Protestors Force Cancelation of Trump Rally in Chicago

The activists at University of Illinois-Chicago, where Trump had scheduled a rally, effectively shut it down yesterday. When the rally was abruptly canceled at the last minute, Trump supporters and protestors clashed. Several people were injured.

This brief video puts the events of last night into some context of Trump’s escalating remarks at recent rallies (12:50 with a :30 advertisement at the beginning):

As this timeline created by Maddow’s production team illustrates, the rhetoric of Donald Trump is escalating and is now, pretty plainly, inciting violence among his supporters. Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric reaches beyond his rallies. Just two weeks ago, white high school students attending their school’s basketball game chanted “Trump, Trump, Trump” as way to intimidate their mostly Latino opponents on the other team.

What the clip by Maddow doesn’t mention is the way that mainstream news outlets, including MSNBC which airs her show, are complicit in this. The television news outlets give Trump free air time because it is good for their ratings. And, of course, it benefits Trump’s campaign. According to one estimate from January this year, Fox News alone has given Trump the equivalent of more than $30 million in free air time.

Because these events happened in Chicago at an event related to a presidential campaign, many people in the US were reminded of the violence against protestors at the 1968 Democratic Chicago convention. While this became a turning point in American politics, I don’t think this is the most apt comparison.

I think that Trump’s candidacy, and the appeal to his supporters, speaks to a much more sinister comparison. As Brent Staples, writing at the New York Times, recently pointed out, Trump’s rhetoric harkens back to reconstruction era politics. Here is Staples, and it’s worth quoting him at length:

Antigovernment and militia groups have grown rapidly since 2008. Shortly after Mr. Obama’s election, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups, reported that the antigovernment militia movement had undergone a resurgence, fueled partly “by fears of a black man in the White House.” And for proof of violence like that of the Reconstruction era, look no further than the young white supremacist who is charged with murdering nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, S.C., last summer.

This is the backdrop against which Donald Trump blew a kiss to the white supremacist movement during a television interview by refusing to disavow the support of the white nationalist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Republican Party leaders in Congress wagged their fingers and delivered pro forma denunciations. What they need to understand is this: Racial hatred is a threat to the country and their party’s leading candidate is doing everything he can to profit from it.

That’s what Donald Trump is doing with this increasingly violent and hate-filled rhetoric, he’s “blowing a kiss to the white supremacist movement.” This is the GOP frontrunner and presumptive nominee for president of the US. These are dire times.

What the protests at the rally last night in Chicago showed is that it is possible for people to stand up against the bigotry and hatred of Trump and his supporters. It’s not just possible, it’s necessary.

The Trouble with Cisgender White Feminists

With her out-sized trans* visibility, retrograde politics, and gender performance, it is difficult for many cisgender white feminists to make sense of Caitlyn Jenner.

Caitlyn Cover

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(Aside: This is probably where I should disclose that I am white, sometimes identify as a feminist, and am cisgender. I also identify as lesbian, queer and femme and have a long-term partner who is GNC. I come at this critique and all my work through a lens that places critical race theory at the beginning of the analysis. This post follows on a recent one about Caitlyn Jenner, which is part of If on-going series I write called The Trouble with White Feminism, you might want to check it out.) 

In June, 2015 journalist and film producer, Elinor Burkett publishedher response to Jenner’s announcement of her gender transition, “What Makes a Woman?” in the New York Times. The piece caused an uproar. In it, Burkett confided that she, and “many women I know,” “speak privately about how insulting we find the language trans activists use to explain themselves.” In Burkett’s view, the rhetoric of transitioning from one gender to another does not give enough heed to the social construction of gender, but relies on a kind of biological determinism. To make this argument, she relied on an analogy with race:

The “I was born in the wrong body” rhetoric favored by other trans people doesn’t work any better and is just as offensive, reducing us to our collective breasts and vaginas. Imagine the reaction if a young white man suddenly declared that he was trapped in the wrong body and, after using chemicals to change his skin pigmentation and crocheting his hair into twists, expected to be embraced by the black community.

Burkett’s objection seems to be that even though gender is not reducible to mere biology (breasts and vaginas), it is also not so easily changed. It is curious that she reaches to an analogy with race here. Curious because race is mentioned nowhere else in her piece, and race doesn’t seem to be a pressing concern for Burkett except as it is useful to make the real point she wants to drive home here, which is about gender. What Burkett’s analogy between gender and race reveals is Burkett’s lack of understanding of how race affects her, and how it is interwoven with gender. Burkett is a cisgender woman, not only a woman, she is also white. Her whiteness influences her perspective as much as her gender and her feminism, but it is little examined here. Her faulty reasoning-by-analogy is especially ironic in hindsight, as it was a short week later that Rachel Dolezal emerged as someone who had done just what Burkett set out as preposterous.

Burkett mis-genders Jenner throughout the piece (calling her “him” “Mr.” and “Bruce” throughout) – a practice trans* activists have dubbed deadnaming.  In Burkett’s view, the primary offense of Caitlyn Jenner was an insufficiently feminist approach to the performance of gender, she ends the piece upbraiding Jenner for a fond reference to nail polish, saying “Nail polish does not a woman make.”

Burkett’s is a nasty response, but not an unfamiliar one. For US-based, second wave, cisgender, straight white feminists, like Burkett or like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, femininity was key part of what they were struggling against. For cisgender, straight, white women who came of age at the height of Playboy culture, rejecting the trappings of (heterosexual) femininity was a crucial form of resistance.

