Carolyn Davis, PhD, is a writer, editor, and yoga teacher-in-training based in Austin TX. She rarely updates her public social media accounts because she prefers to live her best life, but you can follow her and her adorable dog on facebook or instagram @mollzy_the_collie.
By Carolyn Davis, PhD.
White supremacy is the lifeblood of academia, and I learned that the hard way. I moved to Austin, TX in the fall of 2013 to begin my PhD in English at the University of Texas at Austin (UT). The first thing I noticed was that this liberal city, where all the weirdos came to live their dreams of peace and love, was disturbingly white. The graduate department was a perfect microcosm of Austin’s unbearable liberal whiteness. Of the 20 people admitted that fall only two of us were black and, as far as I knew, there was only one other black woman in the program when I arrived.
I met Will during the week of our white-washed orientation. He was the first black face I saw in the sea of white women I would spend the next six years with, and we both agree that it felt like a lifeline was tossed within our reach that day. On that first day that we smiled at each other across a picnic table, we never could have imagined how much we would be forced to survive together.
You may have read the manyarticles about sexual misconduct in UT’s English graduate department, which first came to light in 2017 after Dr. Jenn Shapland wrote “Maybe I Just Needed to Kill,” in the Arkansas International. I never met Shapland as a student, and the events she describes took place over a year before I entered the department, but her story was one of the first I heard over drinks with more advanced students. I was told almost immediately to watch out for Coleman Hutchison, a recently-tenured professor, and over the next few years I would continue to hear stories of his arm touches or flirty banter from the women around me.
As a black woman with no interest in what white southerners felt about post-slavery America, I never took a class with him, and I never experienced the uncomfortably sexual encounters that so many of my peers described to me. I met with him on multiple occasions when he stepped into the role of graduate advisor, and we served on the Graduate Programs Committee for a year, but that was the extent of our interactions. Cole’s effect on my career was much more insidious, and it’s something that hasn’t been reported in previous stories because the complainant had no interest in telling his story to the white reporters who have written their own investigations.
Following Shapland’s article, UT’s Office of Inclusion and Equity (OIE) launched a formal investigation into Cole’s behavior, and the full “confidential” report was unceremoniously leaked and disseminated through the graduate community in the spring of 2018. it specifically noted multiple allegations of retaliation against “Graduate Student four” for his opposition to the use of racial slurs in class. Cole denied this accusation—of retaliation, and the investigation ultimately concluded that the complaint was too far outside of the limit to be considered for the case. Graduate Student four is my best friend, Will.
In the Spring of 2014, Will took a course with Cole, “Re-Reading the American South in Literature and Film,” where he was immediately confronted with the regular use of the n-word by our overwhelmingly white classmates and professor. On January 15, Will emailed Cole in the hope of facilitating a conversation to preclude a semester of triggering and dehumanizing language. Cole’s response was deceptively civil: “While the word is indeed hateful, I suspect that it will show up more than once in this course. And I will certainly have to utter it again.”
Meanwhile, Cole forwarded the exchange to Department Chair Liz Cullingford and Graduate Advisor Wayne Lesser. Cole expressed his “bewilderment” at receiving such feedback from a Black student: “in more than a decade and a half of teaching, I have never had a student—graduate or otherwise—try to police my speech.” Liz suggested he assign Will an essay on white liberal feelings by another white professor in the department, presumably so he could better understand the necessity of teaching racist literature within the academy.
Wayne was less interested in pedagogy. “Good grief,” he wrote. “If he says that he can’t abide the uses of language necessary to conduct a graduate level inquiry of the course’s texts and issues, he should see me about changing courses.” “I will find him another course,” Wayne continued, “and advise him to resign from the program at the end of the Spring term.” The exchange ends with Cole’s thanks and a pithy sign-off—“yours in anti-racist pedagogy.”
And so, a year later, Will was at my house recording an episode of our podcast Snatched! when he received the letter outlining Wayne’s decision to place him on academic probation and subsequently pull his contractually-guaranteed funding for the 2015-2016 school year. At the time we had no idea why this was happening, but I know a decaying rat when I smell it. When the OIE report with these emails was released in 2017, I felt both satisfaction and rage; satisfaction because it confirmed what I knew in my heart, and rage at how easily powerful whites can upend black survival.
The known narrative of the situation is that Will chose to switch to the department of African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) at the end of his third year, with no harm. The truth is that these professors, with the responsibility of support our careers, retaliated against him because he refused to let them feel like they were good anti-racist white people.
These events made me realize that graduate school was not and would never be a safe space. For the next five years I kept silent, listened hard, and put together a dissertation team that demonstrated emotional and ethical strength along with their incredible scholarship. I stopped trying to envision my life as a professor because I couldn’t imagine putting my future in the hands of yet more people who could so flippantly and subjectively dismiss me and my work because I happened to make them feel bad. I struggled daily with depression and anxiety, but in the end I wrote the dissertation I wanted to write and gained the tools to be a stronger woman than I was when I started.
In the months before our graduation, I had multiple conversations with my committee chair about the swirling negative energy that had enveloped the department since these events came to light. One thing she said has stuck with me for the last year: “it never occurred to me that you all would take Cole’s actions against Will as a sign of his power over all of you.” That, in summary, is the true failure of tenure: much like America writ large, it conflates power with freedom and forgets the suffering left in its wake.
I’ve spent the last ten months working at a bookstore just to remember what it felt like to love books as experiences, and not just research fodder. With the long term effects of Covid-19 to consider, I’m working from home and finding my written voice again. Will, on the other hand, teaches at a prestigious SLAC as a tenure-track professor and is quite literally living his best black life. We have both thrived despite the ravages of academia, and largely because of each other.
Until this country’s mostly white tenured faculty recognize and relinquish the white supremacist power they hold over so many futures, academia will never be a home for black, indigenous, and other POC to flourish. I truly believe that much of academia’s racism is because so many of the people in it see race as a theoretical exercise. Academia is, at best, a roomful of people with delusions of grandeur. It neither serves nor deserves us.
[We continue to welcome #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org]
M. Yvonne Taylor is a doctoral student in higher educational leadership at The University of Texas at Austin, where she is also assistant director of communication.
By Yvonne Taylor
As a black doctoral student and staff member at an institution of higher education, with responsibilities that include communication and social media, avoiding the many videos that show black people suffering and being murdered is often not an option. Today, raw and graphic footage of 15-year-old Dajerria Becton being dragged by police at a pool party or video of George Floyd’s airway being crushed under the knee of a nonchalant white officer pops up on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok repeatedly and unexpectedly. After going viral, it is then displayed across reputable news sites, like CNN and MSNBC, with a few words marking it as “disturbing” so as to continue the illusion of fairness.
Though the collective outrage, sparked in large part by the video of Mr. Floyd’s murder, has brought many to their feet as they march together to fight this seemingly intractable societal ill, it is vital that we ask not only why video was needed (when Breonna Taylor’s, Ahmaud Arbery’s and Tony McDade’s murders did not spark civil unrest) but also how change can be created and sustained without the demand for what some refer to as “trauma porn.”This is especially important because as Educational Psychologist Dr. Kevin Cokley has shared, there is real psychological harm experienced by black people who view these violent images.
