Letters to the Editor: November 6, 2012

Unacceptable behavior at MacLean potluck

Dear Editor,

This weekend I was unfortunate enough to be around an upsetting event in the common area of a dormitory here at the UAF campus. At this month’s potluck in the MacLean House Commons, some of the guests were down-right disrespectful to the people hosting the event, mainly the Resident Assistants (RA) of the dormitory and the Assistant Resident Director (ARD) of the dormitory.

When reading about MacLean House on the website of the Arctic Education Foundation, which is part of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), it would seem that the purpose of the building is to help students with the transition into the college environment of UAF. It even states on the page about how one of the dormitory’s programs, events put on for students of the dormitory by Resident Assistants, includes a monthly potluck with Native foods. The phrase “safe, inviting and supportive group home environment,” featured on the page about MacLean House, should reflect in the manner of its guests, and many at the potluck even claimed to be members of the ASRC.

It was shocking to me, another guest at this event, that members of the same corporation who want to offer this “safe, inviting and supportive group home environment” were treating people in such a rude and disrespectful manner. To be invited into someone’s living area and then to treat them as if they were servants is simply unacceptable, regardless of who or where you are. I saw guests demanding that an RA find them things which the dormitory is not supposed to be supplying, that an RA should go knock on the doors of other residents to bother them for cooking supplies, and having an RA move pans of food to the tables like some kind of waiter.

After 3+ hours of this, longer than the potluck was supposed to run, the Assistant Resident Director of MacLean House came home. At this point, some of the guest’s behavior towards her became embarrassing for me to witness. The ARD was turned into a target for what I could only call a mob mentality. The ARD was simply trying to explain the policies of the dormitory to the guests, but this was met with open hostility. I thought she was acting politely, but they said things to her that I don’t feel comfortable putting into this letter, and frankly they treated her like dirt. At one point, a parent of a MacLean House resident was yelling into the crowd what the poor woman was saying, taking every word out of context and inciting negativity.

Is this how we should show our “safe, inviting and supportive group” to the very people that host an event for us? Is this how we want to introduce our culture to people who may have never experienced it before? By making them do our manual labor and complaining about them?

I hope not.

Unfortunately I saw all this. Even more unfortunately, I did not say something at the time. And to be honest, that makes me feel the worst. I truly hope that with this letter, along with my personal apologies, I will make some of the staff of MacLean feel more appreciated. I know I appreciated the event and it was very disappointing for me to see people act this way.

Editor’s Note:

It’s not normal Sun Star policy to run anonymous letters to the editor, however the editing staff feels that this letter deserves some attention.  We were approached by the author’s friend on Sunday afternoon who explained the situation to us.  We then followed up with the staff of MacLean, who neither confirmed nor denied the statements made in the letter.  The Sun Star will be following up on this issue, so if you have any information please contact us at 474-5078 or editor@uafsunstar.com.

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10 Responses

  1. Im a full time student at UAF and live off campus, I am also from Kaktovik Alaska. I attended the potluck at the Maclean House last weekend. It was a great opportunity to connnect with the new students from our region and encourage them in attaining their academic goals. We soicailized and networked and our children had an opportunity to eat their Native food and learn about their North Slope culture. It was a great time and served the intentions of Arctic Slope Regional Corporatin’s goal for building those dorms. There was one big unfortunate exception to this. The Resident Supervisor complained about people attending the potluck because the were not residents of the dorm , mind you flyers were posted around campus inviting us. She also complained about children under the age of 18 attending the potluck, mind you those flyers inviting us did not specify this restriction. I brought my 6 year old son and 4 year old daughter who had so much fun eating our Native food , and playing with their cousins. Most importantly , my children got to see other Inupiat students from our region successfully pursuing higher education. Yet the Resident RA Supervisor complained about the smell of our food so much so that she said to us that the next time the Maclean House has potluck that only residents of the Maclean house are the only people allowed at the potluck. That excludes Professor Brower , a member of the UAF Staff and Inpuiat, who was enjoying telling the young generation stories. That excludes the parents of the students who are residents, parents who are proud of their children being in college and support them in their higher education and also want to pass on values of our Inupiat culture. That also excluded senior college students such as myself who takes advantage of every opportunity I can to encourage the young freshman from my region, from my culture, to succeed and have a sense of home here in Fairbanks. Lets not forget the younger generation who look up to these new incoming freshman and realize that if they can do it, that when they grow up they can be a college student and graduate too. We were asked to leave, and it was sad for myself and my children. it was disheartening and insulting to be unwelcome at an Inpupiat potluck. It hurt to be told not to return to the Thanksgiving potluck after being told our food was offensive to their pallette. I have been told not to practice my Inupiat culture at the Maclean House, because I have been told not to attend any future potlucks because my children are under the age of 18 and our food is not to the RAs liking, and although I am a full time UAF student I am not a resident of Maclean house and not welcome to any further potlucks.
    I don’t need to be anonomous. My name is Sharon Nasuk Thompson, full time student of UAF, from Kaktovik Alaska.