Gloria Steinem bunny

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A Bunny’s Tale,  Gloria Steinem’s indictment from within a bunny suit of the Playboy culture and that particular form of femininity, was a touchstone for many feminists of that generation. What the cisgender white feminists tend to miss is that this form of femininity was not available to all women. This is not to diminish how oppressive some women find make-up and high heels, but this is not a universal experience. Julia Serrano, who identifies as trans*, argues that femininity has been scapegoated and should be reclaimed and celebrated. But hers is an unusual voice among white feminists. Many more agree with Burkett.

Even acclaimed scholar Anne Fausto-Sterling found herself agreeing with Burkett’s critique of femininity:

“I do not identify with the culturally feminine. I don’t wear make-up or high heels or dresses. I have always viewed the dominant presentation of the feminine woman–as someone physically weak, dependent and physically impeded by tight clothing and high heels–as disempowering…”

Fausto-Sterling then posted a series of disastrous Tweets, and sought to correct them through a longer blog post. In that post, Fausto-Sterling says:

The visual pin-up-girl presentation of the ultra-feminine Caitlyn Jenner in the pages of Vanity Fair did not fill my heart with joy. After my fateful tweets some of my correspondents directed me to Julia Serrano’s defense of femininity and I am struggling both to understand her position and to decide whether I agree with it or whether it is possible to embrace parts of it.

This is a common mistake of a white feminism. It wants to herald “all women” as sharing some universal experiences that should unify us all. It’s what was behind that hashtag, #YesAllWomen.

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This is the kind of faulty logic that is behind Madeleine Albright’s quip, “There is a special place reserved in hell for women that do not help other women.” While she was recently made to apologize for the remark when she said it at a rally for Hillary Clinton, in years past it was a favorite line of hers and even printed on Starbucks coffee cups. But, what does the category ‘woman’ mean when cisgender, straight, white feminists use it?

As the posts and graphics in support of International Women’s Day floated through my social media timelines earlier this week, I wondered who they meant. Certainly not me. As someone who identifies as queer and lesbian, the category ‘woman’ as most people use the term, barely adheres to me. French feminist theorist Monique Wittig wrote:

“for ‘woman’ has meaning only in heterosexual systems of thought and heterosexual economic systems. Lesbians are not women.”

Wittig was writing at the peak of radical lesbian feminism and her words may seem shocking today, but they still resonate for me. The category woman as many cisgender feminists mean it, is not one that resonates for me. I am far removed – by my own design – from the dangers inherent in heterosexual systems (e.g., violence against women, unintended pregnancy, the need for abortion). I certainly stand in solidarity with those who live within that system, but it’s not my life. I am not a ‘woman’ in that way.

I also identify as a queer femme, so the kinds of insults hurled at Caitlyn Jenner for her performance of femininity could have just as easily been thrown at me. And yet, I am a cis white woman, which carries all kinds of privilege with it. This, too, troubles the simplistic category of ‘woman’ used by cisgender white feminists like Burkett.

Lesli-Ann Lewis, writing at Ebony, explains this disconnect she experiences reading Burkett:

Burkett’s White cis middle class womanhood looks nothing like my Black poor cis womanhood, and that her issues are not my issues. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a meeting and have my breasts discussed because I’m not invited to those meetings. With natural hair and a state college education, I’m not let in to make those $0.75 to a man’s dollar. Most Black women do not. She discusses periods and birth control as defining difficulties of womanhood, but the women I know have found their womanhood rooted in deeper, more communal issues. Becoming a Black woman in America means worrying for yourself and your loved ones when they go out, for fear of police.

Understanding police violence as every bit as foundational to womanhood is beyond the scope of conventional formulations of cisgender white feminism. Instead, cisgender white feminists insist on critiquing trans* women for their expression of femininity.

When Allure magazine ran a stunning, mostly nude photo of Laverne Cox, cis white feminist Megan Murphy lost it.

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Murphy called Cox’s photo a “cartoonish version” of what a woman looks like, “like any other objectified female body, sculpted by surgery and enhanced by Photoshop.” Murphy, like Burkett, critiques a trans* woman’s expression of femininity as part of that oppressive system of representation that (some) feminists want to break free from. But such a critique misses more than it offers. Here is Lesli-Ann Lewis again:

Critiquing marginalized women for embracing femininity is tone deaf as it ignores our history of being denied femininity.

Lewis is on point here. The critique of femininity by cis white feminists assumes that everyone – all women – have had femininity thrust upon them, that it has oppressed universally. But some of us have been denied femininity, or had it twisted and turned against us.

Cis white feminists critiquing the femininity of trans* women of color such as Laverne Cox are displaying a kind of ignorance that is fostered by whiteness. Accustomed to taking their experience as women, without regard to race (or class), and then universalizing that to all women, they call for a feminism that shores up whiteness. It’s a feminism I want no part of. I’ll be standing with the trans* queer and gender-non-conforming folks of all races who want to get free. Some of us will be wearing nail polish.

The Trouble with White Women: Caitlyn Jenner Edition

Caitlyn Jenner is doing quite well for herself.  Her visibility, and the responses to it, raises some troubling issues about white women and white feminism.

Caitlyn Jenner for HM Sports(Caitlyn Jenner for HM Sports, image source)

At a time in LGBTQ politics when Janet Mock, Laverne Cox (both African American) and Caitlyn Jenner (white) are making transgender women more visible, it is Caitlyn Jenner who secured the cover of Vanity Fair (photographed by Annie Leibowitz) for the announcement of her gender transition. Jenner also has her own reality-based tv show, “I Am Cait”, and is racking up major endorsement contracts, most recently with MAC cosmetics and HM Sports. While Jenner’s already-existing celebrity status – as a former Olympic athlete and an adjunct member of the Kardashians – has helped to launch her new career, it is her whiteness that has helped her monetize her gender transition.

