ERIC Number: EJ841958
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2003
Reference Count: 9
Standing up against the Giant
Benson, Diane E.
American Indian Quarterly, v27 n1-2 p67-79 Win-Spr 2003
On December 12, 2000, one of the top three headlines on the front page of the "Anchorage Daily News" ("ADN") read, "Student Attacks Professor's Poem." The subtitle read, ""Indian Girls" described as racist, insulting." One of the two primary photos on the front page that garnered attention was the beleaguered look of a challenged local university professor postured amongst her books. Somehow, what seemed like a rather normal school semester and typical enough poetry class ended with a tidal wave of divisive controversy and inflamed a community already teetering from volatile race relations. The author was central to the controversy. She was the student. Tlingits have a story about the Cannibal Giant who at one time preyed on the people when they were weakened. The Cannibal Giant was once a woman but through evil became a monster. Even when she was seemingly destroyed by fire, the flame transformed her carnivorous essence from cannibal to mosquito, and thus she continues to plague the people to this day. Some say it is a metaphor for those things that would devour their sanity or their spirit. A University of Alaska classroom became another breeding ground of racial tension, an ostensible haven to a literary cannibal that feeds on the weakness of racial hatred. The author had the audacity to defend her tribal clan through e-mail by directing the attention of family and friends to a published poem she found particularly insulting if not libelous. Much to her surprise, a reporter from the "ADN" contacted her two days after she sent the e-mail. Therein began the very public battle she would have for a year with the University of Alaska-Anchorage (UAA) and with her Department of Creative Writing and Literary Arts (CWLA) poetry professor. The entire experience would cause her to postpone her long sought after master of fine arts (MFA) degree and the complete and painful alienation from her classmates. In addition would follow a public protest on campus; grade retaliation (prompting further disputes); a flurry of newspaper articles, endless letters to the editor, online hate mail, and threats; spurious charges by national, extreme right-wing, antimulticultural media; a futile human rights grievance; and, ultimately, not only a complete change of her thesis committee but an agonizing self-evaluation and question of self-worth. In this article, the author details some highlights of the experience and comments about its impact and what she learned from it.
Descriptors: Racial Bias, Race, Creative Writing, Racial Relations, Poetry, American Indians, College Faculty, Tribes, College Students, Racial Factors, Teacher Student Relationship, Personal Narratives, Alaska Natives
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Alaska