By Dr. Kyle Bryant Simmons
I am a 48-year-old male of Native American heritage with a Ph.D. in Humanities, which means I fall within a category of extremely underrepresented minorities in academia with a Ph.D. I am also a citizen in two different nations on the North American continent: the United States of America and the Muscogee/Creek Nation, so being in unique/unorthodox categories is nothing new to my life.
However, six months ago I found myself forced into a new minority group: men that have been sexually harassed — grabbed or pulled or touched without permission — by their female administrators (which has led to retaliation against me for filing a sexual harassment claim and the subsequent denial of my tenure — more about all this later).
This new minority group that I now find myself to be a part of is not a group that I chose to represent (quite frankly, it has taken me months of psyching myself up to have the courage to write this embarrassing article).
I hope that the following narrative of my experience will help others (men and women alike) to speak up and out against people in positions of power that are abusing their power and abusing people in the process; and I hope that it becomes clear that the paradigm of men with power over women has become reflected in the actions of women with power over men and I hope that #me(n)too! is a concern that will now be addressed constructively.
On Aug. 17, 2017 most Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) employees were gathered for a Semester Kick-off Event, led by TMCC’s President, Karin Hilgersom, and her administrative staff.
At 1:47:59 into this event, extremely loud music began to blare throughout the room, drowning out the speaking President.
It seemed like the booming audio was a mistake, but when it was not immediately silenced, and individuals around the room began to stand on their chairs, shouting, clapping, and swaying, it became apparent that the shrieking music was not a mistake.
Within a minute, the individuals standing on their chairs, shouting, clapping, and swaying, jumped to the ground and made their way to the front of the room, where they were joined by even more people who started a choreographed dance routine to the music, accompanied by the President and her administrative staff.
I would like to reiterate that this meeting was a mandatory, professional gathering, which broke into a flash mob with people swaying and shaking their bodies in the faces of seated individuals that did not ask to be a part of such an activity.
At the end of this unprofessional dance routine (the 1:50:52 mark), the dancers made their way into the crowd, clapping and encouraging people to stand and dance and clap with them.
The Vice President of Academic Affairs locked her eyes on me and said something to the effect of: “Come on, Kyle!” — “Get up, Kyle!”
I indicated that I did not want to dance. She did not heed my refusal and grabbed my right wrist, attempting to pull me to a standing position — saying something like “Come on, Kyle!” — as if my first refusal was unacceptable to her.
So I said “No” and pulled my wrist loose from her grasp. I was shocked that I had to tell the Vice President that I did not want to dance (twice) and that I had to physically pull myself loose from her grasp at a mandatory, professional gathering.
Instinctively, I refused to be a jester or a fool and perform for people with supervisory power over me. My Native American heritage is filled with a history of people in power forcing many Native Peoples to dance for them. I do not dance for others. I dance only if I choose to dance. I also do not respond positively to physical force and I do not believe that I should be compelled to perform, dance, sway, or clap for my employer — ever.
An hour after being grabbed I could still feel fingers encircled around my wrist; it was a burning feeling of restraint that I could not shake. I called friends and family for advice and they all recommended speaking to Human Resources about the incident.
A couple colleagues said that if I valued my future tenure (which the Vice President and other administrators had the power to deny) that I would not report this incident to HR. I finally approached a campus police officer and the TMCC Nevada Faculty Alliance (NFA) Union President and their collective advice was to also report the matter to HR.
So I went to the HR office with the NFA President and reported the matter to the HR Director who did not take my complaint seriously, because the HR Director was a dancer in the flash mob too and she also grabbed at someone in the crowd to get up and dance.
Long story short, HR closed the matter within two weeks and it took me a month to get an investigation opened into this matter, citing state codes of assault and battery and some definitions of sexual harassment examples, such as: “Other than customary handshakes, uninvited touching, patting, hugging, or purposeful brushing against a person’s body or other inappropriate touching of an individual’s body.”
A month after an investigation was conducted by HR the President closed the matter and within two months these same TMCC administrators denied my tenure, gave me a notice of non-renewal of my contract, and removed me from instruction, directing me to work at home on special projects.
My tenure committee has written a letter disagreeing with the decision to deny my tenure and my tenure committee chair, Dr. Tom Cardoza wrote the following in a letter to TMCC’s President (read the complete letter here):
“We are writing to express our grave concern at your decision to recommend denial of tenure to Dr. Kyle Simmons… We are particularly troubled by the timing of the change in tenor of his administrative evaluations, which came after he filed a sexual harassment complaint against a senior administrator.”
Thus, after filing a sexual harassment claim I’ve been retaliated against for months and now I am being paid not to teach and do non-meaningful projects at home (all of which are retaliatory, contract violations conducted by TMCC administrators).
I feel as if I keep getting “grabbed,” over and over again and am being compelled to “dance” for these administrators (most recently I have been “grabbed” and told to stay at home and to “dance” by making PowerPoint presentations for a book that my dean is discussing in her lunchtime book group).
Sadly, my story is not solitary at TMCC — here is the link to a similar story in the news about a lawsuit regarding the same TMCC administrators and how contract violations at TMCC are an increasing concern on campus. A female colleague of mine (who prefers to remain unnamed) wrote the following email to a local journalist, under the heading “Culture of Fear at TMCC and discrimination issues”:
“I’ve witnessed a clear pattern of discrimination against my male colleagues by the Dean of Liberal Arts and she has been able to get away with it because of the powerful coalition of female administrators and a female Human Resources Director. What women have had to suffer in the workplace in the past has now been reversed and here at TMCC at least, men are suffering. Women are also targeted once they side with one of their colleagues or they themselves speak up for something they feel is an unfair practice or unwise”…”When my colleague, Kyle Simmons, was denied tenure over false allegations, I knew that I had to do something to support him.”
Voices of support like these from my colleagues are the reason I am making my name and situation public. A hallway campaign about me is currently being waged on the campus of TMCC by administrators while I sit at home, removed from instruction without cause or complaint, creating PowerPoint presentations like an eight grader.
Many of my colleagues are taking notes on campus rumors and keeping me informed of what is going on, all while I file grievances for contract violations by the very people that violated the contract in the first place and who get to decide if the contract violation actually occurred. I think the outcome of such a kangaroo court is pretty obvious, but I will continue to fight back. For the record, I was recently offered a monetary settlement (that I did not request) and an offer to create an entirely new tenure committee (all of whom would be women selected by the female administration to make me dance a new dance for them).
Both offers I declined so I can continue my fight for justice.
Wish me luck and know that this essay is my dance of freedom and my dance of fighting for my rights against those that feel comfortable abusing their power and abusing people.
This dance is the only dance that truly matters because it is a dance that I have chosen myself. Thank you for reading my story and I will gladly provide an update if there is an appetite out there to hear more about this dance. #me(n)too!