Caitlyn Jenner and Donald Trump

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Since being catapulted into the media-designated spokesperson for trans* people, Caitlyn Jenner has voiced her ardently conservative views and declared her support for Republican party presidential candidates, recently offering to be Ted Cruz’s “trans ambassador.”

On a recent episode of her show, Jenner said Trump would be “would be very good for women’s issues” (although she doesn’t like his ‘macho attitude’). A group of mostly white ‘gal pals’ of transgender women try to coax her out of her support for Republicans and her misguided belief that they don’t have anything against transgender people. It’s this construction of Caitlyn Jenner in the role of “student,” or “anti-hero” in the narrative of the show that Zack Ford calls “brilliant” :

There’s something brilliant about the fact that this is a show with a cast made up entirely of transgender women who are speaking openly about their experiences and calling out problematic anti-trans rhetoric without it feeling like an after-school special. Even if Jenner plays the foil for these discussions, she’s also still the reason that they’re taking place and that hundreds of thousands of people are watching them.

Perhaps so. I agree that it’s a good thing that Caitlyn and her antagonists can discuss the dire implications of Republican policies for transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) people, such as the wretched bathroom policy in Houston, for a wide audience.

Caitlyn and pals

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Part of the trouble with  “I Am Cait”, is to join trans* identity with whiteness, wealth and a particular kind of gender identity. In her show, the trouble with white women expands the franchise to include trans* women.

As generative as the conversations on her show about trans* issues may be, they do little to address the systemic racism which leads to the disproportionate murders of trans* women of color. Statistics on this are hard to come by because most federal surveys designed to estimate populations simply don’t account for trans* people, according to the Williams Institute. According to one estimate, 22 trans* women of color were murdered in 2015. The actual number is likely far higher.

Although Caitlyn says she favors the Republicans for their economic agenda, she and her pals are not talking about how this agenda affects the economic precarity of trans* people.The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 26% of trans people lost a job due to bias, 50% were harassed while at work, and 78% of trans* students were harassed or assaulted. Joblessness among transgender people is around 14%, double the national average (for 2011). Black trans* people had double that rate, 28% unemployment, according to an NGLTF survey.

Preston Mitchum notes many of these same critiques of Jenner but argues that we, as cisgender LGB people, are too hard on her. He writes:

What’s frightening is that when we reach our social justice journeys, we often expect others to immediately be on the ride, despite the fact that it takes most of us a lifetime to get where we are.

To be sure, Jenner is ‘not a perfect advocate’ for LGBTQ rights and I agree with Mitchum here. We are all on a journey, and Jenner seems to be new to thinking about social justice issues. There’s a way in which Jenner gets held to a different standard because she is in the spotlight.

My critique is less about her as an individual and what her ascendance means for the culture. What’s happening with the rise of Caitlyn Jenner as media-designated spokesperson on all things LGBTQ furthers an equation of ‘whiteness’ and ‘queerness.’

Caitlyn Jenner is now part of a larger cultural apparatus that produces whiteness. Which bodies do we mean when we say trans*,  LGBT, or queer? Often, they are white. And this affects how we view the world. As Hiram Perez writes:

“Queer theorizing, as it has been institutionalized, is proper to—and property to—white bodies.” 

Caitlyn Jenner as hypervisible trans* woman and corporate pitch-person reinforces this circuit of queerness, whiteness and property.

Scholar and activist Cathy Cohen describes the time we are living in as one of “multicultural neoliberalism,” characterized by:

a sustained attack on the basic humanity of poor black people that provides the context in which we should understand the killing of young black people, in particular young black men, and the less visible assaults on black women and the murder of black trans people.

As a response, Cohen calls for transformational politics and substantive solidarity, and urges an embrace of deviance. Juxtaposed to Cohen’s lucid naming of the moment, it’s here that we see the real contrast to Caitlyn Jenner’s politics. Based on her public persona, Jenner is not interested in a socially transformative politics nor is she interested in a substantive solidarity with black or brown or poor trans* people, nor does she seem to be interested in an embrace of deviance.

My point is not that Jenner is a less-than-perfect advocate for LGBTQ rights, but a subtler one. Part of Caitlyn Jenner’s success is her ability to fit rather seamlessly into the cultural apparatus of whiteness. It is whiteness that has also enabled Jenner to monetize her gender transition via large endorsement contracts. And, given her embrace not a rather conventional performance of femininity, she has reaped certain cultural and monetary rewards (e.g., Vanity Fair cover). 

And this is where Caitlyn Jenner poses a dilemma for cisgender, mostly straight, white feminists. Next in this series, I write about the trouble that cisgender white feminists have with Caitlyn Jenner.

Trump and White Nativism

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Thanks to the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, the 2016 presidential election has become a national referendum on racism. When Americans elected Barack Obama in 2008 many hoped that it signaled the long-promised denouement of white supremacy. But for many others, Obama’s presidency represented their worst nightmares realized. Now, as Mychal Denzel Smith observed recently about Trump: “He is the backlash.” Or, as comedian Larry Wilmore frames it, the Unblackening of the White House has begun.

But Trump’s appeal is not really new. In fact, it’s as old as the United States.

Beginning in 1790, the US made white skin a prerequisite for citizenship. This hateful pigment bias established white skin as the norm for US citizens. By making whiteness the norm, the founders categorized non-white skin as a type of deviance. This is not just history. In 2015, a federal judge reaffirmed as recently as 2015.

This means that, for people of color, even the simple act of appearing in public constitutes a form of anti-normative criminality. The fact that people of color are vastly overrepresented in US prisons in large part because they are more likely to be perceived by law enforcement as “incorrigible recidivists.”

How could a nation that touts itself as “the world’s greatest democracy” equate non-white skin with criminal deviance?

