In a previous blog entry, I noted:
Unless Smith College has some type of rebuttal to consider, Shaw’s allegations do indeed paint a picture of entrenched racism within Smith College. For example, the whole story about “white fragility” is most disturbing.
In turns out that the college president has replied. Let’s have a look.
Dear members of the Smith community:
A college staff member resigned last Friday in a letter that she made available to the public. Ordinarily, a personnel matter of this nature would not warrant a letter from the president to the college community; however, in this instance the former employee, in her letter, accuses the college of creating a racially hostile environment for white people, a baseless claim that the college flatly denies.
It does not take long for her to go off the rails. We do have evidence that the claim is not baseless. It was provided by an article from the NYT which reported on the extensive investigation that occurred. If you’ll remember, Shaw originally claimed:
But the climate — and my place at the college — changed dramatically when, in July 2018, the culture war arrived at our campus when a student accused a white staff member of calling campus security on her because of racial bias. The student, who is black, shared her account of this incident widely on social media, drawing a lot of attention to the college.
Before even investigating the facts of the incident, the college immediately issued a public apology to the student, placed the employee on leave, and announced its intention to create new initiatives, committees, workshops, trainings, and policies aimed at combating “systemic racism” on campus.
In spite of an independent investigation into the incident that found no evidence of racial bias, the college ramped up its initiatives aimed at dismantling the supposed racism that pervades the campus. This only served to support the now prevailing narrative that the incident had been racially motivated and that Smith staff are racist.
Allowing this narrative to dominate has had a profound impact on the Smith community and on me personally.
The NYT article corroborates this in many ways. For example:
In midsummer of 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a Black student at Smith College, recounted a distressing American tale: She was eating lunch in a dorm lounge when a janitor and a campus police officer walked over and asked her what she was doing there.
The officer, who could have been carrying a “lethal weapon,” left her near “meltdown,” Ms. Kanoute wrote on Facebook, saying that this encounter continued a yearlong pattern of harassment at Smith…
The college’s president, Kathleen McCartney, offered profuse apologies and put the janitor on paid leave. “This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias,” the president wrote, “in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their ordinary lives.”
The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN picked up the story of a young female student harassed by white workers. The American Civil Liberties Union, which took the student’s case, said she was profiled for “eating while Black.”
Less attention was paid three months later when a law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias. Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there. The officer, like all campus police, was unarmed.
And there is more evidence Smith College is “a racially hostile environment for white people.” If you read the entire NYT article, you’ll find that the student making false accusations of racism was supported by the faculty/administration, which in turn led to a witch-hunt against lowly-paid cafeteria workers that forced one to quit and put the other in a hospital.
It is dishonest for Kathleen McCartney to spin Shaw’s complaints as “baseless.”
In addition, her letter contains a number of misstatements about the college’s equity and inclusion initiatives, misstatements that are offensive to the members of our community who are working every day to create a campus where everyone, regardless of racial identity, can learn, work and thrive.
If some of the administrators are “offended,” so what? What matters is whether the statements are indeed misstatements. McCartney fails to provide any examples of such misstatements and surely doesn’t try to demonstrate they are indeed misstatements. McCartney’s claim can be dismissed as hand-waving.
I write to emphasize that Smith College remains unyielding in its commitment to advancing racial justice, a commitment that includes and benefits every member of our community. Given the centrality of this work to Smith College’s mission, I want to take this opportunity to ensure that each of you has accurate information.
Here she is merely posturing. But in doing so, she unwittingly throws more support to Shaw’s account. By bragging about the the “centrality” of the “unyielding commitment to advancing racial justice” as part of the College’s “mission,” McCartney paints a picture of radicalism and intense passion. In other words, a school so obsessed and consumed with this brand of ideology is exactly the type of environment we would predict to create “a racially hostile environment for white people.” When a black student made a false accusation of racism, this zealous “mission” of Smith College caused faculty/administration to blindly embrace the accusations as Gospel Truth and then “punch down” by targeting a couple of white cafeteria workers. It all fits.
The employee suggests that Smith tried to buy her silence. But it was the employee herself who demanded payment of an exceptionally large sum in exchange for dropping a threatened legal claim and agreeing to standard confidentiality provisions.
Here McCartney implies either/or reasoning when a both/and approach works. The school could very well have tried to buy her silence by offering an insultingly small early retirement package and Shaw countered with an excessively large amount she knew the school would not agree to.
Further, while the employee aims her complaint at Smith, her public communications make clear that her grievances about equity and inclusion training run more broadly—as she puts it “to the medical field … the publishing field, the tech field, it’s in the schools, the legal field, public schools, private schools, colleges of course, government. It’s everywhere.”
So what? Shaw is able to place her personal experience at Smith in a larger, societal context. Is McCartney trying to argue that if Shaw’s complaints were valid, they would be unique to Smith College? That would be silly.
At Smith College, our commitment to, and strategies for, advancing equity and inclusion are grounded in evidence. Research demonstrates the continued presence of systemic discrimination against people of color across all areas of society, from education to health care to employment.
So she says. It would have been nice if the college president would have included at least one reference to support her claim. The evidence I have seen is always evidence of inequality, which is not the same as evidence of discrimination. To illustrate that point, consider another example of inequality:
Ph.D.-holding professors in top-tier liberal arts colleges is overwhelmingly Democratic. Indeed, faculty political affiliations at 39 percent of the colleges in my sample are Republican free—having zero Republicans. The political registration in most of the remaining 61 percent, with a few important exceptions, is slightly more than zero percent but nevertheless absurdly skewed against Republican affiliation and in favor of Democratic affiliation. Thus, 78.2 percent of the academic departments in my sample have either zero Republicans, or so few as to make no difference.
Despite this massive, systemic inequality on university campuses, I have yet to hear a single college president, faculty member, or college administrator admit that they actively discriminate against Republicans/conservatives during hiring decisions. In other words, they acknowledge that evidence of inequality is not evidence of discrimination with their silence.
Nevertheless, there is a way Kathleen McCartney can support this evidence claim. Since she seems to be admitting that she and her school have been guilty of racial discrimination in the past, why not provide us with a list of concrete examples? How has Kathleen McCartney discriminated against people of color? How has Smith College discriminated against people of color? Perhaps if they would just admit what they have actually done, we could better appreciate their desire for remedies.
McCartney: Redressing the reality of racism requires asking ourselves how we might, even inadvertently, reinforce existing inequalities or contribute to an exclusionary atmosphere. While it might be uncomfortable to accept that each of us, regardless of color or background, may have absorbed unconscious biases or at times acted in ways that are harmful to members of our community, such self-reflection is a prerequisite for making meaningful progress. The aim of our equity and inclusion training is never to shame or ostracize. Rather, the goal is to facilitate authentic conversations that help to overcome the barriers between us, and the college welcomes constructive criticism of our workshops and trainings.
More posturing and hand-waving. What’s missing is the evidence. Where is the evidence that these workshops and trainings have created “progress?” Where is the evidence that they work? And how much money does Smith College spend on all these workshops and trainings? Are they getting what they paid for?
In summary, Kathleen McCartney’s response fails to discredit Shaw’s account and accusations.