  2. Vanessa Hernandez says:

    I would like to reply to the anonymous letter that was written. I am a Resident of McLean House and attended the Potluck. There were approximately 30+ people that attended and there was about 8 to 10 student residents of McLean. As a witness of the event there was no RA or other people forced into being “waiters” or “servants”. I personally enjoyed the potluck and believed it to be a major hit compared to last months potluck. I had the chance to meet family members I never knew and it had a very homey safe feel to it. I appreciated all the people that attended the event and contributed to it. I have to admit that the timing was longer than expected, but that was mainly because everyone was enjoying company and had a great time cooking and coming up with other ideas. As for the Resident Supervisor, I believe that she and her boyfriend were the only ones with the negative attitude towards the event and was the only problem. She came and started being very rude towards one of our guests and even decided to slam the door in her face. From what I know about the Potlucks that happen every month, the Resident Supervisor was suppose to attend the potluck and help out, but as Sharon stated the Resident Supervisor had a problem with “our food”. I also believe that McLean should have a native Resident Supervisor or at least someone that appreciates our Native culture. McLean was built to bring natives together and feel safe. How can we enjoy our own culture if restricted university policies interfere with ASRC’s requests, along with personal matters from our supervisor?

  3. Anonymous (not "anonomous") says:

    Actually, Sharon, Mr. Brower is not a Professor here at the University. He is merely an instructor and has not received a PhD. One other thing, you misspelled a number of words including “Iñupiaq” more than once.
    Perhaps you should re-read the Letter above before you attempt to critique its content.

    You might learn something.

  4. Vanessa Hernandez says:

    To the person criticizing Sharon:

    I would like to point out that her spelling mistakes are not the source of the problem that happened at the potluck. Please be more respectful towards others.

  5. Ginny says:


    I was not going to reply to these comments, nor the letter; however, I feel that a lot of what transpired during the potluck has been taken out of context. I feel that whatever I say now will be dismissed and further taken out of context, but the inaccuracies that are being reported by other guests is getting out of hand.

    I want to preface this by saying that it is part of my job requirements to enforce residence life policies, whether or not I agree with them.

    First off, I want to clear my staff from the blame that Sharon Thompson is giving them, as well as myself in regards to the wonderful food provided by the guests. Sharon stated that, “it hurt to be told not to return to the Thanksgiving potluck after being told our food was offensive to their pallet.” That did not transpire at all. My entire staff thoroughly enjoyed the food and was/is excited about the possibility of a Thanksgiving potluck. I did not have a chance to enjoy the food, however I thought that the cooking of it smelled delicious and remarked so to my boyfriend, as well as my staff members.

    In response to Vanessa’s summary of the events, neither I nor my boyfriend “decided to slam the door” in anyone’s face. My guest decided to close the door so that we could unload his truck into the arctic entryway without getting into anyone’s way. As the door was being shut, the girl whose face I allegedly slammed it into, ran up and began forcing the door back open. I was not the one closing the door, so I do not honestly know who was pushing who. From my location right next to the door, I can state that either both individuals were pushing the door (in opposite directions) or that only the girl was. The best case is that they both were so that this instance ends up with both parties at fault.

    I un-propped the back exterior door because having a propped door is a policy violation (and, while I would have left it if I could, it is my job to enforce policies.) These Residence Life policies are put into place to protect residents from harm. When an exterior door is propped open, it allows anyone to enter and exit buildings, regardless of whether or not they are residents. In the initial minutes that I arrived to MacLean I saw 2 non-MacLean residents, enter via the propped door. They were unescorted by a host. I had never before seen these individuals and, not knowing who they were, was concerned for the well-being of my residents (policies like this are in place so that people who have been trespassed from dorms, from campus, or who have had restraining orders taken out on them, etc. are not able to enter the residence halls).

    While I admit that the incident could have been handled better, I know that there were and still are many many miscommunications going on that are preventing this from coming to a conclusion. I would like to be able for all of us to move on from this incident.

    Perhaps it will make those involved (and those who aren’t involved, but have opinions on the matter) feel better knowing that I resigned from my position about a month ago and, effective at the semester’s closing, I will no longer be working within Residence Life. (And, in case anyone thinks that this has anything to do with my current job position, I want to go ahead and state that it does not. I resigned simply because I am tired of living on campus and have been given the opportunity to share an apartment with my older sister).