Emile Durkheim, a founder of sociology, argued that every society constructs its own definitions of deviance. Deviance functions as a type of social glue. It works by lionizing those who comply with social norms and stigmatizing those who don’t. The US’s European settler-colonialists incorporated an ethnocentric preference for white skin into the political substrate of American democracy and designated everyone else ‘deviant.’

These European settler-colonialists wanted to claim ownership of an entire continent that was already occupied. If Europeans were going to make a home for themselves in North America, they would either have to share the continent with its original inhabitants, or they would have to murder millions of indigenous people and steal their land.

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Although Native Americans may have been willing to co-exist, Europeans weren’t keen on the idea of sharing. They were keen on the idea of plunder. So, Europeans invented the ludicrous fiction of white nativism. White nativism is the notion that light-skinned Europeans are North America’s true natives. As the true natives, whites are deserving of all that plunder. Or, so the fiction goes.

White nativists have constructed a range of prejudices for different groups of people in the US. White nativists enacted genocide against Native Americans, instituted slavery, established Jim Crow, and devised mass incarceration for African Americans. White Nativists have also excluded Chinese immigrants from the US, interned Japanese Americans and have treated Latinos as if they were all illegal immigrants. More recently, white nativists have openly contemplated a national ban on Muslims. Through these mechanism the US has celebrated whiteness and denigrated those with relatively more skin pigment.

Donald Trump takes pleasure in fomenting racism for his own political gain. Given Trump’s nauseating popularity as a 2016 presidential candidate, it is also obvious that many Americans share Trump’s white nativist tendencies. Since entering the 2016 presidential race, each time Trump has uttered a despicably racist comment his popularity with the American public has increased.

Donald Trump wants to take America back to the days when privileged white racists got their jollies by terrorizing people of color. Sadly, a passionate cadre of fellow racists want to help Donald Trump set civil rights back a century. It doesn’t have to be like this.

If Americans really love democracy, then they — and by that I mean we — can and must dismantle white supremacist racism. And we need to start dismantling racism today.

In our book, A Formula for Eradicating Racism, Earl Smith and I argue that Americans can terminate the climate of sadism that inspires white supremacist racism by erasing the Three-Fifths Compromise from the US Constitution and replacing it with a universal declaration of human equality.

We could, as a nation, choose to do this. Other countries, including South Africa, have embraced human rights as part of their foundational tenets.

Or, we could elect Donald Trump. If America elects Trump, a candidate now endorsed by the likes of former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

Register. Vote. And tell your non-Trump-voting friends and family to do likewise.

~ Professor Tim McGettigan teaches sociology at Colorado State University-Pueblo and he writes books about social change. Most recently, he is the co-author, with Earl Smith, of A Formula for Eradicating Racism: Debunking White Supremacy. 

Race in the Academy: Three Lessons from UBC

“You must refrain from thinking controversial thoughts out loud…” the Chair of Board of Governors told University of British Columbia (UBC) President, Dr. Arvind Gupta in May, 2015. Shortly afterward, UBC announced that Dr. Gupta, UBC’s first non-white President, had stepped down after serving only thirteen months of a five-year term. The year 2015 also marked the 100-year anniversary of UBC and Centennial celebrations, along with Dr. Gupta’s sudden departure, prompted my reflections here.

(Dr. Arvind Gupta, Former President of University of British Columbia,
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The circumstances leading to Dr. Gupta’s mystifying and unprecedented exit from the UBC Presidency were not immediately disclosed and the university became embroiled in a public relations fiasco fueled by speculation. One UBC professor of Mathematics, Dr. Nassif Ghossoub, called for the resignation of the Chair of the Board of Governors over the “botched” announcement of the resignation.  At the Sauder School of Business, Dr. Jennifer Berdahl, an expert in gender and diversity, wrote on her blog that the ex-President lost “the masculinity contest among leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men” only to be chided by the Chair of the Board of Governors for this observation. Dr. Berdahl then publicly exposed what she experienced to be an attempt by the Chair to silence her and thus undermine her academic freedom.

Unlike 1915 when the university was founded, the dynamics of leadership were different as UBC entered its 100th year under a woman President, Dr. Piper. She had served in this position before (1997-2006) and was hastily reappointed for one year upon the untimely departure of Gupta. In a statement welcoming students, staff, instructors and faculty into the centennial year of the University of British Columbia, Piper said:

“We are as committed to our core mission of learning and research as were our founders in 1915, and this centennial year will give us the opportunity to show that the spirit of intellectual inquiry is alive and well at UBC as we reach new heights in innovation and discovery.”

(Dr. Martha Piper, Interim President, University of British Columbia,
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Of course, what is left unsaid in Dr. Piper’s remarks is that the university’s 1915 ‘core mission’ as conceived by its founders relied upon the dispossession of the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam and Coast Salish peoples. This ‘core mission’ placed the university at the centre of Eurocentric knowledge production and of fostering the emergent Canadian elite in the province, and indeed, the country. As such, the institution reflected, and was reflective of, the racial and imperial policies of a colonial-settler state and society. Moreover, the migration and settlement policies of the period sought to increase the presence and power of ‘preferred’ European ‘races’ while containing the permanent settlement of the ‘non-preferred’ races of Asia and Africa. In other words, UBC’s ‘core mission’ was of a piece with the practices that were to produce Canada as a ‘white man’s country.’

