Thursday, April 23, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
“The words “women and gender” are frequently added after the word “race” and the appropriate commas, and increasingly the word “sexuality” completes the litany. But the intellectual work of black women and gay men is not thought to be of enough significance to be engaged with, argued with, agreed or disagreed with. Thus terms like women, gender, and sexuality have a decorative function only. They color the background of the canvas to create the appropriate illusion of inclusion and diversity, but they do not affect the shape or texture of the subject.”Yale Professor Hazel Carby published the words above in the introduction to her absolutely phenomenal text Race Men. I was pulled back to this work, after attending Yale's annual Black History Month dinner. This year, the honored speaker was Governor Deval Patrick, first black governor of Massachusetts. For some unknown and seemingly arbitrary reason, the theme of the event was Black Male Achievement. Five black male students shared the dais with the Governor, as Dean George read off a list of their (disproportionately impressive) achievements. Countless superficial references were made to Obama's win, as though the young men being honored were the direct heirs of this historical race.
Too often are black women shut out from intellectual debate. Western intellectual tradition has long marginalized or completely shut out black contribution and when black culture is included, gender is necessarily subsumed. With the strides made not only by critical race and feminist theorists, such as Carby and including Kenji Yoshino, Henry Louis Gates, Jr and John D'Emilio to name a few, there are few excuses to claim ignorance to such historical blindsighting.
So what can the University do? I participated in a race forum last spring, facilitated by Assistant Dean Shelly Lowe, in which a lot of interesting suggestions were advanced. Some participants advocated requiring a certain number of credits to be fulfilled by "multicultural" courses, which I didn't think made the most sense. I do however believe that professors should be challenged to rethink their syllabi and judge whether their material accomodates issues of difference and the works of historically excluded minds. I don't think that courses in marginal studies such as AFAM or WGSS should have to qualify themselves as extensively as they do, nor do I think a class titled as broadly as "The Art of Biography" should pass with no attention to sexual or ethnic difference. This does not have to be a clumsy reform, many works can be seamlessly included without changing the focus of the course.
Not enough is being done to appreciate the intellectual labor of our marginalized ancestors and consequently the way we address issues of race, gender and sexuality on campus is not richly textured or sufficiently progressive. The Black History Month dinner stood as proof of this; we're quickly satisfied with the premise of celebrating black bodies that we do not bother asking further questions.
Monday, March 02, 2009
Like a kid approaching puberty. Awkward, but cute.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Tell us what's up, what's good, and what sucks on the Discussion Board; we'll respond (in one way or another). And feel free to send relevant links or campus events so we can share them on here and on the Page.
Friday, February 20, 2009
I always see Portfolio as a lean, elegant liberal finance mag fighting a losing battle against its stodgier counterparts. I hope it doesn't fold, as sites like Gawker have been saying it will since before its first issue came out. Full disclosure: I was an editorial intern there last summer. Important note: Portfolio's editor-in-chief is a clever Yale alumna.
Two observations from Margolick's article:
"In the 21 months since they filed suit, the women have already made some headway. But there are also accusations that the victims are becoming victimizers. Some of the defendants say the case amounts to an all-expenses-paid elitist temper tantrum in which two privileged women have cast an overly broad net, thus failing to differentiate between the really wicked and some of the tamer flamers, and have jeopardized careers in ways far more serious than theirs ever have been. One way or another, their suit highlights a culture and a legal system that still aren’t quite sure how freely people can or should speak online, how seriously to take what they say, and whether they can or should be sued for saying it."
"...In the view of Dave Hoffman, a professor at Temple University Law School who has blogged about AutoAdmit, the site offered its patrons a peculiar, vicarious kick: It allowed people who were straitlaced and risk-averse enough to want to be lawyers in the first place to become briefly, crazily irresponsible. They could spout outrageous lies, or, in the manner of Sacha Baron Cohen, invent entirely new personalities for themselves, invariably as homophobes, racists, or misogynists. Speaking a common language and flouting the same taboos, such posters became a close-knit fraternity of complete strangers who rarely even knew one another’s names. But for all their trash talk, many could even feel principled about their misbehavior; after all, they were free-speech absolutists. And they became cyber-survivalists when anyone tried to tone down or remove their posts."
ONE YEAR LATER, FORTY YEARS BACK
I write 40 years after Yale welcomed its first female applicants, and one year after a group of fraternity brothers blocked the entrance to the Yale Women’s Center, crowding around the typewritten phrase, “We Love Yale Sluts.” I write in response to the article, “A year later, little impact from ‘Sluts’ controversy” (Feb. 16), which addressed the latter incident but omitted the former.
The Zeta Psi boys’ “Sluts” escapade was not special because it was bigotry — much uglier speech has been voiced, and is still voiced, behind closed dorm room doors, on the comments boards of the News Web site, and at campus parties. It was special because, finally, there were faces to the bigotry — 12 faces, to be exact, accompanied by gestures of pride or of glee.
Hate speech makes its subjects, the harassed and the derided, a little less free in the environment that permits it. Last year Yale was beset by hate speech that went unclaimed: homophobic “NOGAYS” fliers, a swastika formed with snow, racist graffiti on residential college walls and rape threats targeting specific students on an anonymous gossip site.
With no one to blame, what was Yale to do? For lack of evidence, it could only condemn these incidents of hate speech. For lack of evidence, it held “forums” to “discuss” the “issues,” so that we could “express” our “views.”
Then came an incident of hate speech whose authorship we knew, whose perpetrators we could name. And Yale failed us. It formed a committee or two; it held another forum. It listened sympathetically as a few of us expressed our concerns, and less sympathetically when we proposed constructive action. And then, as the furor died down, it looked away.
There are many tired women at Yale right now. They are women who shrug, since boys will be boys; women who say, “You do not speak for me, Women’s Center. I do not oppose what the Zeta Psi boys did”; or women who — most powerfully — know in their hearts that we may fight male contempt at Yale, but that the real world will offer us much worse. Especially with these last women, I disagree. In the world outside Yale, a group of men who publicly rally around a phrase with the word “sluts” would be fired from their jobs, if not prosecuted, and subjected to punishing scrutiny on all sides.
At Yale, a group of men who publicly rally around a phrase with “sluts” were exonerated and protected, and their critics were called — by their peers — unsympathetic whores who had nothing better to do with their privilege. What the Zeta Psi boys did wouldn’t fly in the real world, not even at the male-dominated financial news network where I worked this fall. But last spring it was indulged at Yale, my school, which enrolls more women than men.
A student who physically assaults another student is punishable by the law. A student who drops a crucial footnote is punishable by the Executive Committee. Campus hate speech is less harmful than physical violence, but certainly more harmful than small-time plagiarism; it occupies a space between these two offenses.
Who is responsible for policing that space? A student club with few resources beyond hope, anger and words which foolishly presumed to advocate for Yale women (who, if the backlash is to be believed, are perfectly happy to be called sluts — our mistake)? Or a powerful and storied American university that promised us much, but tolerance and safety at the very least?
This is not the Yale I was promised, or that any of us were promised.