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How Benghazi taught me that being tall is a microaggression at Lynn University

OPINION

Being tall has its advantages. At 6 feet and 5 inches, I come in handy at supermarkets when shorter people need help reaching items on the top shelf, and athletic teams have benefited from my size and reach.

But I never expected that I’d end up in the dean’s office at Lynn University for not recognizing my height privilege.

As a former desk assistant at Fox News Channel with stints at local TV stations and MSNBC, I came into Lynn’s accelerated masters program in communications and media with a different perspective than some classmates.

This became evident during finals in October for the eight-week semester.

A student in my class, whose subjects included Noam Chomsky’s Propaganda model and Althusser’s Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, gave a one-note presentation on how the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi was a “pseudo-event” manufactured by Fox News.

His only source? An analysis of “Fox’s Benghazi Obsession” by Media Matters for America, whose stated purpose is “monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”  

Thinking that the point of higher education was a robust and frank exchange of ideas, I grilled my classmate during Q&A about the plain weaknesses in his argument.

How many days did it take for the Obama administration to acknowledge the terrorist nature of the attack that killed four Americans? I asked. My peer fumbled through his notes: “I don’t know.”

What was the cause of the attack – a crass anti-Islam video, or a planned and well-executed attack that caught the administration by surprise even after repeated requests for more security by Ambassador Christopher Stevens? Again, my peer couldn’t answer.

The professor apparently didn’t appreciate that I was calling attention to my classmate’s failure to anticipate scrutiny of his presentation, asking me to let others ask questions if I was “not going to ask questions” myself.

When I responded to her that these were in fact legitimate questions to ask of my peer’s presentation – and that the record has shown that Innocence of Muslims was not in fact the trigger for the Benghazi attack – the professor said “Enough!”

Having looked up my professor’s name in Florida’s election database, I knew her registration as a Democrat and history of political donations to liberal causes. So I stood up to answer her – the desks are attached to the chairs, so I couldn’t swivel around to face her – and quipped, “We all know what side of the political spectrum you side with.”

Ten days later I got an email from the dean of students asking me to make an appointment right away.

The next day, still in the dark as to why I had been called in, the dean asked me how I ended up in his office. I shrugged.

Because I stood up at my desk to answer her in class, the professor perceived me as “intimidating and threatening,” the dean said.

I literally laughed at his statement. What a ridiculous accusation! I told the dean. My professor is using my height to penalize me for asking pointed questions?

“We have to be careful because of the atmospheres on college campuses across the country,” the dean replied.  

All I could do was laugh and shake my head in disbelief as I left his office that my privilege had just been checked.

Though that class ended and my grades didn’t appear to suffer for that testy exchange, I’m currently in another class by the same professor and fearful that my grades will take a hit if I out her.

She has already warned me not to “advocate your own political views” in papers, giving me reason to suspect that I need to strip my arguments of any viewpoint – including those informed by my work inside the cable news industry – to avoid getting dinged.

At least I learned that Standing While Tall is a microaggression.

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IMAGE: The Princess Bride screenshot

About the Author
Peter Maxwell, Master’s Degree in Communication and Media Studies, Lynn University. BA, Curry College, broadcast journalism.

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