“It looks like a whitewash” was a comment I heard with regard to Dr. Gupta again and again in the community, as well as from a number of colleagues not particularly attuned to the politics of race or diversity. The high-handed replacement of UBC’s first President of colour with a white, albeit highly qualified and reputed, woman under secretive conditions raised many questions, not the least about the vexed politics of race, diversity, gender and equity at the university. These politics, of course, reach well beyond the level of optics in shaping intellectual and institutional life. The case of Dr. Gupta reveals that if the gender politics at UBC have shifted during its history, these now serve its racialized power structure. Indeed, UBC is becoming whiter at its Centennial even as this whiteness is contested in the world in which the university functions. Unfortunately, like 1915, white hegemony remains pretty resilient at UBC.

‘Race Culture’ Structures Life in the Canadian Academy

University campuses across North America have been in a state of heightened turmoil in the last decade. Debates and struggles sparked by the racial, gender, sexual and colonial/imperial politics that shape the academy are no less explosive now than they were at the height of the protest movements of the 1960s. Public attention in Canada has focused mainly on protests against anti-Black racism in the US, from Yale to Mizzou, but much less reported is the fact that protests against anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and other forms of racism are also being organized at Canadian universities. While protests against austerity measures and the ‘rape culture’ on campuses receives national (if intermittent) public attention – as with the rape chants and sexual assaults at UBC and the online posting of misogynist comments by a group of dentistry students at Dalhousie University  – the ‘race culture’ that structures life in the Canadian academy receives far less public or scholarly attention.

(Canadian students protest, image source)

The glaring absence of Indigenous scholars and scholars of colour in leadership at UBC has been documented by the administration itself, as has been its culture of institutional whiteness. A 2013 report, Inclusion: A Consultation on Organizational Change to Support UBC’s Commitment to Equity and Diversity, commissioned by then President Toope found a “lack of representation of racialized groups in senior positions and on committees, a lack of safe spaces for racialized groups, as well as the persistence of Eurocentric norms in the evaluation of scholarship and work performance.”  The report concluded bluntly, “UBC’s leadership and therefore its key decision-makers are white.”

UBC’s response to this report – which tied equity to diversity and linked both to race – was to ignore its findings on race, delink diversity from equity and link a generic approach to equity with ‘inclusion’.  In this, UBC provided a textbook example of what has been theorized in the scholarly literature as the ‘non-performativity’ of diversity and anti-racism policies. 

Sara Ahmed, in her empirical study of diversity work in universities, found that the writing of diversity statements, policies and reports is taken by administrations to be the ‘doing’ of the work of redressing inequalities of race. These policies and statements thus do not actually accomplish what they claim. They are ‘non-performative’ in that they do not translate into the action required to bring about the necessary change to make the institution diverse and anti-racist.

At UBC, the actionable information presented by the report was likewise not taken up to redress the lack of diversity and racial inequality in its leadership. Instead, this knowledge became calibrated to a race-blind approach that allowed for the enhancement of gender inclusion but deepened the racial inequality in the university’s institutional mechanisms.  Put differently, the institution acted on the report to make itself whiter.

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Such institutional investments in whiteness shape the context in which the Gupta affair has played out. The crisis ignited by his unseemly departure – GuptaGate, as it is  dubbed by some – deepened during the fall 2015 term with the administration’s (mis)handling of other cases related to gender, sex and race, some of which came to public attention. These included an investigation into the infringement of Dr. Jennifer Berdahl’s academic freedom, which led to the resignation of the Chair of the Board of Governors, but no apology from the university; and the institution’s (non)response to sexual assault cases on campus reported by women students, featured in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary.

The University Forced to Release Documents on ‘GuptaGate’

UBC finally broke its silence about the Gupta debacle with the release of the documents in late January (2016) in response to several Freedom of Information requests. The documents were highly redacted, but upon their release, online activists downloaded a treasure trove of uncensored attachments that were apparently released in error.  These attachments made for intriguing reading for they revealed just how fractious the relationship between Dr. Gupta and some members of the Board of Governors (the majority of whom are political appointees) had become. They also pointed to serious violations of  transparency, accountability and fair treatment at this publicly funded institution. Leaked statements from powerful members of the Board of Governors charged Dr. Gupta with exceeding his authority, acting in a manner unbefitting a university President, and generally being inept, divisive, confrontational and ineffectual.   

The quote with which I began (“… you must refrain from thinking controversial thoughts aloud….”) provides a sense of the tone adopted by the Chair of the Board in his communication with the President. In contrast, Dr. Gupta’s response revealed a collegial and measured response to the very many criticisms leveled at him both personally and professionally.  His emphasis was on the professional nature of their working relationships and on what he still clearly took to be their shared objectives.

Upon UBC’s release of these documents, Dr. Gupta spoke publicly about how his vision for transforming UBC into a 21st Century institution generated resistance from some sectors within the institution.  Without specifying the exact scope and nature of the change he envisioned, or the particulars of the conflicts with the Board of Governors, he described how he found out about secret meetings held by an ad hoc committee of the Board. In Dr. Gupta’s estimation, “This group had only one intention… They decided they didn’t want me.”   Eventually Dr. Gupta felt there remained no alternative but for him to resign if UBC was to be protected from further internal strife.

There have been suggestions that the conflicts between some members of the Board of Governors and Dr. Gupta may have included the former President’s attempt to restructure the top level of the administration with an emphasis on fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency, and a shift of resources to faculty and students to support teaching, research and experiential learning.  There is also speculation that Dr. Gupta’s ambitious attempts to resolve older “thorny and unfinished issues” – which included “a mishandled Athletics file, a controversial ‘Vantage College’, disagreements over copyrights, a faulty housing plan that never got off the ground, as well as various pre-approved big ticket capital expenditures” – were not well-received.  The ex-President’s experience has been described as a “nightmare”, it raised concerns about “bullying and harassment” for at least one of his close colleagues. Moreover, the role of political appointees in running the university has sparked further public debate about the involvement of the provincial government in UBC’s internal workings. The refusal of the UBC administration to respond to these substantive issues has kept the speculation and rumors alive and growing.

