The Spreading Virus: Emory Edition

Oberlin (and Missouri, and Yale, and Claremont, and Princeton, and. . .) isn’t the only campus where the asylum keepers (that is, administrators) are as nutty as the inmates. Black students of Emory have likewise issued a list of demands, by now quite familiar, which you can read in full here. A few key excerpts:

  • Due to the systematic oppression faced by Black students throughout the world via colorism, racism, classism, mass incarceration, police brutality and all other injustices we need psychological services that cater to our unique psychological needs. . . These alternative counseling methods include: Black spirituality methods, Black counselors, and counselors of color.
  • We demand that the faculty evaluations that each student is required to complete for each of their professors include at least two open-ended questions such as: “Has this professor made any microaggressions towards you on account of your race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, and/or other identity?” and “Do you think that this professor fits into the vision of Emory University being a community of care for individuals of all racial, gender, ability, and class identities?” These questions on the faculty evaluations would help to ensure that there are repercussions or sanctions for racist actions performed by professors. We demand that these questions be added to the faculty evaluations by the end of this semester, Fall 2015.
  • Acknowledging foremost that all kinds of speech are not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” Emory University shall not protect the privilege of students to vocalize hate speech.
  • Emory University does not currently have a General Education Requirement that focuses specifically on the histories and experiences of people of color. The Campus Life Compact for Building an Inclusive Community at Emory (written Fall of 2012) states that the Office of the Provost and academic Deans will: 1) Consider creating a Global Citizenship & Diversity General Education Requirement and 2) Expand the range and quantity of course offerings specifically related to race relations, racism, ethnicity, etc.

Emory’s provost, Claire E. Sterk, and the dean of campus life, Ajay Nair, responded on December 4 with a long and typically bureaucratic letter (not available online—a faculty member shared it with me) that essentially says, “We’ll cave where we can.” To the demand for course evaluations with open-ended questions about microaggressions, for example, Sterk and Nair wrote:

Each academic Dean will be asked to establish a process in the school/college to review and revise current course evaluations (e.g., add the recommended open-ended questions), as well as make other revisions identified as part of the review. Next, these revised course evaluations will be shared through existing mechanisms such as the Council of Deans, the University Senate, and the ongoing assessments on student learning.

And as for the demand that students be censored for thoughtcrime expressed on YikYak, Sterk and Nair write:

Through a partnership between Information Technology Services and the University Senate, a task force will be created to examine the feasibility of a geofence covering the zip codes for Emory University, including Oxford College.

In other words, Emory will attempt to see if they can shut down a perfectly legal Internet platform.

As I say, the whole letter is bureaucratic in tone and content, and I suspect the students making the demands will have nothing but contempt for it, as well they should. Which means there probably isn’t anyone right now who thinks Sterk and Nair are anything other than clowns.

Dean Nair took no chances, though, writing in the campus paper a few days ago that the student protests are “illuminating the path to progress.” Get ready for a first class grovel:

Our venerable and often somnolent higher education institutions will be markedly different in the next era of higher education, thanks to a new wave of student activism.

As higher education leaders and administrators, we must replace our current paradigm of multiculturalism with a new approach, polyculturalism. Multiculturalism, a transitional move away from our society’s historic oppression of marginalized groups, defines individuals primarily by race, religion, ethnicity, or similarly narrow criteria, placing each of us in categories that too often disregard our other identities and overlook our shared humanity.

However, today’s activists and other students are growing up in a wonderfully diverse, polycultural global society that increasingly acknowledges and embraces our individual “multidimensionality” as complex beings with many identities. In doing so, polyculturalism opens the doors to what today’s student activists demand – greater inclusion, collaboration, transparency, and accountability.

To paraphrase Gabby Johnson in Blazing Saddles (a movie that cannot be screened on most college campuses today), “That is some authentic academic gibberish!” And it doesn’t get any better after that opening. I can see the sales slogan now: “Polyculturalism! When Multiculturalism just isn’t enough!” Coming next year: “Poly-multi-trans-super-dooperculturalism.”

Tuition, room, board, and fees to attend Emory come in now at $63,000 a year. Such a bargain for the profundity of Dean Nair.

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