I was expelled from Syracuse University for comments that I posted on Facebook. My name is Matthew Werenczak, and I’m from Syracuse University. I was a Master’s student studying Social Studies education, and I was taking summer courses to help try to graduate sooner, and one of the courses involved studying or tutoring at a local middle school. I just love sharing my passion of history and the social sciences with kids and having them ask questions and having them talk to you and coming up with ideas and just, you know, it’s just really cool being able to share, you know, something you like doing with other kids.
We were introduced as these are the two student teachers, teachers helping us from Syracuse. You know, we both happened to be white; we were the only two white people in the room. And then he almost immediately afterwards makes this, uh, comment, you know, about it.
Uh, the comments that I — that I overheard were, “We need more teachers from historically black colleges,” and this offended me and as well as the other student teacher in the room as we were the only two white teachers in the — in the room. It just seemed inappropriate considering, you know, that the two students teachers happened to be from Syracuse and not a historically black college.
So I went home and wrote about it on my Facebook. I was kind of trying to see if my friends or other — you know, peers, classmates, would have similar reactions that I had. Maybe I was overreacting. I quoted him, you know, “We need more teachers from historically black colleges.” I had one friend comment. He, you know, said, “Well, I kind of see where you’re coming from. It seems kind of weird.” But, you know, it doesn’t surprise him. And I was like, “Oh, just making sure we’re okay with racism. It’s not enough I’m busting my ass, you know, working here, you know, doing this. I suppose I ought to be black as well.” And I mean, that’s how I was feeling at the time. Again, I was — I was on my own Facebook.
I didn’t, you know, do it in front of the guy that made the comments, I didn’t do it in front of the kids, I didn’t do it even in my classroom.
After I posted the comments on Facebook, a week or so goes by, and I’m alerted that — by my professor of the class, who was working with us at the school, that it’s come to their attention that I need to speak with her and the Principal of the school about these comments. The day before I was, um, expected to go out and begin my student teaching, literally the day before, they told me that I was not allowed to do that because of these comments, and they were trying to come up with disciplinary action, or what to do with me or how to deal with my situation. I kind of felt like I was going crazy. I was like, “What’s going on here? Like, I haven’t been charged with anything.” I literally just thought it was going to be a slap on the wrist. I was accused of being a racist, anti-immigrant, sexist, these sort of things, and I — that — like, they never really gave me a reason why. There was no charges, it was just kind of like, “We don’t like your — your political viewpoints, we don’t like your — what you’re saying.
It seems kind of unprofessional, and it seems like you’re intolerant,” and they just kind of threw me against the wall. There were, you know, friends of mine, colleagues, peers at the school, they just kind of stopped, they stayed away from me. I was given, like, options. I could either expel voluntarily, be administratively withdrawn, or undergo this option of, uh, diversity training and sensitivity training, uh, write a paper, and then possibly be re-admitted or re-considered for student teaching in the spring. I just felt crazy and alone. It was — it was an awful feeling. And then, you know, you’re, “What did I do wrong? I don’t think I did anything wrong. Why am I being punished?”
Yeah, after he handed me my punishment, you know, this is the paper that said, “These are your options.” He said, if you go public with this, then you’ll be un-hirable. No one will ever hire — want you as a teacher, you know, these accusations of racism, et cetera.
So I — I was scared, you know? I was really scared, like, “Oh, I’m — that’s a serious concern.”
After I completed all the requirements that they had, and then they were still dragging their feet, they didn’t seem like they wanted me back in, even though I satisfied everything and did everything they asked. And finally, I — I just — I had enough of it. I was like, I’m gonna stand up for myself. I’m not, you know, I’m not gonna be a teacher if I don’t get my degree, so you know, I might as well at least take the chance and maybe people will respect that I stood up. So I contacted FIRE when it seemed like I wasn’t going to be back in time for my spring semester.
They sent a letter. The University didn’t respond to the initial letters. Then so FIRE put it on their website, went public with it, you know, like they said they would. After a couple of hours of FIRE going public with it, the University had caved and had said that I was back in the program, they were working on putting me in a placement for the spring, and that, uh, we had overreacted by going public with this, they were handling it according to all of their procedures.
They had made it clear through their month prior that they had no interest in doing right by me.
Hours after FIRE took the case public, uh, Syracuse University backed down. I was brought back in, and later graduated.
[End of Audio]
Duration: 6 minutes