The reasoning for this visual display of murder is often that people have to see the truth to believe it. Americans whose practices and belief systems have been steeped in white supremacy insist on visual “evidence” to prove that racism and police brutality exist. This demand for evidence has its basis in false notions of objectivity, a concept also reified by higher education. Yet, as noted in several interviews, the police brutality within the Minneapolis neighborhood in which George Floyd was murdered had been well-known for decades. Black people did not need video evidence. In fact, for black people, these videos perpetuate trauma—and intimidation—so visceral that many of us must take complete and total social media breaks to care for our mental health.
Yet video evidence of police brutality also is not new. Rodney King’s beating was in 1992, for example. If video evidence of black suffering and death do not change hearts and minds of white Americans, what purpose do they serve? News outlets share in their distribution because these videos get clicks, and clicks create revenue. To abstain from showing these videos would be to decline money for their organizations. In short, black death and its symbolism are profitable.
That’s why it’s past time for people to understand that the voyeuristic experience of black pain and death is not justice. White people are already well aware of the reality of police brutality, extrajudicial murder, and racism. It’s why the Amy Coopers of the country choose to invoke the threat of police “intervention” on black people time and time again. Those moments of death and indignity do not need to be aired and shared ad nauseum in order to understand the inhumanity of police brutality and extrajudicial murder. It’s also past time that Americans recognize that Black people are psychologically harmed by the airing and consumption of black death and police brutality.
Higher education has an important role to play in recognizing this harm and supporting black students, faculty, and staff. Many college campuses were justifiably quick to respond to student needs related to the collective trauma of COVID. Faculty offered students credit/no credit options for students and no-harm final exams, and universities mobilized supports for mental health and wellness, and created new, online forms for outreach. Administrators also considered how exacerbated inequities would impact student success. Yet the dual pandemics of COVID and racism disproportionately affect black people. In response, universities and college campuses have sent emails that, at times, call out racism and police brutality, but have done little to put into practice the types of immediate supports that attend to this moment’s psychological and emotional toll, as well as the cultural taxation and additional labor of black faculty, staff and students. Unfortunately, some faculty remain openly hostile to such supports.
Over 50 years ago, James Baldwin said, “I am terrified at the moral apathy–the death of the heart – which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human.” Requiring and sharing videos of black suffering has roots in racial trauma voyeurism, consumerism and white supremacist notions of truth. Higher education can and must to do more to confront and eradicate its perpetuation of these practices. They must decide that black lives are human lives, and that black people are worth listening to, believing, and supporting.
[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Poetry/Art/Video/Song welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at email@example.com]
Lorraine Scott (she/her/hers) is a proud DC native and 2nd year Doctoral Student in the Human Development and Family Sciences Department at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is also the Co-President of the Black Graduate Student Association at UT. Under the supervision of Dr. Fatima Varner, Lorraine is exploring her research interests that broadly focus on race related stressors and the impact that they have on the health outcomes of Black men and women, respectively. She is also interested in the impact of intragroup experiences of marginalization on Black people. For any inquiries, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lorraine Scott
To be “unapologetically Black”, means that I aim to live my best and truest life even though there are constantly people out there trying to “block my blessings”. It means being proud of my Blackness in all of its facets and intersections and loving it, even when this country makes it hard or difficult to do so. Basically, Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas said it best when he wrote that while “unapologetic Blackness isn’t easy” it is about “…getting to a place where you’re both unscared to be your Black-ass self and embracing of that Black-ass self”, despite how nonlinear and painful the journey to unapologetic Blackness is. I think of it as a supreme form of attained racial identity. However, when I think about the current journey that America is sending me on right now, I understand the pain that he was talking about. At times, America has made me want to question my unapologetic Blackness, and I am annoyed, tired, and frustrated at having experienced what almost felt like a regression in my journey, but after thinking further on the issue, and discussing it with others, I realized that now more than ever, unapologetic Blackness has taken on a more intersectional role in my life, and understanding these intersections are necessary if we are going to dismantle these racist systems all while trying to maintain a semblance of mental health.
Intersectionality, coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, is a term used to describe how race, class, gender, religion, and various other individual characteristics “intersect”, overlap, and combine with one another. Many of us occupy multiple intersections, and each intersection shapes our life experience. For example, I am a light skin Black cishet woman who grew up somewhat middle class in DC. My intersections afford me varying levels of privilege and disadvantage simultaneously. However, because of these intersections, I am beginning to realize and better understand that what has been going on recently impacts me and my emotions in different ways than it may impact someone with different intersections – and the overwhelming emotion that I realized that I have been feeling is guilt, intersectional guilt. And this is important for other people, especially fellow Black people, to understand. This guilt that I know many of us are feeling, is a part of actively unpacking White supremacy. For example, many of my peers feel guilt at not physically going to protests or donating enough money, even though many of us are occupying the intersection of being broke graduate students. However, living an unapologetically Black life, in and of itself, is a form protest. Being #BlackinTheIvory tower of academia, is a protest. And combining both…well that is lethal. Our mere existence in this space challenges, disrupts, and shifts the status quo. It gives people a constant reminder that #BlackLivesMatter, whether they want to accept that or not, and if we are truly being unapologetically Black, they will feel the weight of our Black life in every space that we occupy.
I saw an amazing graphic the other day depicting that in the movement, everyone has different roles, one of many is physically protesting. However, there are healers, caregivers, builders, visionaries…the list goes on. Therefore, we have no need to feel guilty that we do not join every physical protest or die in and instead choose to practice radical self-care. Because there is so much else that we can do to progress this movement, and I am tired of this system forcing me to think that I am not fighting for my life hard enough. Make that make sense.
Even more intersectional guilt for me has come from my intersection of being a Black woman. Because, there is more overwhelming public knowledge of Black male lynchings than female lynchings being circulated, as a Black woman, I felt like we failed Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, and Nina Pop that I personally failed them. When the news broke of each of these women’s murders, many people shared the info and began petitions, but eventually people lost steam. It wasn’t until the recorded murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd were distributed that people really began to become more invigorated and emboldened. I was one of those people. I watched and shared their petitions, wrote letters, donated money, got into arguments and difficult conversations, all while sharing any information I could….for justice. However, at the same time, I watched the news of these two women fall further and further into the recesses of everyone’s mind and timelines. They were not advocated for to the same levels of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, and while we can debate on why that may be, it maddens me that the cops and racists are forcing these slain Black people to compete to prove their humanity even after their death. It’s disgusting and traumatic. I became so ridden with intersectional guilt that these Black women were being erased, even in death, when living Black women have already been erased so much, that I began sharing copious amounts of information about them. I donated, signed more petitions, and even tried to find ways to work their names into my Master’s thesis. All so these Black women would not be forgotten and so I knew that I did not aid in their erasure. The stress and guilt that comes with trying to be an unapologetically Black woman in the movement is difficult. You feel as though you have to overperform, be a part of every forum, watch every video, know every name, respond to every White apology text, and support everyone. But in reality, we know that that is impossible – and that is maddening that this society even put us in this situation to begin with. However, coming to terms with this impossibility has been my saving grace. Movements like these have historically been built off of the love and labor of Black women. Therefore, as long as I am actively fighting for what I believe in – and that is the dismantling of a system that never served me and speaking up for the just and equitable treatment of all Black people of all intersections – I know that that is keeping me unapologetically Black – and sane.
