school stating that the child needs various evaluations, assessments, therapies, counseling, remediations, etc. when these are not and/or may not necessary.  The latter factor also occurs when school employees make these determinations when they are unqualified to do so; for example, they are not physicians, psychologists, or other qualified and unbiased healthcare professionals.  

There are also many other ways children are bullied in schools by school employees, and those ways are not limited to those that I have identified here.  Some more of those ways include: 16) school employees, including particular school administrators and/or teachers maintaining and carrying out a personal vendetta out of anger toward the child; 17) having nothing good to say or share about the child to parents or others; 18) calling the child’s parents in for meetings and/or conferences about the child and/or the parent, simply as a way to attempt to intimidate, harass, or otherwise bully; 19) basically behaving in an unprofessional manner, such as saying one thing, but doing the opposite toward the child or regarding a particular situation; and 20) school administrators also requiring other school employees throughout the school to also perform any of these identified unprofessional actions without question toward the child or the child’s parents, and if they do not do so, they (and/or their own children if their children are students at the school) experience various negative consequences.

Additionally and to compound the situation of school employees bullying school children, any multitute of the above-identified situations can be occurring toward the child at any given time.  For example, five of the particular situations may be occurring toward the child during one week.  In these instances, school employees are working with each other – and against the child – essentially using the child as their whipping post.  This is not only extremely detrimental to the child, but it is bad for the school’s reputation.

When these types of bullying actions toward school children occur by the very adults who have been entrusted with their care, well-being, and safety, it leaves the children on their own, to fend for themselves.  If a teacher and/or administrator simply does not like a particular child or that child’s parent, in my experience, I have found that punishments and/or disciplinary consequences toward that child are much more severe and unfair than they are toward other students.

When families pay extra monies for their children to attend private or parochial schools, the expectation is that those schools are of a higher standard than public schools, in every area – education, discipline, safety, fairness, faith foundation, services, etc.  Certainly, families have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of particular schools and/or school systems, and find the best complement for their child. 

Sometimes, despite all good intentions and communications with authority figures within the school regarding what can be improved or changed to help benefit the students and the school, including school retention when better practices and policies are exercised, things do not change, and in fact, worsen.  Sometimes policies become even more excessive and increasingly punitive.  Sometimes there is a change in the leadership, and the new leaders are more authoritarian and believe in doling out harsh consequences.  This does not mean that such policies are acceptable or ethical.  Perhaps many students’ families simply tolerate the policies because other educational alternatives to that particular school may be even worse.  One does not want to jump out the frying pan, into the fire, so to speak.

Therefore, I am a person who believes in, suggests, and encourages compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward children and school students.  Harsh and excessive disciplinary policies effected on young school children for minor misbehaviors teach children that the world comes crashing down on them and they are condemned by school employees if they are not perfect all of the time.  It also teaches that adults in authority at school who are punitive are also unforgiving toward them for minor misbehaviors or mistakes.  Such authority figures are not serving as positive role models or guides for the children, but teachers of severe and unnecessary consequences for rather insignificant issues. 

This is how a bullyish atmosphere is created and maintained within a school by the adults within the school.  This is how bullying becomes a problem within schools – when adults bully children, and children, in turn, bully their peers.  Schools and school leaders can sugar coat and ignore the issue all they want, but things will not change for the better or improve unless they, themselves, recognize their own bullyish policies and change them to being more compassionate and understanding.  That is where true leadership lies – in providing positive guidance and in being positive role models for students, rather than in being excessively and unnecessarily punitive and unforgiving.  The teachings of Jesus also follow that philosophy.  

Therefore, schools must not only be progressive rather than regressive in their policies, but school leaders must actively exercise those positive and progressive policies.  School leaders must implement policies that are beneficial, positive, protective, and guiding for students.  School leaders and educators must also reflect on and enact ways of improving themselves and their own philosophies and perspectives.  In this way, everyone will benefit – the students, students’ families, school employees, and the school system.  This is what is necessary in every school and in every school system, and it is a basic expectation of all students and parents.  Let’s keep working to improve our schools and the policies that are practiced within them for the benefit of everyone, most particularly the children who are the youngest and most impressionable of all.