Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Protests at the Universities: What's Up, Why They're Righteous

Over the past week or so, two protests at two very different universities have been stirring up a lot of ruckus, mostly on the Conservative blogs, but also on the mainstream media.

One protest is at Yale; the other, at the University of Missouri.

The Conservative blogs -- and I know, big shock here -- have been represented these protests as either "whiny, spoiled entitled rich students who need a dose of the real world" (Yale), or "SJWs out for blood" (UM).

Rod Dreher -- again, no shock here -- has gotten even more hysterical than usual. (It's the French Revolution, y'all!) I think that boy needs to get some help, and soon.

So what has actually been happening?  Can we cut through the Right-Wing hysteria and nonsense and get some facts?

At U. Missouri, we had a President appointed, back in 2012, who decided -- as many a University President has decided lately -- that he should run his university like a business, rather than a university.

Timothy Wolfe was not an academic.  That's the root of the problem.  When you put people from outside the Academy in charge of universities, and expect them to run universities, you're in trouble already.

He didn't look for ways to make his university work.  He looked for ways to make the university work like a business -- for ways to make it profitable.

Well, universities aren't meant to make a profit.  They're meant to create knowledge and students -- students with more knowledge who are better thinkers and thus better citizens.

Wolfe immediately start attacking parts of the university he saw as less profitable, while shifting funds to parts of the university he saw as more profitable.  He defunded the university press; he defunded the graduate student health insurance plan; he cut the university's ties to Planned Parenthood (which, since the university's medical school students got a lot of their practice working there, is a big deal); he did not respond to problems that black students were having on campus.

When students began the protests, including hunger strikes, Wolfe and the rest of the administration gave them little attention -- until the football team joined the protest, going on strike.  That got results.

Right-Wing blogs insist the football team (and the rest of the students) are upset about a few names being called.  But no, obviously not.

At Yale, the story you're hearing is that the students are -- again -- upset about being scolded over Halloween costumes: that they are such tender blossoms that they can't handle seeing another student dressed in a Mulan costume, as one comment I read somewhere claimed.

Again: no, obviously not.

Here in Arkansas, we recently had not just students, but teachers at a local school show up for school on Halloween dressed in black face. When challenged, they insisted this was not at all racist.  And plenty of people in their hometown agreed with them.

Granted, Yale ain't Arkansas.  But the black students there, and the Asian students there, report that they experience racial discrimination and racial slurs often; and I'm inclined to believe them.

I know Rod Dreher and the others on the Right won't be so inclined.  But you know what?  Most men, including my own brothers, don't believe me when I tell them the sexist crap that I experience on a daily basis.  "I never see that happening," they say.

Yeah, I bet they don't.  I wonder why.

My point, and I do have one: it isn't the Halloween costume incident that the Yale students are protesting.  That's just the incident the Right-Wing is pretending the Yale Students are protesting. That was the flash point.  They're protesting the entire atmosphere at Yale toward minority students -- the whole notion that it's fine to ignore racism; that to be racially transgressive is somehow cute.

That's exactly what those teachers in Arkansas thought.  Well, it's not cute.  It's not daring.  It's offensive, and insulting, and it needs to stop.

And yes, those Yale students have a perfect right to speak up and say so.

Free speech goes both ways.

So does transgression, I might add.

ETA: See also this.  In what universe is this shit okay?  A state senator interfering with a graduate student's research for political reasons?


Bardiac said...

You hit the most important point: when a person of color tells a white person that they're experiencing racism, the white person needs to close their mouth and listen, and believe them. (And similarly, when a woman tells a man she's experiencing sexism, the man needs to close his mouth, listen, and believe her.)

As a white person, I have to realize that I don't own all experience, and that I don't know how to interpret everything. Sometimes, my job is to listen. And if people I'm responsible to, people in my classes, for example, tell me that they're experiencing racism, then it's part of my job also to work on ending the racism. A college or university leader has a bigger job at that than I do, but if students are telling a university leader that they're experiencing racism, the university leader is responsible for working to end the racism. That's part of the job description of leading a university.

If you can't define "systemic racism" intelligently and well (which means, in part, not blaming those who are experiencing racism), then you aren't qualified to be a university leader. (And you're probably not qualified to vote in the US, to be honest.)

delagar said...

I think that's my biggest problem with most of the commentary I'm seeing around the blogosphere on various blogs -- the insistence on discounting the experience of students who are right there on the ground, who have been dealing with these problems for months (at UM, for years).

I also love the idea that we don't need to care what's happening to the students at Yale because they're rich, and therefore "spoiled" and "entitled." I had a student accepted to Yale six or seven years ago, so I know, in fact, the socioeconomic strata out of which some of these particular students emerge. Just because you're at Yale doesn't (necessarily) make you a trust fund kid.

And even if it did, does that mean you can't experience racism or sexism?