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Three Lessons about Race and Gender from the Crisis at UBC

What, then, are the lessons of this ‘teachable’ moment that is the crisis of legitimacy at UBC?  As a member of the UBC faculty who has worked for over a decade and a half to promote critical race feminist and anti-colonial studies and advocate for the leadership of faculty, sessionals and students of colour and of indigenous ancestry, I find this current imbroglio reveals a number of important insights into how the politics of race, gender and coloniality are currently being reconstituted at one of Canada’s leading academic institutions.

  • White Hegemony Takes Work. The crisis at CBC demonstrates just how much work it takes to assert white hegemony within the university. Instead of a remnant of a regrettable past that has been transcended, the production and maintenance of this hegemony requires active, dynamic and ongoing efforts at the highest administrative levels. The present crisis demonstrates how those in positions of leadership work to contain the direction of change in order to enhance their own status and access to power. Most significant from my perspective, the departure of the first President of colour, his replacement by a white President, the announcement and press statements by UBC, and the release of documents, all took place without the word ‘race’ entering the public debates and discussions in any meaningful manner.  If ‘race’ has been made invisible in this matter, so too has the ‘whiteness’ that is treated as the normative state of the institution.
  • Disenfranchisement and Appropriation are Crucial Strategies. Producing this institutional whiteness requires the ongoing, active and collective disenfranchisement of underrepresented racialized groups and the appropriation of their creativity, labour and expertise. The UBC example shows how, despite the accomplishments of Dr. Gupta, even in the very neo-liberal terms set by the university, he was denied procedural fairness and due process as stipulated in his contract. And, despite the supposed urgency for his departure, the UBC leadership continued to state their commitment to move ahead with the strategic plan that he had envisioned, presumably with the resources he helped bring to UBC. This suggests there was no significant flaw in his strategic vision or abilities, only with the man himself. The university’s policies, procedures, statements and reports that hold the promise of fair and equitable treatment are thus shown to be set aside on the basis of nothing more than the preferences, choices and interests of the (white) leadership. The Gupta debacle demonstrates how little the principles of fair and equal treatment, transparency and accountability actually impact on the making of such decisions.
  • White Women are the Main Beneficiaries of Equity Measures. The UBC crisis demonstrates how gender is put to work to advance institutional whiteness when the latter is destabilized. Of the four equity seeking constituencies, the greatest advances within the academy have been made in the area of gender equity, as Malinda Smith has found in her research. Significant, however, is that gender is read as white in the Canadian context, so that it is white women who have been the main beneficiaries of equity measures. Likewise at UBC, the treatment of gender continues to privilege white women, enabling them to corner the equity market by actively marginalizing women of colour faculty Situated at the forefront of ‘equity’ and ‘inclusion’ initiatives, gender (shorn of its intersections with other social relations, particularly race) now functions as a gatekeeper for the other equity seeking groups, Smith argues. Gender is thus a key site for the reconsolidation of a white hegemony that is deeply contested otherwise. In the present climate of local and global challenges to racial/imperial discourses of western superiority, promoting race-blind approaches to gender helps restabilize whiteness by containing and impeding the transformative potential of anti-colonial and anti-racist gender politics.

The UBC crisis is far from resolved.  Even as the Board of Governors rushes ahead to consolidate what many define publicly as a coup against Dr. Gupta with its search for a replacement President, the Faculty Association and the AMS Student Society have called for an external investigation into the Board’s governance practices. They have also demanded the suspension of the search for a new President until such an investigation is complete. These developments have been followed by the release of a public statement from the Deans throwing their support behind the Board of Governors and the Presidential search committee.  How and when the present standoff between the university’s leadership and its faculty and students will end remains to be seen.

The mess upending UBC’s centennial celebrations can be anticipated to keep feeding the tensions and upheavals in campus life, and the need for the administration to respond to the substantive matters raised by faculty, students and the general public becomes more pressing by the day. Even the most cursory of observations reveals that UBC’s leadership and its structures of authority reflect neither the demographic make-up nor the social and cultural environment in which the university operates, that it is not representative of the communities it claims to serve.

The making of UBC into a whiter institution will have major and far-reaching repercussions; this larger crisis affects not only the university’s governance, it sets back the cause of racial justice to which many of us are committed. That we have to speak out against the further entrenchment of white hegemony a century after UBC’s founding is a scandal.

~ Sunera Thobani is Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia. She is a co-founder of the cross-Canada network, Researchers and Academics of Colour for Equity (RACE), the former Director of the Centre for Race, Autobiography, Gender and Aging (RAGA) at UBC, and a former President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. Dr. Thobani is the author of Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2007), and coeditor of Asian Women: Interconnections (Canadian Scholars Press, 2005) and States of Race: A Critical Race Feminism for the 21st Century (Between the Lines, 2010). She is currently working on a book on Race and Coloniality in the Academy.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Public Intellectual

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I’m more than a little heartbroken at the news today about Melissa Harris-Perry’s departure from MSNBC. Her show is set to record on my DVR each weekend. Mostly on weekends, I’m running errands or sometimes at church or just somewhere else when her show airs but I always – always – watch it later (skipping the commercials, thank you DVR). Harris-Perry’s has become for me a kind of touchstone for Where We Are Now in the nation in terms of race, gender and a range of social justice issues. Melissa Harris-Perry is also a the North Star for what it means to  a scholar-activist-journalist in the digital era.

“Probably my biggest angst about being an academic is that question of whether or not it makes a difference beyond just your students in the classroom,” Harris-Perry said during a 2012 interview.

