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Complaint against Spokane Community College alleging sexism, racism leads to program review

Campus entrance and clock tower at Spokane Community College. June 23, 1979. Photo Archives/The Spokesman-Review. (SR)
Campus entrance and clock tower at Spokane Community College. June 23, 1979. Photo Archives/The Spokesman-Review. (SR)

Following allegations of sexism and racism earlier this year, Spokane Community College has created training materials and clarified the complaint process for students, faculty and staff. Additionally, the criminal justice program and one of the instructors named in the complaint will be reviewed by outside experts, SCC President Ryan Carstens said.

“The conclusion of the Title IX complaint doesn’t negate concerns raised by the students,” he said.

In March, Jaida Burgess, a criminal justice student, filed a Title IX complaint against instructors Mike Prim and Gary Johns. She alleged Prim made racist and sexist comments in class, and that both Prim and Johns threatened her after she complained.

A subsequent records request substantiated the majority of Burgess’ complaints. However, the college determined the instructors didn’t violate federal education laws governing gender equality.

Burgess’ complaint hastened an already scheduled review of the program, Carstens said. College programs go through regular reviews to see if the course material is effective. The criminal justice department was scheduled for a review starting in fall 2017. Instead, it was reviewed this fall.

Prim’s coursework was reviewed last summer by another SCC instructor who focuses on communication and sensitivity training. Neither internal reviews created any kind of report, Carstens said.

The complaint also prompted the college to update and clarify staff, faculty and student handbooks detailing how to submit and handle complaints.

Starting in January, the department will go through a second review, this time by outside experts, including the dean of another criminal justice program. Those experts will produce a report detailing what the department should do differently. Carstens said this second review is “above and beyond what we normally do in a program review.”

SCC’s criminal justice department’s enrollment hasn’t dropped, Carstens said, and Prim has been cooperative.

“This particular faculty member has been engaged,” he said, adding that Prim worked through the summer, reviewing his course material.

Carstens said that although the complaint didn’t rise to the level of federal law violation, it did reveal problems and confusion in the college’s reporting process. The review, along with the creation of faculty, staff and student handbooks, addresses those concerns and, he said, “helps it be more understandable.”

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