Blowback

An Indiana University lecturer is facing social media backlash after accusations she verbally abused a mentally disabled employee at a local McDonald's.

July 11, 2019
 
Claire Nisonger

This article contains explicit and potentially offensive terms that are essential to reporting on this situation.

A biology lecturer at Indiana University Bloomington has gained criticism for using derogatory language toward an intellectually disabled restaurant employee, prompting a petition calling for an investigation of the incident.

A video circulated on social media Monday apparently depicting Claire Nisonger, a senior lecturer of biology at IU Bloomington, becoming confrontational with an intellectually disabled employee at McDonald's. The video has since been removed from Facebook, where it was originally posted. The original poster of the video said Nisonger called the employee a “stupid retard” during the confrontation. Nisonger allegedly also verbally accosted another intellectually disabled individual who was in the customer line. The video has been taken down from Facebook, apparently for violating rules regarding bullying.

The incident prompted condemnation from the IU Neurodiversity Coalition. The group defines neurodiverse individuals as individuals with autism, dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia, Tourette’s syndrome and other conditions. The group started a petition shortly after to call on the university’s Board of Trustees to investigate the incident, and it issued a statement affirming “the value that neurodiverse individuals bring to our campus and our community.”

The petition also called for the board to “ensure that no neurodiverse IU students will be subjected to abuse by Ms. Nisonger by immediately removing her from all interactions with IU students and taking all necessary measures to ensure that any future interactions Ms. Nisonger may have with IU students will not include hate speech or abuse toward neurodiverse people.”

A spokesperson said in an emailed statement the university was gathering more information about the incident.

“Indiana University is aware of the off-campus incident involving an IU employee and the associated social media response,” said Rebecca Carl, university spokesperson. “University leaders have heard from individuals engaged in or concerned about the matter and are taking steps to learn more.”

A request for comment from Nisonger was not returned. Nisonger posted on the IU Neurodiversity Coalition’s Facebook page issuing an apology for the incident.

“I regret that my use of the term ‘retarded’ offended people. I did not abbreviate it and it was not directed at the cashier on duty,” Nisonger wrote. “I had no intention of offending people and sincerely apologize. I should note that I have received a number of awards for my work with diversity groups at IU over the years. Look at my whole record.”

Members of the Neurodiversity Coalition chose not to accept Nisonger’s apology after nearly two hours of internal debate, according to the group’s faculty adviser, Nejla Routsong. Routsong is a visiting lecturer in IU Bloomington’s Kelley School of Business.

“We discussed pretty passionately for a few hours, but finally we agreed that her apology wasn’t a real apology,” Routsong said. “I thought that she hadn’t fully absorbed the impact of her actions on the person in question who she abused and moreover on our community. This is obviously a triggering event for our community, and there’s a reason people are so upset by this. It’s not just this one incident -- it's one symptom of behavior that happens way too much in our society.”

The Neurodiversity Coalition had just formed at Indiana University in April and only recently set up a Facebook page, hoping to become a more active organization in the upcoming fall semester. However, Routsong said the event involving Nisonger has motivated the group to take action. Routsong said she believed this issue was an “aberration” among IU faculty, and she believes the university will act appropriately in response to the issue.

“I trust they’re doing a very detailed investigation, and I hope they’re getting in touch with the victim in this case, because the neurodiversity movement is really about allowing these individuals to speak for themselves and not be spoken for,” Routsong said. “This has been a time that the members of our coalition can say, ‘Now that people are listening, what do we want say?’”

The petition circulated gathered 1,300 signatures in 48 hours and is still gaining signatures, according to the group’s Facebook page.

Read more by

Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.

 

 
+ -

Expand commentsHide comments  —   Join the conversation!

Today’s News from Inside Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed’s Quick Takes

Back to Top