We have seen how Prof. Paul Griffiths responded to a social justice email and how the Dean and others in turn responded, leading to Griffith’s punishment and making him feel that he needed to resign. But I wonder how the social justice folks would reply if a different approach was used.
Here is how the original email to Griffiths and all other faculty read:
Dear Faculty Colleagues,
On behalf of the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee, I strongly urge you to participate in the Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training planned for March 4 and 5. We have secured funding from the Provost to provide this training free to our community and we hope that this will be a first step in a longer process of working to ensure that DDS is an institution that is both equitable and anti-racist in its practices and culture. While a number of DDS faculty, staff, and students have been able to participate in REI training in recent years, we have never before hosted a training at DDS. Those who have participated in the training have described it as transformative, powerful, and life-changing. We recognize that it is a significant commitment of time; we also believe it will have great dividends for our community. Please find the registration link below. Details about room location will be announced soon.
Duke Divinity School will host a Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training on March 4 and 5, 2017, 8:30—5 pm both days. Participants should plan to attend both full days of training.
“Racism is a fierce, ever-present, challenging force, one which has structured the thinking, behavior, and actions of individuals and institutions since the beginning of U.S. history. To understand racism and effectively begin dismantling it requires an equally fierce, consistent, and committed effort” (REI). Phase I provides foundational training in understanding historical and institutional racism. It helps individuals and organizations begin to “proactively understand and address racism, both in their organization and in the community where the organization is working.” It is the first step in a longer process.
ALL Staff and Faculty are invited to register for this important event by which DDS can begin its own commitment to become an anti-racist institution.
So I wonder how the social justice advocates would respond to the following email.
Dear Faculty Colleagues,
I received the email from the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee that “strongly urges” me to attend the 17-hour Racial Equity Institute Phase I Training session.
This email has made me feel unsafe.
The email states that this session will “be a first step in a longer process of working to ensure that DDS is an institution that is both equitable and anti-racist in its practices and culture.” I read this to imply that DDS is in fact non-equitable and racist in it practices and culture, thus the need for this “first step.”
So I am left wondering if the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee is implying that I am a racist and this is why I am so “strongly urged” to attend the “training” session. But on what basis is such an implication conveyed? Because my skin is white? If so, I would consider that a microaggression, where someone is invoking common stereotypes in order to make assumptions about me simply because of my race.
The email also reemphasizes this point by declaring racism is an “ever-present” force “which has structured the thinking, behavior, and actions of individuals.” But this time, it adds something that I find threatening – promising that “Phase 1” of the training is only the first step of a “fierce” response.
So again, is the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee trying to imply I am a racist and thus, by attending, I am admitting to racism and thus need appropriate “training.” But then again, if I choose not to attend, am I signaling I am a racist who does not want to receive remedial training? Either way I go, I find myself in an unsafe space and feel as if I am being harmed.
The situation becomes all the more harmful when we consider the inherent ableist assumptions inherent in such training sessions (regardless of the topic). For whatever reason, I am someone who has great difficulty sitting through 17-hour training sessions for any topic. I find myself often getting annoyed, impatient, and/or agitated because I can’t stop myself from obsessing about all the work that is not getting done because I am occupied with the session. I’m not sure if this is because of my genetics or because of the way I was raised, but it puts me at a disadvantage when compared to people who enjoy such types of sessions. What if I become annoyed with some aspect of the session simply because of my disability when it comes to actively participating in training sessions? Will this be misinterpreted as some form of suppressed racism?
What’s more, such training sessions are typically designed for sociable personalities. A common feature of such sessions is multiple “break out” groups where a small number of people sit in a circle and have a discussion guided by some group leader. There is usually some form of peer pressure that expects everyone to contribute. Often, game-like activities are included. All of this favors the sociable personality. And I do not have that type of personality. I often feel stressed and uncomfortable in such settings, which can be especially debilitating if I am also annoyed and agitated. So again, will my unwillingness to play along in such activities be misinterpreted as me holding on to my racism?
It is important to realize there is scientific evidence showing a significant genetic component to such personalities.
Expecting someone who is not sociable to spend a large portion of the sessions’ 17 hours to be sociable is like expecting an ADHD student to sit still and pay attention to a 3 hour lecture on the presidency of Martin Van Buren.
The stress from the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee’s email has become unbearable and I have lost sleep over this. Do I attend an ableist training session and subject myself to such discrimination while at the same time seem to be tacitly agreeing I have a racism problem that needs to be addressed? Or do I not attend and send the wrong signal that I am not opposed to racism? Will that decision come back to haunt me during future Phases of the promised “fierce” effort? Or do I actually send this email to all my colleagues, who could potentially misinterpret something in dozens of different directions?
I’m not sure what to do. But I would like to respectfully inform the Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Standing Committee that they have created a unsafe environment and would request that they refrain from sending out such harmful emails in the future.