Melissa Harris-Perry is, in many ways, a 21st century scholar-activist. She is a respected scholar, a professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University, an activist, and until this weekend, her eponymous talk show on the MSNBC news network gave her a wide reach beyond the traditional classroom.

Calling Harris-Perry the “foremost public intellectual today,” Ta-Nehisi Coates described her show this way:

“[it] brings a broad audience into a classroom without using dead academic language and tortured abstractions”.

Her weekend morning show routinely featured two hours of scholars, activists, journalists, and documentary filmmakers from diverse range of backgrounds discussing the social issues of the day. To augment the conversation further, the show’s producers also curated a conversation on the Twitter hashtag #nerdland, evoking her – and her audience’s – identification as ‘nerds.’

Twenty years ago, leading academic thinker Ernest Boyer, in his famous remarks on the ‘scholarship of engagement’, conjured a show very much Harris-Perry’s when he sought to reimagine the weekend news show of that day, Washington Week in Reviewwhen he wrote:

I find it fascinating, for example, that the provocative Public Broadcasting Service program Washington Week in Review invites us to consider current events from the perspective of four or five distinguished journalists who, during the rest of the week, tend to talk only to themselves. I’ve wondered occasionally what Washington Week in Review would sound like if a historian, an astronomer, an economist, an artist, a theologian, and perhaps a physician, for example, were asked to comment (Boyer, 1996, p. 25).

What Boyer instinctively knew, and what Melissa Harris-Perry has demonstrated, is that there are productive, vibrant and interesting conversations to be had across traditional lines of journalism or academia and that at least some segment of the public is interested in listening to these. Harris-Perry extended this a step further by regularly inviting grassroots activists on to her show for conversation with journalists, scholars of all kinds, artists and filmmakers.

The fact that many of her guests were people of color, including many African American women, meant that Harris-Perry created a unique and much-needed space within the mostly white and male set of guests on mainstream and cable news shows. Each of her carefully curated and produced shows made liars out of those who only schedule white men (and some white women) as guests, experts and pundits because they “can’t find” people of color to book.

It may have been her critical stance on race and gender that MSNBC executives objected to. There are some reports suggesting that it was a proposed segment on the recent Beyoncé video that prompted MSNBC executives to cancel her show. Of course, Melissa Harris-Perry has not been with out her missteps on the race, such as the cringe-worthy interview with Rachel Dolezal.

Still, Melissa Harris-Perry’s critical and mostly spot-on takes about racism for four years at MSNBC have marked an important shift in the culture. For the four years her show was on the air, an African American woman and a public intellectual led a conversation that elevated the public sphere by bringing in new voices to the conversation that most cable news viewers rarely get to hear. Her show also did the kind of thing that Ernest Boyer imagined twenty years ago, by bringing together people from a range of backgrounds, scholars, activist, journalists and filmmakers.

The decision by MSNBC to effectively disappear Melissa Harris-Perry and her show is a loss for us all and diminishes the public sphere. It also serves as a reminder that being a public intellectual on a corporate-controlled platform is always a Faustian bargain.

 

Dating in the Time of #BlackLivesMatter

When I started my dissertation research a year ago, I had not considered what impact the widespread media coverage of #BlackLivesMatter as a movement and rallying cry might have on my respondents. With my research, I intended to explore the online dating experiences of women who identify as multiracial here in Texas; what I have found has been a complex mobilization of Black Lives Matter as a metric of racial progressiveness. In 2016, it has become clear that the increased media attention being paid to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is shaping a particular orientation toward, and conversation around, race and racism in the United States. As scholar Khury Petersen-Smith notes, the movement has “shattered what remained of the notion of a ‘post-racial’ America.” More specifically, my work has found that BLM has impacted individual-level relationships, creating a framework within which people are able to evaluate and “vet” their dating partners, especially amidst claims that society is more “progressive” and that the atrocities we have witnessed are “not about race.”

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As every good social scientist knows, words mean things. The language around, and produced by, movements like BLM – particularly in regards to discourses of race, racial inequality, state-sanctioned violence, and racism – has influenced the ways in which the multiracial women in my study discuss race, racism, and inequality in the context of their intimate relationships. Several women have described using their own stances on the issues BLM addresses as a means of selecting potential dating partners. This finding suggests that BLM and other widespread social justice movements are having significant impacts on how people are navigating racial politics on an interpersonal level. This is particularly pertinent during a time where U.S. media and popular culture is especially focused on issues of racism and state-sanctioned violence.

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Thus, Black Lives Matter provides multiracial women with a means of framing their commentary on racism, racial inequality, and violence. Often, these women describe trying to find a “middle ground” in which to exist politically, so as to not fall within the so-called “extremes.” This middle ground calls to mind the notion of mixed-race people being a “bridge” between communities. The “middle ground” also suggests that to be on the extremes is to identify too closely with blackness or to not be “beyond” race. Thus, many women expressed contradictions over the course of their interviews; for several women the tensions around race and racism are issues of “diversity” and something that these women perceive black people to be “ethnocentric” about. It is telling that the multiracial women who believe that the concerns of BLM are solely concerns for black people are women who are not of black descent. However, women of myriad mixed racial backgrounds – including those who are not part black – noted that the issues the movement highlights are concerns for us all.

 

Alternatively, the women concerned with the so-called “appropriate” behavior of those interacting with the police rather than the inequality inherent in police violence rely on counter-Black Lives Matter narratives. They suggest that if someone is “acting stupid,” then an officer can only assume they are “dangerous and on drugs.” As social scientists have demonstrated for decades, overwhelmingly, the people who are assumed to be dangerous and on drugs are people of color. Virtually every woman who indicated that those killed by police are somehow responsible also relied on some “liberal” talking points, suggesting that officers “not go for the kill shot right away” or that “we need better training.” However, these women also used anti-black logic, which suggests that those killed by police are the deserving aggressors. Virtually all the women I interviewed who opposed BLM utilized the “some bad apples” discourse to suggest that these instances of police brutality are isolated incidents. This logic enabled several women to suggest that the movement is being overly sensitive and that the wrongdoing is on “both sides.”

