Tag Archives: race

ILA faculty join critics

“For us in the ILA, President Wagner’s ill-chosen “Three-Fifths Compromise” model has a clear and direct tie to the cuts in academic programs announced last fall. These decisions, in violation of Emory’s established principles of shared governance and of all proper procedure, are immensely damaging to Emory’s much vaunted commitment to diversity. They impact faculty and students of color disproportionately and indicate that President Wagner has, after all, a limited commitment to the ideals of a diverse and mutually respectful University community.”

Read the entire letter in today’s Wheel.

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Psychology faculty, Open Door members denounce Wagner

Nine faculty members in the psychology department have published an open letter to the Board of Trustees in the Wheel. They write of the “shadow of racism” cast over Emory by Wagner’s statement and note that it has been “only the latest example in a series of his actions tarnishing Emory’s academic reputation and standing.” Then they exhort the Board to take action and to initiate a conversation with professors:

Public comment from the Board of Trustees is an essential first step towards undoing this damage. We also strongly encourage the Board of Trustees to reach out to Emory faculty to solicit their input concerning the implications of President Wagner’s leadership for the future of the university.

The Wheel has also received a copy of a March 7 letter sent to Ben Johnson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, on behalf of Open Door Community, a group home and outreach center in the Catholic Worker tradition “that has sought to dismantle racism, sexism and heterosexism for the past 31 years” and that has strong ties to Emory. The ODC’s representatives express their outrage over the “Three-Fifths” editorial, adding:

We would like to stress that this is not solely about President Wagner, but rather about an urgent need for intentional work on the part of Emory University toward the eradication of racism, in which all of us can play a role under your leadership as the chair of Emory’s Board of Trustees. We are also distressed about the recent department cuts at Emory, which disproportionately impact people of color. Whereas only 15 percent of the overall university faculty are of color, the affected departments contain anywhere from 20 to 48 percent faculty of color – and these decisions were made entirely by a group of eight white people.

These letters should be distributed as widely as possible before today’s faculty meeting (4:00 in White Hall), over which President Wagner will preside, and at which the resolution for a vote of no confidence will perhaps be raised.

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Navyug’s speech on the racialization of the cuts

Here is the text of Navyug’s speech on behalf of the SRC at the Rally Against Racism last night.

There is a problem here at Emory.

What brought all of us together today is what appears to be only the latest in a series of blunders by the administration. From exploitive labour practices, to the suppressing of student dissent, the dishonesty of data-reporting, the ignoring of racism, the drastic cuts to programs, and the latest comments by President Wagner – Emory is all the more prominent for all the wrong reasons.

In fact, last semester around this time, opposition to the sweeping and unilateral cuts to academic programs announced by Dean Foreman on September 14th animated our campus. It was to these very cuts that President Wagner referred to in his infamous article.

One indication of what these cuts are about is through the logic of proportion.

Whenever people in power attempt to implement narrow-minded and regressive decisions, they always present them as neutral, efficient, responsible, prudent, inevitable – or, especially in this case, ‘in the pursuit of eminence.’

Yet when we use the critical faculties that are a central purpose of the university – when we examine the details, read and discuss carefully, and analyze the processes – we see that these cuts were far from neutral.

As you all know, the cuts target the Division of Educational Studies, the department of Visual Arts, the Journalism program, the Institute for the Liberal Arts, the department of Physical Education, the graduate programs in Economics and Spanish, as well as some language instruction in Russian, Farsi and Hindi/Urdu.

Taken together, these programs contain some of the highest numbers of students of colour and from abroad. Just two examples: 25% of the ILA students are minorities, while 40% of students in the DES are African-American, the highest population of any department in the university. In terms of faculty, whereas only 15% of the total University faculty is of colour, the cut departments contain anywhere from 20% to 48% faculty of colour. And the decision to make these cuts…was made by a group of 8 white people, 6 of which were men.

In other words, these cuts disproportionately impact people of colour: students, faculty and departments that have a vital role in communities across Atlanta.

To make sense of what this means, contrast it with another glaringly disproportionate relation in our society. Take, for example, US incarceration rates.

While African-Americans are 14% of the general population, they are 40% of the prison population. Now, unless one is either hopeless or ignorant, it is clear that issues of poverty, criminality and the justice system are far from neutral, but instead deeply implicated in a politics of race and racism.

The further question to ask, however, is that if African-Americans, as 14% of the general population, came to constitute 14% of the prison population, would the problem be solved? Would proportional representation in prisons be the answer to the contradictions of poverty, crime and justice?

Disproportion is therefore an indication of a problem, but it is not its entirety.

This is where President Wagner’s comments are actually illuminating. What he said in praise of the decision of a few white property-owning men to quantify the humanity of slaves as a fraction is not merely clumsy and insensitive. It also contains an insight into how the administration understands governance and the process of decision-making.

