By Tope Fadiran
It’s hard out there for white men on college campuses. At least, that’s what American media would have us believe, given its coverage of the current controversy swirling around Dr. Saida Grundy, a Black scholar recently hired (effective July 1, 2015) by Boston University as an assistant professor of Sociology and African American Studies.
In reality, the way in which Dr. Grundy has been unceremoniously shoved into the spotlight proves the exact opposite: Black women on our campuses, even those who have reached the highest levels of educational achievement, are political and cultural targets simply for existing. There is no other explanation for the fact that this all began with a white man whose response to Grundy’s hiring was to go in search of something he could use to undermine her intellectual and professional standing.
Nick Pappas is a conservative student activist at University of Massachusetts Amherst (for those who aren’t familiar with my home state’s geography, that’s basically on the other side of the state from Boston). Pappas apparently saw BU’s hiring of Grundy as enough cause for concern that he decided to dig through her Twitter account. He then published some of her tweets online—taken out of their original context—to “expose the bias and factual problems with modern humanities classes, which are many, and common at colleges across the country.”
A sampling of what Pappas saw as evidence of Grundy’s “bias”:
Why is white America so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?
Deal with your white shit, white people. slavery is a *YALL* thing.
Every MLK week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned businesses. And every year I find it nearly impossible.
White masculinity isn’t a problem for america’s colleges, white masculinity is THE problem for america’s colleges.
The rest is predictable: conservative media picked up Pappas’ post and ran with it, lambasting her as “anti-white,” “anti-male,” a “major-league-twit…[and] a certified, dyed-in-the-wool, four-square, in-your-face racist.” BU’s initial response to all this was tepid support—”free speech,” etc. etc. In the last few days though, the school has seemed increasingly spooked by the furor. BU issued two statements in rapid succession—one of them from university president Robert A. Brown—essentially validating right wing smears of Grundy as “racist.”
Long story short, BU threw Dr. Grundy under the bus in a scramble to prove that it is an “inclusive” institution that “does not condone racism or bigotry in any form.” The irony.
As for Grundy, these smears and the ensuing online attacks on her have forced her to make her Twitter account private. She has also released a statement expressing regret for “depriv[ing]” the issues she raised in her tweets “of the nuance and complexity that such subjects always deserve,” and assuring the BU community that she is ”professionally and ethically…unequivocally committed to ensuring that my classroom is a space where all students are welcomed.”
On the plus side: Grundy has gotten a wave of support online. #ISupportSaida and #IStandWithSaida have taken off on Twitter, and there’s a petition urging BU to stand behind her. There have also been several articles published in her defense.
It also looks like this controversy won’t cost Grundy the job she hasn’t even started yet, which, frankly, is a relief. It wouldn’t be the first time a scholar of color was denied a professional opportunity because of their inconvenient politics. Still, you can bet that Grundy will be under intense scrutiny and suspicion at BU, even beyond the already high levels that Black women academics routinely face.
Grundy earned her doctorate only last year; her job at BU would be her first appointment as a professor. Now, some might question the wisdom of posting the comments she did, in public, as a Black woman just starting her academic career. But so long as we recognize that white supremacy, patriarchy, and systemic racism are real forces in the world, the worst we can say of Grundy’s comments is that they were impolitic and arguably ill-advised.
It’s certainly the case that she didn’t use the often abstracted, punch-pulling language of academia. But it’s also the case that there’s a wide and deep body of scholarship that says exactly what Grundy said—white masculinity is a major source of societal dysfunction and violence—only more formally.
It’s also a mystery what is so “offensive” about a Black woman to choosing to exclusively support businesses owned by people of color, much less to do so for only one week out of the year. If only people were as scandalized by the fact that systemic racism makes building wealth and owning businesses a herculean task for many POC.
That’s not the world we live in. In this world, intentionally supporting POC businesses is “racist”; a system that entrenches whole communities of color in poverty is not. To add insult to injury, BU’s leaders have now signaled to students, staff, faculty, and the entire country that this perverse redefinition of “racism” is correct.
It’s worth looking a bit more closely at how right wing media especially have characterized Grundy’s comments to better understand what, exactly, BU’s leadership validated through its response.
Fox News’s Andrea Tantaros, for example, claimed Grundy’s tweets show that the “last acceptable [targets] of discrimination in this country” are “Christians…and white men.” Grundy can “get away” with such “discrimination,” she added, because there are no “organizations in defense of white men…Where are the marches? Where are the editorials penned?”