In conclusion, being Black in America is stressful enough. We are tired, traumatized, and stressed. However, I refuse to let America make me feel guilty for not fighting hard enough to prove my humanity. I know my worth, my contributions, and my voice matters. It carries weight. And I implore all Black people to recognize that and actively uplift each other while not destroying our own mental well being in the process. Otherwise, the stress and the guilt that we carry…will kill us more than they already are.
[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Poetry/Art/Video/Song welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at email@example.com]
Ms. Alexandra Hughes, M. Ed., is the current Assistant Director for Student Rights and Responsibilities, at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. As a member of the university’s administration, in this role she works to manage student conduct and ensure the safety and security of all students, staff, and faculty at the institution. Ms. Hughes also serves UTRGV’s campus as a part time faculty adjunct for master’s students, teaching classes on cultural humility and competencies.
Ms. Hughes received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Her master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration, at the University of South Alabama; and is currently working on her dissertation as a doctoral student at UTRGV. Lastly, she hosts the national podcast called ASCAViewpoints, a podcast for student conduct professionals in higher education.
Prior to working in student judicial affairs, Ms. Hughes has served campus communities in areas such as: Housing & Residence Life, Student Accessibility Services, and Diversity & Inclusion. In her own words: “I may not be able to change the world, but if I can positively impact and change one person’s world—then I have done enough”.
Alexandra has contributed her podcast episode from the Viewpoints Podcast of the Association for Student Conduct Administration. (transcript below)
Transcript of Podcast: Well, they say history repeats itself and it is, and this is history in the making. So, I think you’ll have to ask yourself in this very moment, “What side of history are you going to be on?”
I’m going to ask that you please listen. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, if you’ve never had the desire to listen to anything about race before, I’m begging you to just please listen now.
This is a soft trigger warning for my fellow black colleagues in the field. I also understand that the re-traumatization of hearing this is not always the most helpful, but I’m going to ask that for everyone out there, no matter your culture, race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, to listen. I am a black woman, and I am tired. The deaths of: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor just in this past short amount of time are only the most recent in a long, long history of tragic events that really recognize and hold light to the fact that very little progress has been made since the Civil Rights acts of 1964, which was 56 years ago. We have parents, my parents who are older than that and members in our organization that are older than that.
Last week on the same day that we watched a police officer pin his knee to a black man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, we watched a man on the ground who said he could not breathe, who called for his mother and who we watched die on camera. This was not a television show. This was not an episode of Law and Order. We watched him die. We saw a white woman that same day in Central Park weaponize the use of saying that she will call the police and threatened a black man by saying, “I’m going to tell them that there is an African American man threatening my life,” and she picked up the phone and the world watched in horror as her entire voice changed. She got on the phone and cried and said those words, “I am being threatened. Please send the police and the cops immediately. I am being threatened.” The thing is, her phone call is what we know too well in my community.
We fear that a phone call like that, a phone call by a woman that was not being threatened. A woman that was asked to put her dog on a leash by a man who was ivy league and an upstanding, which it should not matter, black man at that, but we fear that it will lead to a death like George Floyd’s. It’s funny because in Central Park before this is where this incident happened, there is a series on Netflix, for those of you who are finding the end of Netflix during this global pandemic, by Ava DuVernay called, “When They See Us,” and this series takes place and it talks about the same place, Central Park, the story of five boys Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise who are the ages of 14 to 16 that were sentenced to five to 16 years in prison for something called the, “central park jogger.” It was a case and a crime that they did not commit. There was overwhelming evidence that showed that these black and brown boys did not commit the crime, however, they were sentenced. I would encourage you to watch it.
I grew up with a father who taught me what to do when the police pulled me over, how to hold my hands out of the window, how to ask for permission with every single movement that I make. Just late, I watched a video of a black man who recorded himself outside, I guess his house, wherever he was, with his son on the ground with his knee to his son’s neck and he was teaching his son how to live through an officer putting they’re knee on his neck, how to breathe through it, what to say, what to do, but most importantly, how to survive eight minutes and 46 seconds being essentially strangled in that position. Privilege is a word that I know people don’t like to hear. However, it has come up so much over this past week and weekend, and people have been asking me to explain it in a different way. So, this is the way that I can explain it.
Have you ever thought about if you would be killed for any of the following reasons? Because I have. Let me give them to you. If you can go out jogging, Ahmaud Arbery; if you can relax in the comfort of your own home, Atiana Jefferson and Botham Sean; if you can ask for help after being in a car crash, Jonathan Ferrell and Renisha McBride; if you could have a cell phone in your hand, Steven Clark; if you can leave a party to get to safety, Jordan Edwards; if you can play loud music, Jordan Davis; if you can sell CDs; Alton Sterling; if you can sleep, Aiyana Jones and Breonna Taylor; if you could walk from the corner store, Mike Brown; if you can play cops and robbers as a child, Tamir Rice; if you can go to church, Charleston Nine; if you can walk home with Skittles in your hand and a hood on in the rain, Trayvon Martin; if you can hold a hairbrush while leaving my own bachelor party, Sean Bell; if you can party on new year’s, Oscar Grant; if you can die by getting a normal traffic ticket, Sandra Bland; if you can lawfully carry a weapon and let the officer know, Philando Castile; if you can break down on a public road with car problems, Corey Jones; if you can shop at Walmart, John Crawford; if you can have a disabled vehicle on the side of the road; Terence Crutcher; if you can read a book in your own car, Keith Scott; if you can be a 10 year old child walking with their grandfather, Clifford Glover; if you can decorate for a party, Claude Reese; if you could ask a cop of question, Randy Evans; if you can cash a check in peace, Yvonne Smallwood; if you can run, Walter Scott; if you can breathe, Eric Garner; if you can live, Freddie Gray, that’s privilege.
Privilege is when you have never had to think about if you would die for many of the things that I mentioned above because trust me, I have, and people that look like me in my community, we have. Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because to you personally, because it does not exist and that’s the narrative we need to change. I’ve had some colleagues of mine reach out to me about what they’re planning to do, and I commend them on that. I do not have all of the answers, the best answers and please keep in mind, I do not speak for every black person as I record this episode. But what I can say is this. I think if you all are planning on your campuses to do something, there’s a couple things that I would keep in mind.
This is an issue, but we need someone to say that this is a black issue and it is critical that black students need to be addressed and to be supported. More often than not, we are grouped into people of color. However, that term can sometimes do more harm than good. I would encourage you all to reach out to your black student leaders or organize an event that is tailored to support them or even just better, ask them what it is that they need. But also, be prepared for the fact that they may not know and may not be able to tell you what it is that they need because you see, as black people, this is trauma that we are constantly living in. This is not new to us, but it is a reminder every day that it is a crime to simply live. It is extremely hard to be productive academically in a place if you’re existing that may not acknowledge or have any idea what’s going on.
