By Dr. Terri Givens
Dr. Givens previously contributed a three-part series about leaving a Provost position to go post-ac.
George F. Will wrote several hit pieces about Anita Hill in his Newsweek columns in 1991-92. I responded to one in which he insinuated that she only got into Yale law school because of affirmative action. I had recently been admitted to grad school at UCLA and I was tired of people assuming that I had only gotten into Stanford and UCLA because of affirmative action. My angry letter was published in Newsweek and I have saved it to this day. But now, I am beyond angry. History seems to be repeating itself with old white men trying to put a man on the Supreme Court who is clearly mendacious, reactionary, and accused of sexual assault (talk about affirmative action…). Quotes from Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas keep coming to mind.
It has been quite a couple of weeks. Regardless of how you feel about Serena Williams’ behavior at the U.S. Open, she certainly didn’t deserve the response she got, particularly from white men, after the match. The characterizations of her behavior were out of control racist and sexist. I am tired of the way that black women are treated in this country and beyond. And speaking of the way that black women are treated, Meg Guilford’s Op-Ed in the Washington Post raised a whole host of issues about racism in academe, including a mention of my own experiences. As so many of us have said this week, we are exhausted. It just keeps piling on top of the usual micro and macro aggressions we deal with in every aspect of our lives. And then a black man was shot in his own home by a white police officer. I felt the need to write this on Twitter this week:
I also wrote that we desperately need more women, particularly women of color, in leadership positions. That may sound strange from someone who just left an academic leadership position. But what we also need is support for those women who take on leadership positions, not just from other women, but from men. It’s past time for men to stand up and although I know that there are many who do, there are clearly not enough. It’s too easy for men to sit back and say “gee, that’s too bad that she has to go through that tough situation.” They need to speak up, do something, take action. I keep saying that it’s not women who need the leadership seminars and the trainings – it’s men who need to learn how to support and bring women into the leadership positions that would help both academe and the business world to at least start to move past these issues of sexism, misogyny and racism that we have been struggling with for so long. I had a couple of white male friends contact me directly, and they both agreed that it would be hard to change things in academe – they are doing what they can, but is it enough?
There are all kinds of bullying behavior (which includes men losing their cool) that go on in the worlds of business and academe, and generally, there is little price to be paid when a white male acts like a bully, or worse. One of the problems with the situation for academe was highlighted for me by a friend who was talking about a situation in which she had been proactive in trying to help someone, but in the end her efforts were scuttled by someone above her. I couldn’t help but remember a time when I was in a similar situation. I was trying to help retain a couple who were being recruited by another department. I had pulled every string I could, including getting the dean involved, when a particularly arrogant senior faculty member sent an email to one of the professors being recruited to ask if she would perform a service duty. When she politely refused, he sent her a scathing response, which she forwarded to me, and I forwarded to the department chair. This was the kind of behavior that she had previously complained about, and he had just handed her a prime reason to leave. Of course, there were no repercussions for the senior faculty member, he still has his cushy teaching load and endowed chair, while the department lost two promising junior faculty.
I’m not sure how we will get past this cultural/political moment. For those of us who lived through the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, it’s very painful to be reliving the situation (with some of the same players), despite the triumph of so many women in the election that followed. The sad truth is that the legacy of that moment is we still have Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade is in danger, and many of the rulings related to civil rights and the environment could be history. The next few months will tell us if we can move forward as a country, or if we will fall further into discord. I know that I will continue to fight like hell to keep things moving forward. I will keep asking every ally we can get to help, if not for my sake, for the sake of the next generation. The last thing I want to see is my grandchildren having to go through yet another Supreme Court nomination hearing with such an unsuitable candidate.