Denver Health changes mind, suspends Dr. Michelle Herren for Michelle Obama “monkey face” comment

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UPDATE: Dr. Michelle Herren is losing her teaching position and resigning from Denver Health

Michelle Herren, a pediatric anesthesiologist for Denver Health, won’t be seeing patients until further notice.

Yesterday, reports of her comments on Facebook about First Lady Michelle Obama spread quickly across local media and social networks. She contends that her comments were taken out of context.

What she posted:

The message has since been removed, but not before multiple news outlets reported it. First, Herren reportedly posted a photo taken of Michelle Obama where she is speaking loudly.

“Doesn’t seem to be speaking too eloquently here, thank god we can’t hear her!” the caption read, according to The Denver Post and ABC7. “Harvard??? That’s a place for ‘entitled’ folks said all the liberals!”

(For the record, I also have no idea what the Harvard part means.)

Later, Herren reportedly added this comment: “Monkey face and poor ebonic English!!! There! I feel better and am still not racist!!! Just calling it like it is!”

“Monkey” has long been a derogatory way to refer to black people in the U.S. and abroad. “Ebonics” is a dated term referring to the many styles of speech and accents that have their roots in black communities.

Her excuse:

As you saw, Herren says this is “not racist.” She told ABC7 that the comment was taken “out of context.”

First, she insists that “she didn’t realize the term ‘monkey face’ is offensive,” according to ABC7. The report didn’t address her views on the word “ebonic.”

Further, “Herren said she was responding to another post pointing out people say whatever they want about Melania Trump, but if they do the same about Michelle Obama they’re considered racist.”

Denverite has not been able to reach Herren for further comment.

The hospital’s reaction:

Initially, Denver Health disavowed the comments (they don’t “align with Denver Health’s mission and values”) but held back from punishing Herren, saying that the organization “cannot control the opinions our staff choose to express as private individuals.”

However, the hospital issued a second statement late Wednesday night saying that Herren will not be seeing patients or providing services at Denver Health until further notice. It’s unclear whether she will be paid during that time. Her annual salary is reportedly $363,000.

A hospital spokeswoman said she could not say more about the apparent change in Denver Health’s response, and could not say whether Herren would be paid while she was suspended.

Herren also is an assistant professor at CU Anschutz Medical Campus. It appears her work there has not yet been affected.

The dean of the School of Medicine, John J. Reilly, has “communicated directly with Dr. Herren regarding her statements posted on Facebook,” according to the school.

“He reminded Dr. Herren, who is an employee of Denver Health, of her responsibilities as a faculty member to conduct herself with civility. The School of Medicine is reviewing the details of this matter and will ensure that its students and trainees and the patients who are served by our faculty are not exposed to unacceptable behavior.”

Update: The University of Colorado School of Medicine is removing Herren from her faculty position.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.