President Wagner’s use of the 3/5 example unwittingly draws a parallel between the actions of those in power. In this case, in mobilizing against these cuts, the Student Re-visioning Committee organized three major public demonstrations, wrote scores of op-ed pieces in different publications, sent letters, requests and petitions, met and spoke with administrators for hours, garnered local and national media coverage and held a seven-hour sit-in at the administration building. In response, the administration listened, shrugged and proceeded to do exactly what they set out to do.

This is what the language of dialogue and compromise is designed to conceal: the disparities of power that, again in this case, exclude students from meaningful participation in how our university operates. President Wagner’s error was therefore not only an odious comparison, but an honest revelation. And it is a profound lack of vision that allows him first to make the mistake, and second to apologize to deny its truth.

Indeed, by their own words, the administration acknowledges that they do not have the right set of eyes to edit their own publications. While I agree that they are grossly inadequate, this issue involves more than simply iris colour and skin pigmentation.

So, there are problems at Emory. What is needed is a movement of people in a range of capacities to come together to think through a different way of identifying priorities, addressing needs as well as aspirations, and implementing sound policies. We need a project of re-visioning to democratize our university.

And for that, what this latest uproar demonstrates is that we are probably better off attempting
this difficult task without the current administration.

[The same, as a PDF]

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Rally Against Racism forges connections

Anger, a desire for communication, and some tentative optimism were in store tonight, as students, faculty members, and administrators (Dean Forman and VP Gary Hauk mingled with the crowd) gathered for the Rally Against Racism. The event was organized as a collaboration by the Black Students Alliance, Emory NAACP, Change@Emory, the SRC, and the Office of Campus Life.

Before the sun went down, the Office of Religious Life encouraged students to write their hope for healing on a ribbon.

Ribbons for healing

College senior Hugh Hunter recalled the time he nearly urinated on from the balcony of a student residence, then told to go back to “his” campus. Since that appalling incident two years ago, he has been asked, “Do you go here?” 47 times (he counted), by students and faculty/staff, white and black. For black men at Emory, daily life is replete with microaggressions: “When a student shifts her backpack away when I sit at the desk beside her,” or when opening another Campus Safety Report email warning about black male muggers on the Midtown streets. “How do we make ourselves belong?” he asked. “By not settling.”

Cindy Park, a sophomore studying sociology, described a climate of persistent discrimination toward Asian and Asian American students. Why, she asked, is “You’re not like the other Asians” considered a compliment? Why are too many Asian women treated as docile and as sex objects? She recounted the dismaying story of going to Zaya’s (a campus restaurant) with a friend, who is Saudi, and hearing other students chant “LSM!” at them. (Longstreet-Means is a residence hall associated with “multicultural” and international students.) Then, in a pointed response to President Wagner’s “explanation” for the Emory Magazine letter, Cindy said, “We weren’t offended because we didn’t understand. We were offended because it was offensive.”

Taking pictures before the speeches

Lawrence Jackson, professor of English and African American studies, reminded us of where we stood: on the remnants of the old Peyton plantation; walking north on Clairmont, you would pass Butler’s Lane, where the slave quarters stood. With “the next generation” playing behind him, Jackson recited the names of his own “3/5 compromise ancestors,” who were sold before the Civil War. He exhorted all of Emory to know better, do better, and demand the best of our leaders.

Navyug Gill, graduate student in history and SRC member, broke down the racialization of Emory’s department cuts. Hopefully, we’ll have his speech up here soon.

Nicole Blumenkehl, a college senior and the chair of student concerns for College Council, discussed proposal to create a new GER (general education requirement) category, Global Citizenship, in place of the current History/Society/Culture module. The new requirement would expose students to global justice concerns, inequality, identity and difference: not be a catch-all solution, surely, but a significant gesture toward inscribing justice and equity into college teaching. She encouraged students to pay attention to the petition when it comes around.

Roopika Risam, current Dean’s Teaching Fellow in English and soon-to-be Assistant Professor at Salem State (er, can I say that?), delivered a passionate plea for genuinely ethically engaged teaching and scholarship: “I can’t stand in front of my students in our Global Blackness class three times a week and tell them that the historical legacies of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism are important, but not do anything when these very legacies are making themselves known on campus.” Read Roopika’s speech in its entirety on her blog.

Christian Conway addressed the abrupt and, to many students, devastating closure of historically black fraternity and sorority houses at Emory. Whereas majority-white frat houses stand despite charges of rape, hazing, and heavy drinking by individual students, allegations of lesser offenses within the black Greek system have been disproportionately punished, with less investigation.

Ian McCall described the disparity between black men’s grades and graduation rates and those of other groups of students, and called for comprehensive data collection and mentorship programs.

Jovanna Jones and Mariama Jallow, president and vice president of the Black Students Alliance and both College sophomores, addressed the closure of the BSA House and the lack of gathering spaces for black students (in which, they stressed, all students would be welcome to come and learn).