I remember in 2016 when Philando Castile was killed. I remember crying as I was getting ready for work. I remember crying as I pulled into work. I remember the fact that not one person knew what was going on where I worked, and I remember feeling so isolated from my friends and family outside of where I lived. I remember crying in my office all day. I remember crying all night. And I’m sharing this personally, because a lot of people don’t have it in them to share their personal experiences right now. What I will say is this, if you do have events, I would encourage you to be very intentional with what you’re doing. If you are having them, I would encourage you to reach out to black leadership community members and others because black students may not necessarily want to hear from people that do not understand their struggles and that is okay if you don’t, but keep that in mind. Also, keep in mind that it is possible that some people may decline. Quite simply put, it can be too emotionally draining to have these conversations.
Also, not everyone understands how or wants to have these conversations in an academic way when it is your lived experience. This applies also to your fellow black colleagues as well, who are having to navigate a global pandemic while realizing that black people are dying at disproportionately higher rates of this virus because of systematic structures and the trauma of watching someone that looks like them, their child, their brother, their father, their sister, their mother being murdered and there’s nothing that they can do. It is recognizing that there are some areas and institutions that may have majority students that are not black and that is okay, such as predominantly white schools, predominantly Hispanic schools, predominantly whatever that may be and these students who may be of color, who may be white, who want to come out.
Allyship is so important and I think there’s weight in teaching others about why this is a thing, why people are upset, why people are doing what they’re doing. The real history in this country of institutional racism, the real history behind movements that are here like black lives matter and why, and what it actually is supposed to be and even educating them about other movements in this country, things that may be related to their history like the Chicano movement with Latinos and its role in maybe the civil rights. There are a plethora of virtual resources for them. It may give them a sense, if you have students that are coming in saying, “We want to do something,” that they are contributing to something and helping, whether that’s a podcast like this, YouTube videos, lectures, Ted talks, handouts, books, places they can raise money. There’s a lot of different places.
I currently am a professor whom teaches race and culture. And it’s important for me to make this clear. When I talk about the class that I teach on race, it’s not about overt things. To be honest, I skip over this slavery thing, lynching, hate crimes, all of that. But what I talk about are things like: silence, mass incarceration, English only initiatives, hiring discrimination, not challenging the racist jokes that you hear, denial of privilege that’s hurting people, red lining, property taxes, and things such as microaggressions. The reason why we are in education is to make a better future for tomorrow and to create a better society. If, as educators, we’re not advocating for social justice, then why are we really here? There was someone on the internet, on the interwebs name Scott Woods and you can find him on twitter: @Scottwoodssays.
He said, “The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease and is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people. It is still going to find a way to affect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another and so on. So, while I agree with people who say, ‘No one is born racist,’ it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air. You take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There’s no anti-racist certification class. It is a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world, is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price pay for owning everything.”
I understand that this has been hard and probably hard to listen to. And I appreciate you so much if you have listened to me up to this point, and I thank you. I ask wherever you are listening, if you are in your car, in your home, in your quarantine closet, whatever that looks like, if you don’t believe me, and if you don’t believe what I’m saying is true or any of the stuff that’s going around, there was a white woman by the name of Jane Elliott who’s known for her work. She gave a speech some time ago through her work on anti-racism and I want to propose the same question to you as she proposed to her audience.
She said, “I want every white person in this room who would be happy to be treated as the society in general treats our citizens, our black citizens, if you, as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society, please stand.” Then she pauses because no one in the room stands. She says, “You didn’t understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are in this society, stand.” Nobody’s standing here. That says very plainly that you know what is happening. You know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you are so willing to accept it or to allow it to happen for others.
I know this is a lot, but I’m going to ask and I’m going to give you some tips. Don’t say, “I’m not responsible for what my ancestors did.” We know that, but instead say, “I don’t support what my ancestors did, but I acknowledge that I live under their legacy.” Please don’t say, “It was so long ago. Get over it.” Instead, you can say, “Historical events have modern day legacies and the present is shaped by the past.” Don’t say that, “That was the norm back then,” and we don’t need, “That was just the norm back then, but we’re not judging someone by today’s standards.” Hey, look. Even back then, there were people who were not okay with this person’s actions. Recognize that if someone says, “We can’t change the past,” don’t say that. Say, “We can end the oppressive legacies of the past and we can change the future.” And by the way, these were by @TheDailyPolitic. We can change the future because we need you more than ever, more than ever. So, I ask that you please help to change this narrative because we cannot do it alone.
I need you to know that you were valued and your existence matters. This is not just only for our black colleagues, but for all of us. If you are an ally, please, please, please step up in this time as well because this is when we need you most, all of us, all races, ethnicities, cultures, countries, people. Let’s come together.
Please stay safe. Please stay strong. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, so please, please, please stay healthy. But most importantly, just remember that you matter.
Les Gray is a recent PhD graduate from University of Maryland College Park in Theatre and Performance Studies. Their research focuses on Black cultural production and its relationship to trauma and terror ranging from blues dancing to police brutality videos. Their dissertation outlines performances of spectacular Black pain as well as considering the potential for joy, healing, and solidarity. Les is deeply invested in what it means to be ethical cultural producers and will continue to pursue and create scholarship related to performance, Blackness, and disability as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri.
by Les Gray (they/them)
For three years of my high school life, I attended a small, “exclusive”, all-girls boarding school in the South. It was a place where wealthy girls, those girls who will never have too much, met folks like me attending on scholarship. And we were treated the same. Until we weren’t. Some kids could emerge from cheating scandals unscathed. Some would be kicked out for drinking at a party off campus. I learned that your money and your whiteness could protect you in a way that education couldn’t. This is relevant for later.
There was a woman. I will call her Ms. Peggy. She was a lovely person who, as best as I knew her, seemed quite alacritous in her position as a Black woman serving white girls. We had these breaks during the class day. Cookie Breaks. A daily routine wherein Ms. Peggy or another one of the Black folks that worked behind the scenes would bring out fresh cookies of various kinds. Folks graduated, went to Ivies, moved on, got jobs that can afford them 3 bedroom apartments in big cities without roommates.
But Ms. Peggy stayed there, grew old, and died. And there was a great public lament in the community. She had come into contact with so many people during their formative years. People spoke about her kindness. Her ability to bring them their most freshest, favoritest cookie that $25,000 dollars could buy. So much talk of these cookies and their connection to white joy.
Some small scandal has erupted around the school and its response to Black lives being snuffed out at extraordinary rates. Some students and alumnae were incensed that the school – before posting an empathetic or coalition building, “We see you. We hear you,” statement – had posted a statement from local police.
Which pissed off the white girls who had grown to become (mostly well-intentioned) white women. Talks were had. Letters were generated and generic admin responses received. I wanted to be invested in this cause but all I could think about were those cookies.
