A Platform for Activists

This correspondence relates to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Katherine Mangan. The article was highlighted by a picture of four rather grumpy looking young interviewees and headed: What College Activists Want.

From an editor: On 7/16/2020 11:44 AM, Rachel Mull wrote:

Dear Professor Staddon,

Katherine Mangan passed along your email. To answer your questions:

In the past several weeks, racial-justice advocates have gained widespread support for their cause, with sustained calls for change at institutions of all kinds. Colleges are likely to face pressure from student activists and their allies well into the academic year. This article gives Chronicle readers a window into the viewpoints of a few such students.

Additional Chronicle coverage of this movement offers analysis, and will continue to do so in the future. Criticism is the domain of The Chronicle Review [Here is a relatively balanced example.]

Thank you for reading.

Rachel Cieri Mull

Senior Editor

The Chronicle of Higher Education

rachel.mull@chronicle.com

Response:

Dear Rachel Mull:

Thanks for responding. I take your point about newsworthiness, and thanks for the link — which also seems to be promoting the activists’ cause.  My problem is that as someone who has worked in a US university for decades, I see little evidence for many of the claims these kids make and little or no representation of that point of view in CHED.  A couple of examples:

“it was a jarring reminder for Maliya Homer of how vulnerable she felt as a Black woman.” But the question is: How rational is it for Ms. Homer to feel that way on the campus of a university where such events essentially never occur? Does she need a course in statistics? In other words, is it her problem or ours? (Of course, it is a problem for government and law enforcement, but that is another matter.)

Tyler Yarbrough is concerned about Emmett Till, but who isn’t? I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t deplore what happened. I suspect that the frat boys [“a photo emerged last year of fraternity members posing with guns in front of a bullet-pocked memorial sign to Till.”] were just reacting against the pressure to conform (has anybody investigated?). I well remember how I behaved as a college kid in less tumultuous times.

A confederate statue is just a statue; it doesn’t “say” anything. It means different things to different people. Many, myself included, don’t see those statues as anything more than relics of history reflecting the importance of the figure not his virtue.

What do southerners, white and black, really think? If only a minority see these statues as celebrating slavery and a majority see them as reminders of Southern history, then should the  minority, who see them as somehow supporting racism, automatically have their way — never mind the illegality of toppling?

“Among their key demands: Students need more minority faculty, staff, and administrators they can feel comfortable confiding in and seeking advice from.” Knowledge has no color; white kids have sought comfort from black nannies in ages past; why should not black kids do likewise with whites?  Segregating students and faculty by color turns history on its head, and is racist besides.

I could go on. The point is that these are emotional and contentious issues. They should not be presented without a context. Perhaps next time, if you pick four students, there should be two on each side of the debate.

Cheers,
John S.

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