The students and alumni behind last week’s open letter about diversifying Wesleyan’s faculty have a follow-up message addressing many of the responses to it and clarifying their intent, with a lot more names signed at the bottom.
Clearly many of you have strong feelings about this issue. Comment away, but try maybe raising the general level of discourse* in your responses?
Read the full letter after the jump.
What is Diversity University’s Commitment to Actual Diversity?
“In occupying Fisk Hall we seek to dramatically expose the university’s infidelity to its professed goals and to question the sincerity of its commitment to meaningful change. We blaspheme and decry that education which is constant with one cultural frame of reference to the exclusion of all other.”
–Statement presented to the administration by students in Fisk Hall, February 21, 1969
As is clear from the statement presented to the administration during the Fisk Hall Takeover in 1969, the discussion we are engaging in today is a similar discussion that students, staff, and faculty were having in 1969.
Wesleyan has two ongoing problems: 1) the university lacks faculty of color in many academic departments and programs; and 2) the university ostensibly supports a curriculum that more often than not excludes racially diverse perspectives.
Granted, the argument can be made that there are many types of diversity; however, our fight today is for racial diversity in places frequently omitted from the discussion: representation among faculty and within the curriculum. Who would have thought that, in 2009, America would have a Black president before many academic departments and programs at Wesleyan recruited and tenured faculty of color? Is it not a matter of concern that students of color are disproportionately taught by professors that do not look like them and that usually do not have an in-depth understanding of their cultural particularities?
Maybe the “change” we seek in the world needs to come first from within the university. This “change” must radically alter the university’s priorities. What does it mean to have a liberal arts education without multiple points of view? Is it only “liberal arts” because of the presence of both arts and sciences? By the year 2050, America will be a minority-majority country with over 50% of the population being people of non-white backgrounds. Broadly speaking, Wesleyan’s curriculum does not prepare us as well as it should for the diverse world we will encounter tomorrow; we need a curriculum that teaches us to engage and understand real difference.
A post from Michael Roth’s blog entitled How to Choose a (our) University states “I hope our visitors can sense our commitment to creating diversity in which difference is embraced and not just tolerated.” While hopeful, this “difference” is not always embraced, as apparent from the anonymous and bigoted Wesleying and ACB posts in response to our last Wespeak.
We repeat, “Wesleyan needs to make a sincere commitment to recruiting, mentoring, and retaining faculty of color.”
At issue is the value that Wesleyan places on seriously recruiting faculty of color and supporting them while they are here, as well as the respect that academic departments and programs have for fields of knowledge that are situated outside of the Western European canon. Surely, a diverse faculty does not necessarily lead to a diverse curriculum, but a diverse faculty almost always leads to a diversity of perspectives. People who aim to preserve the status quo often attempt to shift the focus of the discussion.
As we have seen from the responses on Wesleying and the ACB, somehow a conversation on equality and representation suddenly becomes one about “handouts,” “a lack of qualifications,” and “Affirmative Action cases.” Momentarily overshadowing the specifics of Professor Melanye Price’s tenure case are three general questions: Why does Black politics not have a permanent place within the Government Department in 2009? What is the Government Department’s solution to this major gap in the curriculum? And, is the curriculum recognized as lacking?
If it was not clear in our last Wespeak, please allow us to reiterate our point cogently. Contrary to some perspectives that have recently emerged, we do not believe that the bar should be “lowered” for faculty of color. Rather, we hold that there already is a critical constituency of qualified junior faculty of color that either Wesleyan has yet to attract or to retain. Although it seems that Professor Melanye Price’s case is particularly polarizing, the fact still remains that Wesleyan lacks faculty of Black, Latino/a, Asian/Asian-American, Native/Native American, Pacific Islander, and Arab/Arab-American descent. Obviously, the problems in recruiting, supporting, and granting tenure to faculty of color existed long before Professor Price and will continue to exist, however inadvertently, unless the particular obstacles with which faculty of color contend are recognized as problematic and remedied by the institution.
We must call attention to the fact that faculty of color often face the same marginalization in their departments and programs that students of color face in the classroom. Usually they do not have the privilege of working alongside individuals who look like them or who share their specific research interests. Additionally, faculty of color whose scholarship belong to fields that are not deemed academically “legitimate,” like Black political history or Asian-American studies, are often uniquely and doubly taxed by their racial identity and the burden of having to produce “exceptional” scholarship without peer support. Working against age-old racialized assumptions, it seems that faculty of color frequently have to convince their respective universities that they are just as qualified as white faculty members. It is quite rare that white professors receive the kind of scrutiny to which faculty of color are regularly subjected.
