Federal probe clears UAA of racism allegations

Posted: Sunday, April 07, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Federal civil rights investigators have cleared the University of Alaska Anchorage of racism charges lodged by a graduate student.

The federal probe was conducted after Diane Benson, who is Tlingit, claimed her race led to unfair treatment in the classroom. Benson was a student in Creative Writing and Literary Arts 690, taught by Linda McCarriston.

McCarriston on Friday refused to comment on the specifics of the findings from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, but said she felt relieved.

''I was fulfilling my job. I was not being racist or in any way discriminatory,'' McCarriston told the Anchorage Daily News.

Benson complained that McCarriston was hostile to her, gave her a lower grade than she deserved and that the university did not respond to her concerns about McCarriston being on her thesis committee.

The student and professor separately told investigators of rude behavior by the other in the classroom.

McCarriston became the focus of attention last December after a poem she wrote was published in the poetry journal ''Ice-Floe.'' The poem ''Indian Girls'' is about village women who come to Anchorage to escape childhood abuse, only to end up in downtown bars.

The poem created an uproar and resulted in University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton issuing a memo about the importance of free speech.

Benson criticized the poem in e-mails and in public statements.

University officials said the finding validated a separate investigation by UAA into Benson's complaint that she deserved a higher grade. Benson received a B.

''I hope it brings and end to a very difficult circumstance between a very talented faculty member and a very talented student who somehow got crosswise,'' said university chancellor Lee Gorsuch.

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