By Vincent Schilling
Sep 11, 2015
A Cal State Sacramento University professor who allegedly told his United States History class he did not like the term ‘genocide’ in relation to Native Americans in history, told a Native American student who disagreed with him that she was disenrolled and expelled from his course.
UPDATE: The Sacramento State History Department has issued a tweet stating Johnson was not expelled from the course. You can read the article update here: Sac State History Dept Tweets - "Student Not Disenrolled."
The account is according to Native university student, Chiitaanibah Johnson (Navajo/Maidu) a 19-year-old sophomore student at Cal State Sacramento University.
Johnson says when she told her U.S. History Professor Maury Wiseman that she disagreed with his assessment that Native Americans did not face genocide, the professor said she was hijacking his class, and that she was accusing him of bigotry and racism.
The professor then dismissed the class early, apologized for Johnson’s disruptions and told her she was disenrolled at the end of the class on Friday.
“The whole thing started on Wednesday,” Johnson told ICTMN. “He was talking about Native America and he said the word genocide. He paused and said ‘I don't like to use that word because I think it is too strong for what happened’ and ‘genocide implies that it was on purpose and most native people were wiped out by European diseases.'"
Johnson, who was offended, did not at first respond to the professor’s comments.
“I wrote it down. I was enraged for what I felt were obvious reasons. I didn't say anything [on Wednesday] because I knew that if I didn't have anything specific to back it up in terms of tangible or solid evidence that he would not take my comments into consideration,” she said.
On Friday, Johnson presented her research to the professor after his discussion on the Iroquois Confederacy and the Portuguese expeditions.
“He made it a point to say indigenous people were not peaceful. I was upset for obvious reasons. He'd mentioned how the French and the Dutch were allies and made it a point to say native people were killing each other before white settlers arrived.”
Johnson says that she understands that there were native conflicts before settlers arrived, but when the professor talked about the bravery of Portuguese expeditions without emphasis on the slave trade she again grew upset.
“On Friday, I raised my hand and I said, ‘I understand why we're talking about the Portuguese people because it explains how they got to America. But I do not think it is fair to talk about Portuguese people as if they were only poor and brave. They became rich by raping and enslaving the indigenous lands and people that they "discovered,'" says Johnson.
Johnson says that when she asked why the professor did not talk about any sort of Iroquoian technological advances or spirituality and then asked about her professor's stance on genocide, the professor grew volatile and rolled his eyes several times.
“I told him, ‘You said genocide implies the purposeful extermination of people and that they were mostly wiped out by European diseases.' I said, 'That is not a true statement.'
“He said, ‘Genocide is not what happened.’ I stood up and started reading from an article by the United Nations that said: 'Genocide is the deliberate killing of another people, a sterilization of people and/or a kidnapping of their children,' and he said, ‘That is enough.’
"I said, ‘No. You have to tell the truth.’
"He said, 'If you want to come talk to me after class, now is not the time, you are hijacking my class.'”
After a bit more discussion which Johnson says became heated, the professor dismissed the class. Additionally, other students defended the professor.
“He said, ‘You know what class? I am so sorry to everybody that this is happening. Please everyone come back on Wednesday have a good weekend.'"
After the class was dismissed, Johnson said she was expelled from the course by her professor.
“He said, ‘I do not appreciate this in my classroom.’ He began shaking his finger at me and said, 'I don't appreciate you making me sound like a racist and a bigot in my classroom. You have hijacked my lesson, taken everything out of context and I don't care what kind of scholarship you have, or what kind of affiliation you have with the university, you will be disenrolled and expelled from this classroom.'”
“Within 10 minutes of me asking these questions and trying to read pieces from the article, he shut me down. He wasn't listening. He excused everyone out of the room and told me I was expelled from the class,” says Johnson.
Since being told she was expelled from the course on Friday, Johnson says she feels overwhelmed by the close-mindedness and injustice of her situation. She also was disappointed that no students came to her defense.
“I had zero support from anybody in the classroom,” says Johnson. “All of the research I had done was very traumatizing - to read about babies being slammed into rocks being held from their ankles, to hear of people being lit on fire while they were still alive, to hear of them being disemboweled, and having their arms and hands chopped off .”
“I know these things are true. I have been told about them personally from my great-grand parents and grandparents and my mother who was in boarding school.”
“To be kicked out of the classroom so quickly, I was floored and I thought, 'Are you kidding me? This was the third day of class, and already you're going to completely expel me?' I didn't call him names, I did not say he was racist, I did not use foul language - yes, I raised my voice because he raised his voice at me and was talking over me and wouldn't let me say anything. I felt like I had my feet completely kicked out from under me. I felt like I approached the situation in a way that a student of the university level is supposed to approach a disagreement with the professor.”
“I have been dealing with this kind of racism since I was a little girl,” says Johnson.
The Johnson family has told ICTMN that their next step in this matter is for their daughter to write a respectful letter to the university History Department chair as well as to the head of the University in an attempt to reach an amicable resolution.
Since Friday, ICTMN has reached out to the University of Sacramento about the incident, their Provost of the University has responded and expressed they will be investigating this matter. The professor has not responded to our phone or email requests for comment.
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Follow ICTMN's Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on twitter - @VinceSchilling