Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Appeal to Faculty

Yesterday I gave a talk at my new temporary academic home, the department of philosophy at UIC, on alienating race and opposing racial injustice. The examples in the talk, based on something I wrote four years ago, were from the pre-Watson era of CSU. However, they detailed the many abuses that students at CSU had experienced: police brutality on campus, long lines waiting for financial aid assistance, bookstore wait times of over an hour caused by the racist policy of not allowing students to retrieve their own textbooks, filthy classrooms and unusable smart-boards, moldy air ducts, broken toilets and light fixtures, broken seats and chairs, and so on. The problem is not one thing but a pattern of racist indifference to the conditions under which students learn (and faculty teach).

Many faculty regard themselves as committed to providing educational opportunities to students who have had fewer advantages. This is good. At bottom it is an anti-racist commitment. But the bad conditions I mentioned above are abuses of the students we seek to serve. Is it a coincidence that the vast majority of these students are black? I don’t think so. These bad conditions are racist. We must recognize this. We need to speak out.

All the conditions I mentioned existed under the administrations prior to the current one. Nearly all of them persist. What has happened recently? A student—Jokari Miller—was attacked and put in a chokehold by a campus cop for loudly refusing to remove his hat when Watson told him too. Another student—Willie Preston—who won an election as Student Trustee to the Board of Governors experienced the following: the election was voided; he was suspended from the university; when he spoke at a public meeting he was accosted by the interim provost in a public hallway; then the interim provost got him expelled from the university and banned from coming on the campus by testifying that she did not feel safe when he was on campus. These were the consequences of winning an election on a platform opposing the Watson administration. Another student running on the same platform—Brittany Bailey—was illegally disqualified in the subsequent student election. There has been a precipitous drop in black student enrollment at the university. Who is being victimized by all of this? Aren’t these things racist, adding to the disadvantages that black people experience?

After talking to several faculty members, I realize that many are critical of what the Watson administration is doing but are not speaking out. Those who are putting their bodies on the line day after day are a very small group. Do you think this is right? I appeal to faculty: you must speak out against racial injustices done to our students. Appeals to racial solidarity are of no use: your either oppose racism or you tolerate it, and if you tolerate it, you are part of the problem. Either you stand with the Watson administration or you stand with the students and others who are being unjustly harmed by that administration.

Some of you may be afraid to speak out. You may feel your silence is self-preservation. I appeal to you: when you sacrifice fundamental principles by which you try to live (opposition to racism), you become the opposite of what you may be striving to be. Instead of being a person whose life is guided by principles that define your integrity, you become unprincipled, essentially a slave whose life is governed by fear of others.

I appeal to faculty: do not let those who speak out on this blog be the only ones. Stand for what you believe and in doing that become the best person you can be. Oppose injustice, oppose racism. Speak out. We can win, but we need you.

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