Editor’s note: This article contains potentially offensive and explicit terms that were necessary to report in this situation.
An IU senior lecturer accused of making offensive comments to a McDonald’s cashier with a disability this summer has been suspended, an IU spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.
Biology lecturer Claire Nisonger was publicly accused in July of calling a McDonald’s cashier a “stupid retard” and saying “people like that shouldn’t be allowed in public, much less operating a cash register,” according to a petition calling on IU to take action.
A McDonald’s customer posted videos of herself confronting Nisonger about the alleged comments on Facebook, but the post was later removed.
IU spokesperson Chuck Carney could not say whether Nisonger’s suspension was related to the incident because it is a personnel matter. Nisonger referred the Indiana Daily Student to her lawyers for comment. Her lawyers did not respond to email or phone requests for comment by time of publication.
A few months before the McDonald's incident, senior Abe Shapiro and visiting lecturer Nejla Routsong founded the Neurodiversity Coalition at IU with the goal of making campus and Bloomington more accepting of people who identify as neurodiverse.
The group started the petition after the video of Nisonger was posted.
“I want to make this campus accessible, and to do that, this campus has to maintain a good tradition, a good name and a good community,” Shapiro said. “That came together today.”
The petition asked IU to fully investigate the incident, release a statement on the value of neurodiverse individuals on campus and in the community and remove Nisonger from interactions with students. It received more than 1,500 responses, many with angry comments.
Coalition members have made following up on the petition a main focus this semester as the coalition gained steam. Virtually every meeting included a discussion of how to demand action from IU.
The group drafted and edited an email to Provost Lauren Robel at a Nov. 3 coalition meeting, asking for an update and timeframe on the investigation.
Shapiro said he was surfing through his emails Wednesday morning when he saw Robel’s response and found out Nisonger was suspended. He said he felt a rush of exhilaration.
“Three months of hard work finally came together in that one moment,” he said.
He left a voicemail for Routsong and told her how proud he was of their group. He also called Ben Foley, a coalition member and IU-Purdue University Indianapolis and IvyTech student who helped Routsong craft the latest email to Robel.
Shapiro said the controversy reinforces his desire to push for diversity training for students and faculty. He sees the suspension as a success and hopes this will be the first of many initiatives.
“Now it’s just back to work,” Shapiro said.