Whether or not students, administrators, and staff of this university agree or disagree with the arguments of our last Wespeak, it is undeniable that a problem exists. Wesleyan ought to strive towards transforming its students into critical and well-rounded individuals, true global citizens, by changing the curriculum and seeking out diverse perspectives. This is truly not about brown faces in high places, as Lani Guinier has said, but it is about creating a space where marginal voices are heard and affirmed.
With more questions that demand answers,
Phillip I. Marcus Jr. ’09, Jason C. Harris ’09, Melanie Nelson ’09, Amber Jones ’09, Emily Avener ’09, Elana Baurer ’09, Aviva Tevah ’09, Maddie Sage-El ’09, Ruby-Beth Buitekant ’09, Alaina Elrington ’09, Melanie Jung ’08, Briana Deutsch ’09, Justin Douglas ’08, Molly Birnbaum ’09, AhDream Smith ’12, Schuyler Swenson ’09, Julius Hampton ’09, Corrina Wainwright ’11, Dan Manuyag ’10, Sumana Murthy ’09, Benjamin Hart ’11, Meredith Lowe ’09, Andrea DePetris ’10, Melgily Valdez ’09, Hope Steinman-Iacullo ’09, Kim Denson ‘10, Rahel Haile ‘10, Latoya Coleman ‘09, Tameir Holder ‘08, Jessica Bowen ‘11, Luz Burgos ’09, Jillian White ’08, Katherine Rodriguez ’10, Chelsea Rodriguez ’10, Cheryl Walker ’12, Julissa Pena ’12, Aaliya Zaveri ’09, Randyl Wilkerson ’12, Nick Petrie ’12, Kenton Atta-Krah ’09, Sonia Balram ’07, Lev Plaves ’10, Marsha Jean-Charles ’11, Danielle Campbell ’09, Portia Hemphill ’07, Nicole Reid ’07, Letica Fox-Thomas ’05, Rosa Seidelman ’10, Maya Odim ’10, Latasha Alcindor ’10, Devaka Gunawardena ’09, CaVar Reid ’11, Arielle Knight ’11, David Baurch ’12, Jonna Humphries ’10, Fhatima Paulino ’10, Nyasha Foy ’06, Michele Nichols ’09, Indee Mitchell ’10, Adeneiki Williams ’10, Dylan Marron ’10, Colleen Carpenter ’10, Miles Tokunow ’10, Carrie Schiff ’06, Sara Quinn, ’11, Lucas Guilkey ’10, Gelihsa Arjoon ’11, Jonathan Booth ’12, Ana Soto ’09, Gloria Fanchiang ’10, Sonia Davis ’10, Jane Charles-Voltaire ’07, Sabine Vilsaint ’10, Mike Bolds ’08, Stephanie Lee ’11, Porsche Bonner ’11, Joanna Lawler ’05, Alicia Castagno ’12, Lesley Faulkner ’11, Travis Ferguson ’10, Khalia Frazier ’07, Elana Cook ’08, Sarah Bell ’09, Andrea Mayfield ’05, Isaac Maddow-Zimmet ’09, Glamildi Rondon ’12, David Burke ’10, Jeff Guyton ’11, Amy Chandra ’11, Zulay Oyarvide ’10, Tia Clinton ’06, Sarah Brown ’10, Daniela Gabb ’08, Ada Pinkston ’05, Simone Collins ’07, John Watson ’06, Rabs Hutchful ’07, Roberto Soto-Carrion ’07, Melissa Mondesir ’07, Jen Celestin ’07, Destiny Leake ’07, Iris Jacob ’06, Sheryl Sinclair ’09, Misa Dayson ’05, Jorge Soto ’09, Maya Lake ’05, Jennifer Matthews ‘09
*Note: This letter has the names of over 100 people attached to it. The majority of comments in the previous post have none. It’s great that people are expressing their opinions about an important issue like this on Wesleying, but it’s not much of a debate when most commenters are anonymous and calling each other douchebags.
If you intend to say something substantial, it lends a lot more weight when it’s labeled something other than “Anonymous”.