Sunday, September 21, 2008

Frustration, Act II

One of the really good things about the training was that it was focused on structural and systemic thinking, rather than on trying to be a nice person. It's good to be a nice person, but racism is structural and systemic, and if we're going to work against it, we have to work there.

It's the basic stuff of women's studies classes, of African American history classes, of development work, of any Marxist analysis. Folks have been working through this analysis for ages; there's nothing new in it, nor does it require a college degree. I know folks who've had a high school education who could lay out the basics, though they wouldn't quote Marx while they did it.

It's certainly stuff that anyone who votes in the US should think about. And certainly, anyone who teaches in the US should educate themselves about. It's that basic and important to understanding US culture.

So when the white male administrators talked at the end about how they'd never really thought about these issues, I was frustrated. (The female administrators knew the readings the trainers brought up, knew how social structures and systems work. Both had clearly thought about these issues plenty.)

How can you think you're competent to vote in these United States if you haven't thought about these issues?

How can you think you're competent to teach (especially at the university level) if you haven't thought about these issues and done something to educate yourself about them?

And how the hell do you think you're competent to administer anything more complicated than your cat's litter box if you haven't thought about and worked to educate yourself about these issues?

Throughout their careers, they've been promoted in part because they haven't thought about these issues, and the people who have thought about them are stuck working in the basement (which is where our Women's Studies program lives). Can you imagine if they were at a workshop and admitted that they'd never thought about budgeting? At a workshop and admitted they'd never thought about running meetings effectively? But somehow, it doesn't occur to them that working with human beings is important? And that "human beings" isn't the same as "white men"?

Here's my plan. We're advertising right now for an important administrative position on campus. I want to ask every candidate who comes to campus what he or she has done to educate him/herself about matters or race, class, and gender in the US. Then I want to ask a follow up question about how this work has changed his/her approaches to his/her work.


  1. I think that's a great idea. It is rather stunning just how far people can get in the hierarchy without having to deal with such basic issues.

  2. The Chronicle Review has some interesting pieces on diversity in it today, like this one ( on how diversity issues need to be part of P&T evaluation if an institution is really going to take them seriously.

  3. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Sorry, should have read this post before commenting on your last!! At least the WMA (white male admins) were there... I guess.

    What I find is that men in general very much shy away from discussions about other people. If we have a book group on campus about women in science, for example, you can bet that 5 of the 6 people reading will be women. Men will *argue* about the fact that women are under-represented, rather than accepting clear data, by doing things like complaining about the methodology.

    I'm not busting on men for this, actually, although it drives me crazy. Rather, I think it is the immediate defensive reaction of a group in power to a challenge to the *validity* of that power.

    I love your idea, Bardiac, I wonder if it's part of our diversity compliance plan here to ask that question.

  4. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Jesus on a shingle, how could this stuff be new to anyone? The last time it was new to me was, let's see...1967 or 1968. And no, I'm not near retirement age--I was in elementary school at the time.

    Where the fuck have these people been? I expect some of my undergraduates to find these ideas and issues new, even though my experiences were different at their age. I don't mind, for example, helping students understand feminism or suchlike, because that is, after all, what I'm here for. But there is no excuse for someone old enough to run a college campus (or a portion thereof) to be so clueless.

    Frankly, I can't believe them when they claim ignorance. Is it too cynical of me to see this as a little game they play? If they pretend to be shocked (shocked, I tell you!) then the "troublemakers" will back off in sympathy, they can prescribe some useless but annoying committee-driven palliative that will take up everyone's energy and attention, and go back to running things the way they please.