This school has always already been more invested in the Black bodies that serve them food than the ones they are admitting to be educated.
Maybe this is why I worked harder on becoming a better educator than a baker. I was obviously preparing for my funeral.
I think what bothers me is not the actions of the school but the outrage of the students. They had no idea where they were or who they were among. It was only after they left that their racial education may have begun. Mine started around the time I was thrust up against that sharp white background when a older white student flaunted the fact that she could say nigger to my face with no repercussions.
Part of me wants change to happen for those high schoolers. For Black and POC to be hired to support Black and Brown girls in their growth. For their education to be multifaceted and enriching. But let’s be fair. That school was like Hogwarts; they were there to produce elite white women in the same way that the wizarding world was not set up to produce scholars of math or theatre.
I don’t want things to change because I want them to have a sense of the higher education worlds they are walking into. There are few and far between minortarian faculty and the ones that are present are notoriously overburdened with emotional labor. They are the diversity hire among a long line of white supremacy hires. It is so strange to have graduated at this particular moment in time and be moving on to a wonderful, supportive opportunity that is a post-doc. Especially just having thrown myself into the sea of stories, lives, and deaths of Black women and men in this country within the context of my dissertation only to come back up again drowning.
As a person who is Black, chronically ill, and not cis, I knew the world I would walk into would always be hard. I have small reserves for social media shutdowns when I see folks perpetuating the same white supremacist narratives played out time and time again. A nice man responded to my criticism saying that I could just go back to my life being a racist and “playing the looser victim.” And I, in my moment of taking the obvious high road told him that I would indeed, continue to play the role of looser victim. With a doctorate.
I am not Michelle Obama and sometimes my respectability politics take leave of me and I go lower. I know that this is messed up and elitist and a card that I should have not have pulled but we all know this game is rigged. Despite the fact that I can throw out that I have a terminal degree, my regalia is not bulletproof. My tam will not protect my eyes from tear gas. If I get pulled over, no one will ask to see my license, registration, and publications. No one will stop and think that I was once not a looser, that I was fucking precious to someone and my existence was not inconsequential.
How do I tell that to my colleagues that are celebrating my achievements as I grieve so many losses?
How do I teach that to my students, those girls emerging from schools like mine?
I struggle a lot with this concept of being enough and not in a neoliberal imposter syndrome kind of enough; I have things to say that I feel are important. But in the larger scheme of things, will they be enough to keep my names in people’s mouths? Will my illnesses indict me before a cop that murdered me is charged? Will 3 letters behind my name ever be enough or should I settle to live in the wake of now not just being a nigger, but a Dr. Nigger?
How do I convince you that I am enough? Because I am tired of reiterating to folks, academically and otherwise, that our suffering has lasted too long; we’ve had enough.
I feel like I am setting myself up for my funeral. The funeral that happens after we have burned down the things my ancestors built for free on stolen land. With gasoline or with words in books. At this point, I don’t really care.
And at that funeral. No one better talk about any fucking cookies.
[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Art also welcome. Due to overwhelming response, new submissions will not go up until August/Sept. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org]
Dr. Johnathan Flowers is Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Worcester State University. His current research focuses on developing an affective theory of experience, identity, and personhood through bridging American Pragmatism, Japanese Aesthetics, and Phenomenology. Flowers’ work also explores how identities are lived affectively through technology and society, with a specific emphasis on race, gender, and disability.
By Dr. Johnathan Flowers
This fall, everything that is happening in our streets, from the calls to defund the police, to demands for institutional reform that decenters white supremacy, to demands for equitable treatment backed by direct action, is going to be into our classrooms, in our committee meetings, and our departments.
Because institutions of higher education continue to assume that the demands for structural change do not include academia, because they largely do not see themselves as the subject of the calls for reform that emerge from the ongoing demonstrations, because they do not believe white supremacy to be a structural problem that affects all aspects of the organization of their institution, our institutions are unprepared to respond for when these demonstrations come home.
We can see this lack of preparedness through the ways that institutions have responded by focusing on white supremacist violence as solely a problem of policing, which some institutions have taken to include campus policing, and not a broad social problem affecting all parts of the institution. To be clear, I’m not saying that campus police reform isn’t a necessary response: I am saying that it should not be the only response to police violence by higher education. If institutions were serious about their opposition to police brutality, they would investigate the ways that the curricula taught in Criminal Justice programs across the country maintain and reinforce white supremacist assumptions about Black criminality.
More seriously, if institutions were serious about their commitment to diversity and equity, they would reconsider their practice of “ghettoizing” the intellectual traditions and experiences of the Black community into token diversity requirements, often taught by Black faculty and staff, and often treated by departmental advisors as “optional, “elective” or irrelevant to a student’s program of study.
But broad structural reform might be too much to ask, so let’s move on. Institutions of higher education are unprepared for what will come with the fall because they have failed to address the rampant institutionalization of whiteness across their campuses. What do I mean by this? I mean the organization of all aspects of the institution around a “default” white experience.
We can see this in how departments determine if a new faculty member is the right “fit” in line with white standards of professionalism, which ultimately determines who is and is not admitted into the academy. We can see this in the ways that white faculty are ill-equipped to mentor their Black students and junior colleagues through the perception that the default “student,” which the institution claims to serve, is assumed to be a white student. After all, academia has not earned the name “Ivory Tower” for nothing.
The result of this is that every response to racism, to systemic injustice, to white supremacy, must be centered around preserving the comfort of whiteness. So, when Black faculty, staff, and students pose a challenge to the comfort of whiteness by posing serious concerns about racial injustice and racial violence on our campus, they become a problem to be solved by the institution.
Sara Ahmed’s “Against Students” is excellent here: because the equitable treatment that Black faculty, staff, and students demand is not in line with the treatment institutions think they deserve, the demands of Black, faculty, and students are dismissed as “asking too much,” of an overtaxed institution. Black faculty, staff, and students are framed as not being satisfied with the meager scraps offered, and thus not having a “genuine” complaint.
Rather than focus on the racism that has motivated their complaint, institutions focus on the Black faculty, staff, and students that made the complaint, as the problem to be solved. As Black faculty, staff, and students become problems to be solved, the institution seeks to pacify them. We’re all aware of these pacification techniques: forming a committee or taskforce to investigate campus climate, or through hosting a listening session on racial injustice so administration can “hear” the concerns of the Black community; or, as we have seen from institutions across the nation, issuing statements reaffirming a commitment to diversity and equity. What is common to all these pacification techniques is the absence of concrete reforms.
But we will not accept listening sessions or open forums because we recognize them for what they are: incremental change that presents the illusion of a response while allowing the institution to keep whiteness in place. More seriously, we are returning to our campuses with a newly heightened sense that direct action, protests, and demonstrations work: if they work on police, they can most definitely work on a college campus.
And when we come, who will be there to help save higher-ed institutions?
Not the Black faculty, staff, and students who have endured countless varieties of white supremacist violence by merely existing on campus. And why would we? Even when we attempt to make change, we must repeatedly expose ourselves to white supremacist violence through being forced to explain again, and again, the impact of white supremacy on our academic lives, only to see that change rendered impotent by the demands for white comfort.