Hmm, organizations writing and marching in defense of white men. Gosh, what does that sound like? I’m drawing a blank…
Andrea Tantaros on Outnumbered, via Fox News
Lest we be confused about the intersection of anti-Blackness and misogyny here, Tantaros also connected Grundy’s tweets to Rolling Stone’s disastrous misreporting on rape at UVA. She suggested “rape culture,” is nothing more than a conspiracy to attack white men on college campuses, manufactured by an unspecified “they” who are also “feminizing [white men] even more to get rid of that masculinity.” In the same segment, Jedidiah Bila added that white men on American campuses “feel really unprotected, and Sandra Smith questioned whether Grundy can “subjectively [sic] grade white males in her class room” when “she’s got that kind of bias.”
Elsewhere Fox quoted notoriously anti-Black, anti-affirmative action, professional campus agitator David Horowitz: “I’m not surprised that Boston University is hiring a racist to teach African American Studies.” Why? Black Studies is apparently “rampant with anti-white racism” and “indoctrination programs in left-wing politics.” The kicker: “If she were a white racist rather than an anti-white racist, she would never be hired.”
So universities never hire racist white professors? I think more than a few schools might have missed that memo.
This is who Boston University’s leaders felt so compelled to appease: racism and rape culture denialists who see any kind of “ethnic studies” as inherently invalid, who literally want to rewrite the history of this country to cover up our long, sordid history of white supremacist violence and oppression. In other words, misogynist white supremacists. Misogynoirists.
So there’s a bitter irony in BU’s scramble to say how “saddened” it is by Dr. Grundy’s “offensive” comments, and declare its “commit[ment] to maintaining an educational environment that is free from bias, fully inclusive, and open to wide-ranging discussions.” Because, y’know, distancing your institution from a Black woman scholar on account of the rantings of people who insist talking about racism is racist and talking about rape culture is anti-male, is kind of the opposite of maintaining an “inclusive” educational environment.
In response to the railroading of Saida Grundy, current and former members of the BU community have been speaking out about exactly what kind of “educational environment” the university fosters for students of color.
Criticizing her alma mater for throwing Grundy under the bus, Michelle Huxtable notes the Boston Globe’s recent reporting on the overwhelming whiteness of higher education institutions in Boston. BU stands even out among its local peers on lack of representation:
- Only 4% of the current student body is Black. In the Globe piece, BU’s provost justifies low Black enrollment with the argument that “the pool of academically qualified black students is slim.”
- 2.8% of full-time faculty are Black, a number that has risen by a mere 1% in thirty years.
- 7.4% of full-time faculty are from “underrepresented” racial or ethnic groups. The Globe adds: “Among local large private colleges, only Boston College had a smaller percentage of minority faculty.”
BU also recently announced that it would be closing its African Presidential Center for “fail[ing] to sustain itself financially,” a decision that “prompt[ed] the center’s director…to charge that the school lacks commitment to issues concerning black people.”
Alumna Huxtable charges the same, specifically calling the school out for profiting off its association with Dr. King (MLK earned his Ph.D. there) but failing to walk its talk on diversity:
Myself along with other Boston University alumni and current students have tried other methods. We’ve gone to the Dean of Students, Kenneth Elmore. In his own words, “I have tried – for a long time – to stay out of the conversations on races.”…We’ve tried running for office in the Student Government. We had a Black Student Body President. Not president of the Black Student Union. The Boston University Student Government. Nothing helped. So here we are. Cyberbullying Boston University into acting like they have some sense…
Boston University representative Colin Riley said, “The University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements”…Didn’t Boston University’s Provost just make some racist, bigoted, offensive statements? Oh. She’s not a Black woman. Cool. As you were.
As does former BU employee Christian Cho:
When I used to work at BU, I was pulled into a superior’s office. At the time, I was writing rather directly about the ongoing civil unrest in Ferguson and New York, trying to articulate opinions not highly present online. I was warned not to write these opinions. When I asked if this was coming from a specific person or not, he told me that I was to be the Assistant Director for all students. In other words, I should be quiet and whitewash my opinions to make white people more comfortable.
Huxtable and Cho are not alone. Among the many people contributing to the #ISupportSaida hashtag are students of color currently enrolled at BU. Read their tweets about how isolated, demeaned, and poorly supported they feel on their own campus, then decide for yourself how strong BU’s commitment is to maintaining an inclusive and bias-free educational environment.
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