A student's lawsuit against Pima Community College started going viral last week on conservative blogs and websites, featuring headlines like "War on English Language" and "Student Booted from U.S. College for Favoring English!"
The college has denied the charges -- and some observers see the suit as an attack in the education of Latino students, a key constituency for Pima, which is located in Arizona.
In the suit, Bennett charges that her educational environment suffered because Spanish-speaking students would help each other out in class, in Spanish, and that they would speak Spanish in small group sessions that were set up by course instructors. Bennett does not speak Spanish and her suit said that the speaking of Spanish by students in class "impeded Ms. Bennett's ability to concentrate, focus, listen to the lecture and participate in group studies."
At the end of one course in which this took place, Bennett wrote on an evaluation form that she would prefer "no Spanish in the classroom."
She then tried to register complaints with various administrators and the suit says that, in response, she was suspended. Further, she says that an administrator referred to her comments in her evaluation (even though she was led to believe the comments were confidential) and that he called her "a bigot" and "a bitch." Bennett's suit, filed in an Arizona court, charges Pima with violating her free speech rights, defamation, retaliation and wrongful suspension.
A statement from ProEnglish's executive director, Robert Vandervoort, said: "This school should be known as 'Politically Correct College.' We look forward to bringing justice for Terri and making sure other students are allowed to learn in English.”
Sarah Garrecht Gassen, a columnist for The Arizona Daily Star, wrote that the suit was using language that was about more than English. "ProEnglish is speaking a language all right -- but it's not English. It's the language of The Code," she wrote. "The Code where 'our national identity' means white, not brown. Us, but not them. We all know who the 'them' are, wink wink."
“This school should be known as “Politically Correct College,” Vandervoort continued. “We look forward to bringing justice for Terri and making sure other students are allowed to learn in English.” - See more at: http://www.proenglish.org/news/mainstream-media/878-proenglish-issues-media-advisory-on-arizona-lawsuit.html#sthash.3e2jSI6B.dpuf
The college released a statement in which it said that it could not comment on details involving Bennett or her suit, due to federal privacy requirements. However, the statement said that the college "denies that any of Ms. Bennett’s legal rights were violated and denies that the lawsuit has any basis." The statement added: "The college takes very seriously concerns expressed about conduct that negatively impacts the learning environment. When this type of concern arises, the college conducts a review and, when necessary, takes appropriate corrective action. We are confident the evidence will demonstrate that the college acted appropriately with respect to Ms. Bennett’s situation."
C.J. Karamargin, a vice chancellor at Pima, said in an interview that while he couldn't discuss Bennett, he could say that students do help one another out in Pima classrooms. But he said this was not unique to Spanish-speaking students.
"To me, it's not a surprise that students help each other out in class," Karamargin said. "Students around the world -- regardless of where they are -- help their fellow students. Isn't that the way learning takes place?"
Chelo Grubb, who just finished a term as editor-in-chief of Aztec Press, the student newspaper at Pima, and who is getting ready to transfer to the University of Arizona, said that it seemed the suit was "trying to make a little thing into a big thing." She said that at various Pima campuses, one hears more or less Spanish depending "on what part of town you are in," and that this is typical of Arizona, which has many Spanish-speaking communities.
She said there was nothing out of the ordinary in students helping students. "I think helping is fine," she said. "People are always helping each other out, in English too."
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