A Black student at a college in New York found himself the target of alleged racism when he asked his teacher for an extension on an assignment.
Tristen Dossett attends New York City’s Fordham University at Lincoln Center. The junior theater major needed more time on his midterm from professor Heide Jonassen, who is white.
When he sent Jonassen an email, her response was laden with racially stereotypical accusations, he says. The adjunct professor told the student he had the questions all semester. She added she would give him until that night to turn in the work, “but no longer.”
Then, Jonassen questioned what made Dossett “so busy.”
“It is really disappointing to see you fall into a stereotype narrative the dominant society expects,” Jonassen wrote. “Your lateness, non-attendance…now this.”
“You are better than this Tristen,” she concluded. “Please do not do this narrative.”
Because of that response, Dossett sent an email to the school dean. The Los Angeles native said he was not the only student to request an extension but believed he was the only one who had race used against him.
“This remark made me feel invalidated and useless as a student, let alone a Black male,” Dossett wrote. “[Professor Jonassen’s] comment that I am becoming a stereotype deeply affected my subconscious in many different ways.
“I believe it is extremely inappropriate for a white professor to tell a Black student that they are becoming a stereotype.”
Dossett explained that he has only missed three classes – once due to a health crisis – and said the latest he ever arrived to class was five minutes.
“Her perception of me as a student is disgusting, to say the least,” he concluded the email.
Dossett’s friend shared the emails on Twitter, which led to an uproar online.
All my friend did was email his Professor asking for an extension for his midterm essay… This was her response. pic.twitter.com/6xZnEwH2QZ
— chocolate latina (@ebonylivv) October 24, 2016
She acknowledged the inconsistency in the teacher’s name in the emails as well, maintaining that was not the point of the message.
@ebonylivv yes im aware theres a typo, yall stay reaching
— chocolate latina (@ebonylivv) October 25, 2016
Some users did not see the problem with the professor’s remarks. Uma thought Dossett simply needed to participate in class and finish his work on time.
@ebonylivv I'm not slow. Maybe next time your friend should go to class, not be late and do his assignments on time.
— uma (@uma__p) October 25, 2016
And Derrick thought it was OK for the teacher to hope her student avoids fitting a stereotype.
@ebonylivv what's so wrong with a teacher not wanting a student with potential to fall into a stereotypical narrative? Plus he got the ext.
— Derrick (@BlvckDerrick) October 24, 2016
However, many users saw bigotry in the post.
Annie Poteau had a choice description for anyone who didn’t notice the professor’s racist attitude.
if you think this wasn't racist you're a dumbass and DO NOT @ ME https://t.co/Y0eTIuua84
— Annie Poteau (@apoteau_) October 25, 2016
Meanwhile, Babymoms thought Jonassen’s microaggression was obvious.
And watch she tries to say that it wasn't about race. This was clearly a microaggression https://t.co/J45LHiuWIj
— Babymoms (@RespectTheAfro_) October 25, 2016
Additionally, @naijashade thought the professor’s remarks clearly exposed her racist intentions.
she said "stereotype narrative the dominant society expects" and ppl are tryna say this wasnt abt race??? pls https://t.co/eSGpXBmATL
— ye ? (@naijashade) October 25, 2016
The instructor caught wind of Dossett’s email screenshot being shared on social media. She sent the following message to him in response. It was screen grabbed by Facebook user Peyton Berry.
“I am very sorry that you took offense to what was meant to be a true expression of concern,” Jonassen wrote. “I wish you had also responded to me personally about a remark you felt was inappropriate rather than spreading it [on] Facebook and making a complaint.”
After explaining she was “just as tough” on other students who wanted a lengthy amount of time to complete their exams, Jonassen stated Dossett doesn’t “really know anything about my history or my own identity.”
“I regret that I offended you,” she continued. “I felt you were not stepping up to the plate in a way you are capable of doing… and personally feel not holding everyone to the same high standards is disrespectful to someone’s capabilities.
“But I did presume and mispeak [sic] and I apologize for that,” she concluded. “I realize I need to be more sensitive to this.”