In the hyper-partisan, highly-charged political environment of today, even the slightest verbal miscue or malapropism can have far-reaching personal and professional ramifications, a truth learned the hard way by one local government official last week.
As the Daily Caller reports, the Greensboro City Council Zoning Commission unanimously voted to oust one of its members who declined to use the academic title of “doctor” during a verbal exchange with a Black female resident of the community who spoke at a public meeting regarding a land use issue affecting her property.
The controversy erupted when, during a lengthy Zoning Commission hearing, Greensboro resident Carrie Rosario – who holds a doctorate in public health – engaged in discourse with now former-Commission member Tony Collins. When Rosario aired her concerns about a development project in the community, Collins expressed his belief that the conversation had gotten off track, referring to her as “Mrs. Rosario,” as the Charlotte Observer reported.
In response, the associate professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro corrected Collins by saying, “It’s Dr. Rosario, thank you, sir,” after which point, Collins continued, saying, “If Mrs. Rosario has something.” This prompted the citizen to again reiterate her preferred title, and Collins replied, “Well, you know, I’m sorry. Your name says on here ‘Carrie Rosario.’ Hey Carrie,” according to the Observer.
Things only escalated from there, with the professor stating emphatically, “It’s Dr. Rosario. I wouldn’t call you Tony, so please, sir, call me as I would like to be called.” Collins shot back, stating that “It doesn’t really matter,” resulting in Rosario telling the commissioner, “I’m verbalizing my name is Dr. Carrie Rosario, and it really speaks very negatively of you as a commissioner to be disrespectful.”
The following day, the City Council took the surprising step of removing Collins from his position, doing so after recording of his exchange with Rosario was played at the behest of Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, as the Greensboro News & Record reported. After the back-and-forth had been aired, Hightower declared that “regardless of whether you agree or disagree, that was disrespectful. This is unacceptable,” also stating that “as a Black female, I am not going to see another Black female treated in this manner.”
Greensboro Councilwoman Goldie Wells, also a Black female holder of a Ph.D. argued that women like her are rarely afforded the acknowledgment their educational attainment ought to confer, and after half an hour of further discussion, Hightower motioned that a vote be held on Collins’ removal from the commission.
Rosario hailed the Council’s decision to oust Collins from the board, explaining, according to the Observer, “I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt at first and corrected him, but as the exchange unfolded it was clear that he was intent on disrespecting me. I was hurt, upset, angry – because this was a public forum – and the public should feel safe to be themselves, to present their concerns, and feel respected in the process.”
While Collins’ stubborn refusal to address a citizen of the community he serves by their preferred title was certainly of questionable wisdom, the willingness of his peers to immediately and drastically overreact to this supposed microaggression represents a slippery slope, indeed.