    Now that I broached the subject of my sister, I want to take a second to talk about how EXTREMELY family-oriented I am and how family is one of my strongest values. I contact and spend time with my family frequently, as well as financially help support several of my relatives.

    I’m also to going explain my absolute biggest value, and that is that “People are people.” I feel that everyone is equal no matter their standing in life, their culture, their race, their gender, their sexuality, or anything else. I feel that due to the incident and how it is being taken out of context and misrepresented/ miscommunicated, that perhaps people are thinking that I have a prejudice. I do not and the thought that maybe people feel this way hurts me immensely.

    I want to apologize again for all of the negativity that this has incited, and to state that there will be a MacLean Cultural Potluck lunch held in the woodcenter conference room EF (so that there is better parking availability and no Residence Life policies to enforce!) on Friday 11/23 from 1pm-5pm. Unfortunately the capacity of the room is 28, which means that MacLean residents have attendance priority. I am in the process of inviting several RSS members to come help share the wonderful thing which is Alaskan Native culture.

  6. Qaqqaun says:

    Those RAs/workers need to be moved. To complain about getting students for the potluck?? Ridiculous… and having to move pots and pans at a potluck – HELLO??!?? you work there and “there” is hosting a potluck!! And to complain about food smell and to helping out – that is opposite of who we are as Inupiat.

    If these RA’s had there way, it would not be a potluck, but rather a gathering of resident students only, eating no food offensive to them.

    The MacLean house has fallen from its original purpose – to support and foster Inupiaq Culture at UAF.

    GOD FORBID these RAs go to a village, some Elder might tell them to open the door, or put away some plates – you wont have an “anonymous” outlet like the sunstar to make yourself look selfish and lazy.

    I am glad I was not there. I was invited, but declined. I do not think I will bring my family to an environment hostile towards children, Inupiat gathering, traditional food, or HELPING out. That is pretty much opposite of how I want my children raised.


  7. Matt says:

    I would do better in life knowing “wrong from right” rather than knowing how to spell correctly. Merely an instructor not a professor, natives views elders with respect, not like some people do. You never stop learning in life no matter how long or short life is.

  8. Kayla says:

    Having known the Assistant Resident Director (referred to as the Resident Supervisor in a few of these comments) for the last few years, I find it very hard to believe some of the responses in these comments. She is one of the kindest, most polite, and accepting people I’ve met on campus. The reason she took this job was because she wants nothing more than to help others to be healthy and happy and reach their highest potential. She has always made sure to be respectful and professional, (all her past residents love her), and from what I’ve heard from those that attended the event, all she was doing was her job and did so in a very calm and polite manner. I understand people have miscommunications and think that policies (such as the no children and needing to be a resident) are unfair, but the rules are set for the residents safety and, as she is the ARD, it is her job to uphold all the rules. I think it is unfair of people to blame her for upholding policy and I highly doubt she was rude in enforcing those rules. Especially about the food. I know for a fact she thought it smelled amazing.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Just because someone is Alaska Native does not mean that they will know and understand the culture that is brought within Maclean. There are many Natives who did not have a chance to grow up around the Native culture, and they do not understand how it goes. This does not mean that they cannot “appreciate” the Native culture, though. But putting someone in Maclean just because of their race would be considered racist. The staff put within Maclean is there because they were considered to be fit for the area and the job.

    Having Native Alaskans (not necessarily of Inupiat, Yupik, or any other Alaskan heritage) as an ARD or RA is something that should be done. Regardless of this, your accusations of the Maclean staff not being suited for the Maclean dorm is outrageous, and, if I may say, down-right racist. Maclean dorm was created so that rural students could have a chance at being assimilated into life in a larger community. ALMOST all of the students within Maclean are from a rural area, allowing them a chance to live in a place that reminds them of home, while also allowing them to branch out socially. Maclean is doing their job by allowing rural students to become accustomed to this new way of living.

  10. nicole says:

    I’m not sure who to contact. But I wanted to know, if you’re the right editor to contact for articles on books. One of the teachers at the school where my children attend school at died. The staff was planning on explaining to the children about her death. Someone told them about a book entitled “When Mommy Went to Heaven” written by an author name, Evon Latrail. I think Evon Latrail is a writer/singer. They chose that book because the teacher died after giving birth and so does the character in the book. Most of the parents agree with the staff about talking to their kids about death and is ok with the book. But I feel like it’s my job to tell my kids about the subject. Is there a certain time, age, or person that should explain to kids about death? I understand parents sometime die before having a talk with the child like the character in the book. Have you ever had a story written on the time to talk to kids about death?

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