July 23, 2013
Terri Bennett, a 50-year-old nursing student at Pima Community College in Tuscon, has filed a complaint in an Arizona state court claiming that she was unjustly suspended for requesting that classroom discussion be in English.
Bennett was the only native English speaker in her Anatomy and Physiology class this year and noted in an anonymous evaluation form that she would have preferred that Spanish not be spoken in the classroom. In March 2013, she enrolled in an Introduction to Nursing course where the use of Spanish by her peers impeded her “ability to concentrate, focus, listen to the lecture, and participate in group studies, clinicals, and other learning activities,” according to the lawsuit filed with Arizona’s Pima County Superior Court.
In April, Bennett spoke with David Kutzler, the director of the nursing program, about the issue. He then reportedly accused her of discriminating against her Mexican-American classmates and of being a “bigot and a bitch.” Shortly after, she was issued a progress report claiming that she had “ineffective communication skills” and difficulties interacting with her peers; the following week, she was suspended and escorted from the campus by security personnel.
The college sent Bennett a letter stating that she had received a nine-month suspension for disrupting classes, engaging in “discriminatory conduct,” and harassing others. The lawsuit states that Bennett was instructed to receive “counseling to improve her communication style and to learn to be less abrasive.”
Bennett is suing the community college and its board of governors on several charges, ranging from harassment to violating the Arizona constitution. English is the state’s official language, and Section 3 of Article 28 of the state constitution states that no one “shall be discriminated against or penalized in any way because the person uses or attempts to use English in public or private communication.”
Courthouse News reports that Ms. Bennett is receiving legal support from ProEnglish, an English-language advocacy group. They have arranged for an attorney to represent her as she seeks monetary damages in court. The executive director of ProEnglish has called Bennett’s treatment by Pima Community College “an outrage.”
Read the full article and comments here.