Not the departments of Ethnic Studies, African American Studies, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, many of which were established as a result of direct action taken by faculty, staff, and students, direct action that mirrors much of what we are seeing in our streets. And why should they? Despite using them to demonstrate their diversity credential, these departments have been resented and resisted by their home institutions for decades. They’ve undermined through resource deprivation, ghettoization, and have been among the first to be targeted in this time of COVID related austerity.
Not the multi-cultural resource centers, which have been relegated to diversity month programming, rather than comprehensive support for the students they are intended to serve. While the individuals running these resource centers often go to heroic lengths to fill in where their home institutions have failed their students, the institutions fail to act.
None of these resources will be available because they will all be deployed in service of our faculty, staff and students who are demanding change. These resources will be on our campus quads protesting, holding teach-ins, fighting tooth and nail in our committee meetings, or finding some other way of disrupting the ongoing “business as usual” of institutional racism and oppression within our institutions.
And they will do so because they recognize that the conditions that allow white supremacy to claim that Black lives don’t matter in the society beyond the ivory tower are the same conditions that allow white supremacy claim that Black intellectual lives don’t matter within the ivory tower.
We continue with our new column, featuring interviews with PhDs who have charted a course unrelated to the tenure track, putting academia squarely in the rearview mirror.
Our hope is that seeing and hearing from a wide range of PhDs who are celebrating their careers rather than settling for them will inspire every grad student, ABD and PhD to add the road OFTEN traveled to their list of options.
We are excited to hear and share your stories. If you have a PhD and are working outside of the academy and would like to share your experience with TPII readers, we’d love to hear from you!
Today we are pleased to feature Dr. Cecilia Fenech
PhD, Dublin City University. Environmental Analytical Chemistry.
As I was finishing my MSc at the University of Malta (where I am from), and working in industry, the company where I was working was going through changes that inspired me to change jobs. I had always enjoyed doing the research bit and wanted an opportunity to leave the island and explore before settling down. This PhD opportunity was an EU funded Marie Curie ITN project, where you apply for an already funded position and project. Therefore, applying was more similar to a job interview, where I sent a CV and cover letter, and then had an interview.
As I was finishing, I knew I wanted to move to the UK from Ireland. I also knew that whilst I liked research I didn’t really want it for my career (too uncertain for my liking). I was lucky in a way that the Marie Curie ITN cohort (as is required by EU funding) had a significant effort put in the training program on alternative careers. A large part of the training was on aspects such as entrepreneurship (which I knew was not for me). However, we also had industrial partners on board where we did secondments, etc. This meant that our eyes were opened to the different options – in fact, I would say, less than half of the 16 researchers are still in academia.
However, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do — maybe back in industry as a chemist, maybe in project management? I got to talking to one of the supervisors of another student in the program who was based in Cranfield University, who said she had the perfect job for me. It was officially billed as a post-doctoral position but would be a project management role, managing a large grant. I could be on the way out of academia, whilst still having a door to getting back in.
While I really enjoyed the experience, by the time the project was ending, I was sure of my decision to leave. At that point, the University was setting up a new Research and Innovation Office, and there was a job I thought sounded interesting to set up and then lead the pre-award research support team. I applied and I am now the Research Development Manager at Cranfield University. Within this role, I lead the pre-award research support team and coordinate researcher development at the institution. It has been around 5 years now and I am still loving it.
Because I worked in industry before doing my PhD, it wasn’t a big change for me in terms of working in a non-faculty position. Other academics’ view of that change was more of a challenge. When my head of department learned I was taking on the Research Office role, he offered me a lectureship (permanent position) so I would not have to take the “other role.”
Leaving academia post-PhD is not a failure. It opens you up to so many other opportunities and experiences. I still get to have my pet projects (this was a worry when leaving academia where nothing is ‘yours’ again).
Secondly – think about what you want in your new role and the skills you have. Just having a PhD does not give you status outside of academia. However, you have so many skills: Think around how you can project manage (you finished your PhD that is project management right there), write effectively for technical audiences (and maybe non-technical as well depending on where you published), communicate complex ideas (think about the more general conferences you went to or any public engagement), etc. etc.
Dr. Debra Thompson is an Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University. A leading scholar of the comparative politics of race, Thompson’s teaching and research interests focus on the relationships among race, the state, and inequality in democratic societies. Dr. Thompson previously taught at the University of Oregon and Northwestern University.
This is a letter that Dr. Thompson sent to the University of Oregon.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Subtitle: The Story of an Eight-Month Struggle to Call Out Institutional Racism in Student Conduct Processes
24 June 2020
To Whom it May Concern:
The Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards recently sent out an email, in which the authors confess that self-reflection was catalyzed by a colleague in an online community, who asked, “what are you doing within your locus of control on campus?” The email goes on to state, “In the past, we have asked students to trust us and relied upon words to ‘prove’ our commitment. We recognize that if we want our students to trust us, we need to show them we can be trusted. We must show our students that we stand against anti-blackness and other forms of bias. The core of our mission is to protect the rights, safety, dignity, and worth of every individual. It is not enough to be non-racist; we must be actively anti-racist.”
The idea that the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards was, is currently, or has any plans to be “non-racist” is ludicrous. I have spent the last eight months of my time and energy here at the University of Oregon helping a first-generation student of color navigate the student conduct process. Not only has this experience been a time-consuming, soul-destroying bureaucratic nightmare, but, more importantly, it is literally the epitome of the pervasive, surreptitious, and procedurally protected institutional racism at the University of Oregon. The status quo – which, make no mistake, ensnares Black students, students of color, and first-generation students not because of some unfortunate misalignment in its machinery, but rather as a result of its design to work in exactly this way – is heavily guarded by individuals who have a stake in maintaining this system. These false overtures of “self-reflection” under the guise of becoming “actively anti-racist” are made in toxically bad faith and it is morally repugnant.
Racism is not simply individual acts or behaviors. It is also “structures that determine and cyclically remanufacture racial inequity and institutional norms that sustain White privilege and permit the ongoing subordination of minoritized persons.” My experience this past year has demonstrated that the policies and procedures that govern student conduct are susceptible to being employed as an instrument of individuals’ racist beliefs and biases. Further, some of these policies, even when they are followed, simply magnify the existing racial bias within the system. This is literally the definition of institutional racism and it is unacceptable.
I want to tell you some anonymized information about this student’s situation – I will call him student A. I want to be clear that I am relaying this information with his express permission. What follows is a story of how the full weight of the university’s disciplinary processes, including an encounter with the police, a drawn-out student conduct process, and an ongoing Title IX complaint, has been brought upon this student, though he has done absolutely nothing wrong.
I also want to be clear about why you should read this letter, in its entirety. I am literally one of the country’s leading experts on the politics of race. I was recruited here from one of the best universities in the country to help shape the Black Studies program. I am leaving UO to take up a position at one of the top ranked institutions in the world. This is my life’s work. I know what I am talking about. I wish that I could have convinced you to listen to me sooner, one of the many times I reached out to try to stop this absurdity.