Stephanie Llanes, vice president of College Council and a member of Change@Emory, reaffirmed the need for structural change, and called to increase the visibility of Latina/o students and Spanish language study.

Reconstructed from my notes; if I have misrepresented anything or anyone, please email or leave a comment. Ditto if you’re willing to have your speech archived here.

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In the “ironies” column

I hear the voice of President Wagner as he repeatedly references me by name in his statements. I hear his final sentence in ways that I never did out of all the times I’ve previously read it: ‘It is owing more fundamentally to who I am, and the deliberate effort not to lose who I am in what I do, that I find motivation and satisfaction in service to Emory, to people like Carlton.’

An essay from 2010 by then-Candler graduate student Carlton Mackey, reflecting on sitting for a photograph with President Wagner. The photographer, Dawoud Bey, had been invited to Emory by the visual arts department and the now-“concluded” Transforming Community Project. Emory has archived Bey’s “Emory Project” online.

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Surprise SCLC protest draws media attention

The Black Student Alliance, Black Star, Change@Emory, the SRC, and faculty supporters staged a silent protest at the lavish launch party for And the Struggle Continues: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Fight for Social Change at the Woodruff Library. We objected to the positioning of President Wagner and Emory College as patrons of the African-American civil rights and global anti-poverty movements.

Protesters greet Wagner at the SCLC launch. Photo: Jason Francisco.

Protesters greet Wagner at the SCLC launch. Photo: Jason Francisco.

Our banners bore statements like “Civil Rights is not a photo-op,” “I am not an afterthought,” and “Happy retirement, President Wagner.” We also distributed our fact sheet on race and the cuts and a statement from Change@Emory, “A Call to Action.”

Reporters from the New York Times, NPR, Fox 5 Atlanta, and the Emory Wheel were present.

Attendees–guests and honored speakers alike–were overwhelmingly supportive of our message. We received comments like, “50 years later, we’re still protesting?” and (from a SCLC speaker) “This is the First Amendment right we fought for.” As quoted in the NYT, Brenda Davenport, who has worked as the national volunteer and youth organizer for the SCLC, said, “I love it. Where else would you want protesters to show up but at something that is about the value of protesting?”
Dorothy Cotton, the director of the SCLC’s Citizen Education Project during the 1960s, and current national CEO Charles Steele both emphasized the role of education and engagement in the fight against Jim Crow, voting rights infringements, and other injustices.

For many in the room, the disintegration of the DES, the ILA, and the Journalism program was a bitter subtext. The exhibit was co-curated by a doctoral candidate in the ILA, an irony we didn’t want anyone to miss.

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No oversight: Fact sheet on race at Emory

Whether you’re new to the controversies at Emory or just want a refresher, the SRC has prepared a fact sheet on racial representation at the university, the devastating effects the cuts are having on faculty and grad students of color, and the university’s increasing insularity within Atlanta and the U.S. South.
Fact Sheet on Race and the Emory Cuts

Edited 2/22: PDF revised for clarity

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Vital upcoming events

Emory students are setting the agenda once more, with characteristic passion and creativity. These two events next week promise to be far more inspiring than anything that comes out of the PR machine.

1. ILA colloquium: “Re-Visioning What is and What Can Be: Activism, Art, and the Creative Edge of Change”: Tuesday, Feb. 26th from 11:45-1:00 pm in Callaway S423, the ILA conference room.


2. Rally Against Racism, organized by members of the Black Students Alliance, Black Star magazine, and Change@Emory and the NAACP, next Wednesday (the 27th) at 6 on Asbury Circle.

The organizers write: “This is NOT a FORUM, but a CALL TO ACTION.This will be an opportunity for students to come together to unite against the systemic racism on Emory’s campus. Issues covered at the event include (but are not limited to): President Wagner’s “Compromise” Article and Failure to Understand Wrongs Even in Apology; The Dooley Show; The Racialization of Labor Issues and The Labor Movement; Lack of campus spaces for Black students and race issues; Disparities in Student Conduct Outcomes; Treatment of Minority Students on Frat Row; Administrative Processes; Removal of the BSA house; The suspension of Alpha Phi Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta. Explorations of solutions include: Auditing/Reforming Student Conduct Process; Emory University taking a clear and committed stance on racism (using the work on Sexual Assault and Sustainability as a model); the creation of a Black Student Union for formal space as well as resources on campus for black students; Campus Life hiring a team of experts to be proactive in working with racial issues as well as responding to racial problems; the development of a Bias Reporting System; instituting new GERs; transparency.”

Edited 2/21 to correct the organizers of the Rally Against Racism.

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Wags’ gaffe immortalized

Emory student Kwame Phillips delivers the headline news:

Newsweek magazine: Happy Black History Month, featuring Wagner

Those eyes!

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