A University of Oregon police officer came to student A’s residence hall room in late September 2019 to issue a “warning.” There were two students (X and Y), with whom he had gone to high school, now living on the same floor of the residence hall. The officer came into his room and told him he was not to have any contact with these other students. This date was very soon after move-in, and the studenthad not had any contact in any form with these students at all. If the police can be sent to issue a warning without any precipitating factors, how can the university guarantee that its policies are being fairly applied? Why were the police involved when there was no violation of the Student Code of Conduct? What policies does the university have in place to ensure that the police are not being used, as they so often are, to confirm and absolve white peoples’ discomfort at sharing public and private spaces with people of color?
Let me make this first point perfectly clear. White people routinely use the police to in order to maintain control over white spaces, to keep people of color in check, and to keep the racial order intact. They do this knowing that the police can threaten and kill people of color with impunity. In a viral twitter video, Amy Cooper retaliated against Christian Cooper’s (no relation) polite request that she restrain her dog. “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she said, before whining hysterically to the 911 operator, emphasizing that her so-called attacker was African American. Amy Cooper wasn’t threatened. She was annoyed that she was being told to obey the rules, that she was being called out by a Black person, and she was caught on video doing what white women have done for centuries: wield the accusation of violence against an innocent Black man as a weapon. In the case of student A, an armed police officer was used to intimidate him, when he had done absolutely nothing. It is a gross violation of the university’s stated values of community, diversity, and inclusion, and it should never have been allowed to happen.
A formal no contact directive was issued a few weeks later. But between move-in day and the date of the directive, student A did not have contact – in person, verbally, or online – with students X and Y. The directive contained no rationale for its issuance, provided no evidence regarding why it was put in place, and provided no opportunity to speak with an administrator. Again, the question must be asked: if a no contact directive can be issued without any precipitating factors, how can the university guarantee that this issuance is not being used to discriminate against racial minorities? Why did the Office of Student Conduct allow its policies to be used as a weapon of whiteness?
These actions led to student A’s removal from his residence hall after he broke the no contact order while trying to defend another student from an assault. I am not going to go into the precise details of the situation here; I have student A’s permission to tell the world what happened to him, and if you are interested in our appeal of the Office of Student Conduct’s decision regarding this matter, I am sure you will be able to access a copy upon request.
What I would like to point out is that the description of the alleged interactions between the students, reified in a letter that Katy Larkin, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards, sent to student A, relies on degrading racial stereotypes about the inherently threatening nature of non-white men. Students X and Y noted at various points that student A made them “uncomfortable,” though they could not pinpoint any actual behaviors that made them feel this way. The presence of non-white people in predominately white spaces, and the subsequent labeling of these non-white people as threatening, has an excessively long history in this country. These circumstances are not some artifact of history. In recent months dozens of videos have shown white women calling the police on people of color – for doing absolutely nothing. Whether it is walking down the street, playing in a public park, being non-white on a university campus, knocking on a door to ask for help, or just existing, white people use the police to threaten and intimidate non-white people. That the university allowed this to happen to a first-generation minority student, the day after move-in, is shameful. That the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards continued to allow these students to use the unequal application of its own policies to bully and harass a student of color, ultimately forcing him from his community in order to preserve hegemonic white comfort, is the very definition of institutional racism.
The claim that students X and Y “felt scared,” is similarly coded. Research on racial bias, for example, has used controlled experiments (e.g. a staged interaction between two people turns heated, leading one to shove the other; the experiment involved versions in which the race of the instigator and target of the violence varied) to demonstrate that non-white men are labelled as “violent” and “threatening” far more often than their white counterparts. In effect, white people have warped perceptions of what may constitute a “threat” when non-white people are involved. As defined in the literature in psychology, racial bias is unintended and unconscious. But what these students have attempted to do, and what the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards has legitimated, is neither unintended nor unconscious. There was no indication that Ms. Larkin evaluated these claims for evidence of racial bias. The entire conduct process in this case has been one in which white students have successfully mobilized and weaponized university policies and procedures, including the police, in order to punish a student of color for inhabiting the same space. Their actions were discriminatory and the university has been complicit in enabling them.
I could go on for days, because helping this student has required months of exactly the kind of unpaid, unacknowledged, invisible labor that disproportionately falls on Black faculty. The email from the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards states that, “while it is our responsibility and honor to uphold [students’] due process rights, the student conduct profession continues to work within a larger system of laws, regulations, and practices which disproportionately impact students of color.” What an incredible deflection. The larger system of laws, regulations and practices is not to blame here; UO procedures and the ways they are upheld by its administrators are. Here are just a few examples of the impenetrably circular logic of the conduct process:
Ms. Larkin decided this case and assigned the sanction (including student A’s removal from his residence hall). When he appealed the decision and requested a stay of the sanction pending the appeal, Ms. Larkin was the person who decided whether or not the sanction, which she had initially assigned, should stay in place. In effect, Ms. Larkin is the person who is tasked with determining the appropriateness of her own judgement, in spite of her clear, established interest in not contravening her initial ruling.
Ms. Larkin is responsible for convening the Appeals Board, which was not active until late in the academic year and did not hear student A’s appeal until approximately four months after it was submitted. Student A, however, had only 14 days to submit his appeal after he received Ms. Larkin’s decision letter.
Because the Appeals Board was not active, Ms. Larkin offered student A the opportunity to have his case heard by an appeals officer. This policy is not in the student code of conduct, nor can any details about the appeals officers be found on the Dean of Students website. Ms. Larkin is responsible for appointing the appeals officers and assigning them to cases.
The Appeals Board is convened by Ms. Larkin. There is no information on the membership of the Appeals Board from year to year. Is this a committee of white people making decisions about what counts as racism? There is also no information on the training that the Appeals Board may or may not receive. It is unclear whether the Appeals Board, or Ms. Larkin, or anyone in the Office of the Dean of Students for that matter, have any knowledge whatsoever of implicit bias, critical race theory, or anti-racism.
Over the past eight months I have used every piece of institutional knowledge at my disposal to try to tell those with power and authority about what was happening. Student A tried to access help from the Office of Student Advocacy and the lawyer he was assigned was dismissive, rude, and totally incompetent. I wrote a 9-page appeal for this student, submitted to and rejected by the University Appeals Board. I met with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I met with people in the Office of the Dean of Students. I exchanged emails with Katy Larkin and Kris Winter. I met with the Title IX Office. I met with university lawyers. The fact that I have been unable to stop this institutionally racist train wreck, which has now taken the form of a completely unfounded, still ongoing Title IX complaint, is not for a lack of awareness within the University of Oregon about what has happened to this student. Administrators have done nothing to intervene and the entrenched racism of this university will continue to self-perpetuate until something is done.
The most frustrating part of trying to help this student has been the shame of secrecy that these processes demand. Privacy is an important concern, indeed, but it is not the only thing at stake. Functionally, these processes are secretive because institutional racism is most easily upheld behind closed doors. We cannot speak to anyone about it. We cannot share information. We cannot seek support. We cannot tell what we know of this institution’s incredible betrayal of this student, and probably hundreds more like him that didn’t have me in their corner. To the white people reading this, if you’re even still reading this, let me tell you a truth about being a person of color in America: racism is isolating. It is meant to strip us of our supports, our communities, our collective hope, our ability to see ourselves as part of something. George Floyd was surrounded by the police, but died alone. Even writing this letter could have professional repercussions for me – and I’m sure that the very first impulse of some who read this will be defensiveness and, eventually, retaliation. Whiteness is most dangerous when it’s been accused of wrongdoing. But this isn’t my first rodeo; every single Black academic I know has been routinely and regularly sabotaged by white colleagues and administrators, including me. There was a recent twitter trend on this very topic – #BlackintheIvory. More often than not, the worst offenders are those who claim to be progressive.
The final point I want to make is this: administrators in the Office of the Dean of Students should have recognized the racially coded nature of these claims and acted in a way that supports the basic principles of egalitarianism, inclusion, and social justice, upon which the very mission of the University of Oregon is founded. I am deeply disappointed and, frankly, enraged, by my experiences in trying to help this student navigate the opaque and treacherous administrative quagmires of the student conduct process. If this office is unable to protect our Black students and students of color from the structural racism that proliferates in a racially stratified society, or is unable to meet the criticisms embedded herein with self-reflection and meaningful action rather than defensiveness and dismissal, it should be dismantled.
I’m sure many will applaud the Statement of Commitment that made its way to my inbox. I am furious. It has been eight months of unrelenting institutional racism, the consequences of which I am still dealing with in an endless stream of meetings and administrative conferences and white women’s fake tears. The sheer nerve of this false overture made in the toxically bad faith of fragile white people who are nevertheless steeped in unsalvageable racism, is suffocating. I can’t breathe.
I will be publishing this letter, in its entirety, in a public online forum on racism in higher education. I suggest you use your “locus of control” to do something. At a minimum, all proceedings should be discontinued against this student and he should be issued an apology. There should also be a full and independent investigation, carried out by someone external to the university, into what happened to this student and the other students of color like him who have been harmed by these processes.
If this university is actually committed to anti-racism, start with that. And do it now.
By Kel Weinhold, Productivity Coach at The Professor Is In
Let’s talk about fear.
About being in a state of alarm.
I feel that way about writing this post.
Fear that by seeming to go back to “business as usual” after two weeks of posts centering Black academics’ lives, I will send a message that the fight for a racial justice is somehow over, or not central to my or The Professor is In’s mission.
Fear that by saying, “let’s talk about how to unwire fear,” I will send a message to Black readers that I think their fear of being killed, which is based on repeated REAL evidence, can be simply unwired by a change in perspective.
Fear that by saying, “let’s talk about productivity,” that readers will think that I am saying it is reasonable to expect to be productive in the midst of a global pandemic and a revolution for Black lives.
Fear that I will miss something in my advice that reinforces white supremacy, that contributes to anti-Blackness, that creates harm rather than offering respite from the thoughts that keep us from our potential.
Following my own advice, I have been conversing with my fear and asking it to sit to the side for a minute. Reminding myself that I can’t control outcomes, I can only control my actions. And what I have to offer this community is guidance on how to come to your academic work as your whole selves and how to do it with as little damage as you can control. Fully understanding that harm will be visited upon you, but that you don’t have to join in.
We are in the middle of a seemingly abandoned global pandemic. We are in the middle of what appears to be a slow motion economic train headed for a brick wall. We are devoid of leadership in the White House. Black women and men are still being killed by police and Breonna Taylor’s killers have still not been held accountable.
We have a lot to be afraid of.
Still, no small number of you are determined to be productive. And in the process, could be walking right into another source of fear. Your writing.
The difference is that this one is not an actual threat to your well being. It is all imagined.
Let me explain.
In other posts and webinars, I have talked about how our reptilian, lizard brain freaks out in the face of a perceived attack. How the amygdala is designed to do one of three things: fight, flee or freeze. (I am sure you have experienced each of those responses in the past 3 ½ months.) I have also written about the neuroscience of “the way your brain fires is the way it’s wired.”
So, let’s say at some point you sat down to write and something went wrong and you felt really insecure about it. You wrote but you left with a certain level of anxiety. Then you came back again and you had a little surge of anxiety about what might happen this time. Maybe you tried to write and it got a little mucked up, like most writing always does, and another little spurt of anxiety popped in. Cut to the next time you come back to writing and there’s an even bigger fear. And again. And again. And again. Interaction by interaction the fear gets wired in. At some point, it’s not actually the writing at all that’s causing you anxiety, it’s just considering thinking about writing.
Again, I am going to remind you that this is manufactured fear. There is no actual threat to your personhood, no risk of immediate death. You are imagining a bad outcome. The drag is that our brains don’t know the difference between the real threat (COVID, racism, job loss) and imagined threat (our fear of fucking up an article). It gets wired in as a threat just the same.
It may sound like I am belittling the fear that gets wired in. I am not. I am saying that for our bodies and brains, the fear is real because we have wired it in as real. AND, we have the same power to remove the threat as we had to install it. It just takes awareness, effort and time. (Just like anti-racism work.)
To overlay all those times you sat down and thought “OH. NO. WHAT AM I DOING?!” you need to have repeated moments of sitting down and having a not frightening, not terrifying experience.
To do that we need to first notice that alarm, observe it. See it for what it is: Your imagination. Not real. Outside the actual experience. And then bring the feeling you want to have and tie THAT to your writing.
Here’s a practice to try.
When you are ready to write (for this experiment, it helps to have a little bit of a plan or a rough outline but nothing too serious), sit down in front of your computer, and close your eyes for a second. Take a really deep slow breath all the way down into your belly, like what meditation folks call “soft belly breathing,” all the way down where we keep those nerves clenched and all that tension. Just do that for a few breaths, allowing your breath to fill all the way down, relaxing the nervous system that’s freaking out. It might feel a little weird, all that stress loosening up. It’s ok. Right in the moment, you are fine.
You have your eyes closed; you’re breathing really deeply. Now let your mind wander about and let the ideas flow for a second. What is it that you want to write about? Let your mind wander a little bit more. No matter where you are in your work, no matter where you think you should be, just let it go. What does your mind wander to about your work.
You are simply allowing ease and curiosity — the thing that got you started on the PhD in the first place — to come to the surface.
Then type a few sentences. Doesn’t matter what. Whatever’s in your head. All you are doing here is starting to lay down new wiring: Ease = writing. Writing = ease..
As you keep writing, if you’re starting to feel the fear wind up, close your eyes and go back to deep breathing. Again, let your mind wander around what it is you’re trying to say — not chasing anything, not trying to get to an answer — but instead just letting the thoughts go.
And write another sentence.
If you manage to write one fearless sentence a day in the midst of a global pandemic and revolution, you are doing great!
And if you can’t, don’t let yourself or anyone else tell you that you are failing. You are human. And freezing is a completely reasonable response to threat.