 

In terms of dating, women who consider potential dating partners’ views on issues of race and racism were invested in finding someone capable of making informed commentary. White masculinity in particular has a specific meaning in this political climate. Some multiracial women expect white men they date to have a certain racial literacy – the racial socialization and antiracist training that defends against and counters racism – and would not consider dating (white) men who are not at least marginally versed in anti-racist discourse and logics. This, however, is not necessarily a requirement for all potential partners, as several women indicated that they assume that men of color will just “get” that racism exists. So, white men are expected to provide proof that they “get it,” much of which is proven through how they engage with discourses around race and racism. Several women described pulling up videos of police assaults – such as the now infamous pool party in McKinney, TX – or referencing other news stories during dates in order to see how men would react.

 

While it may not be surprising that women are excluding partners that they do not view as compatible, it is notable that several women indicated that “what’s going on” in the U.S. did not seem to matter much until about two years ago, correlating with the rise in Black Lives Matter demonstrations and news coverage. Public discourses impact our everyday lives, particularly the highly racialized, classed, and sexualized process of dating. We should be concerned for not only how people are responding to BLM and other related social movements, but also how people are implementing racial rhetoric in their everyday lives. As the mixed-race women in my research illustrate, the dating practices of Americans have the unfortunate potential to continue to reproduce much of the polarizing and unequal racial politics, as well as inherently unequal social structures, that have made Black Lives Matter and its like necessary in the first place.

~ Shantel Buggs is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on dating patterns and race. 

 

 

Debunking White Supremacy

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The United States has always been a white supremacy that masquerades as a democracy. For white racists those are fighting words. How dare anyone cast aspersions on the motives of America’s founding fathers? For shame.

Describing the US as a white supremacy isn’t an ad hominem attack. It is simply a statement of fact. The only people in the room when the founders mapped out the contours of American democracy were greedy white guys. Is it any wonder that the only people who have enjoyed unrestricted access to American democracy throughout its history are greedy white guys?

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Women and people of color have always been on the outside looking in. The costs of being an outsider have been astronomical. America’s greedy white guys paved the way for continent-wide genocide and property theft — and every other person of color as persona non grata. Should anyone dispute America’s favoritism for white guys, I refer you to the Naturalization Act of 1790.

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Passed into law less than one year after the Constitution came into effect, the Naturalization Act of 1790 stipulated that only “free whites” could become citizens of the United States. This law had the perverse effect of installing greedy white guys as the USA’s one and only “true natives.” The Naturalization Act of 1790 also de-naturalized peoples of color which summarily transformed Native Americans and other well-established occupant of North America into undocumented aliens in their own homeland.
The notion that the US is a white supremacy is contentious, but it shouldn’t be. White supremacy is an indisputable fact of the US Constitution specifies that the US will value people of color at a mere fraction of the value of its white male citizens:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the US Constitution)

According to the Three-Fifths Compromise, the US views free white men as being equal in value to one whole human being. By contrast, the US views people of color as being worth somewhere between 0-⅗ the value of a whole human being. In sum, people of color are quantifiably inferior to their superior white counterparts. As long as such language remains an integral component of the US Constitution, the US will unequivocally remain a white supremacy. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the US Constitution is just a scrap of paper. If the US Constitution champions white supremacy, then it’s up to the champions of democracy to change the US Constitution. We can have democracy in the US, but first we have to debunk white supremacy. Science tells us that all humans are equal. White racists don’t like it, but the scientific truth is inescapable. All humans are equal. Not identical, but equal.

 

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White supremacy is a mean-spirited fiction that greedy white guys concocted to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. Democracy demands that we knock greedy white guys off of their pedestal. Although greedy white guys have often been unsparing with the violence that they inflict on “others,” I think it’s possible and preferable to knock greedy white guys off of their pedestal without violence.

Greedy white guys have warped American democracy into a white supremacy by dehumanizing women and people of color. So, if we’re going to knock greedy white guys down a peg, we need to remove their pedestal. Innocuous as it may seem, the Three-Fifths Compromise is the pedestal that greedy white guys have used to warp American democracy.

It won’t be easy, but I am convinced that if we can find some way to remove the Three-Fifths Compromise from the US Constitution we can we can bring an end to white supremacy in America. If we terminate white supremacy we can also, by extension, terminate the racism and other inequalities that emanate from white supremacy.

I think it’s worth a try. At the very least, it’s a way of knocking greedy white guys off of their pedestals.  That’s worth the price of admission all by itself.

 

~ Professor Tim McGettigan teaches sociology at Colorado State University-Pueblo and he writes books about social change. Most recently, he is the co-author, with Earl Smith, of A Formula for Eradicating Racism: Debunking White Supremacy. 

Next Step for Beyoncé

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Watching the Super Bowl Half Time Show, I was excited to see Beyoncé use her international platform to send a decisively pro-Black political message. As a sociologist, though, I took note of the typical over sexualization of black women and concur with others that sexy dancing is far from taking a revolutionary stance. Nevertheless, I was pleased to see Queen B adding public advocacy for black empowerment to her behind the scenes support. I was not pleased, however, at the blatant colorism embodied by the performance. Oversimplified for brevity, colorism is the racist higher valuation of lighter skin over darker skin and results in lighter skinned non-white people being privileged over their darker skinned brothers and sisters in everything from health to the criminal justice system (pdf). In spite of her donations and other shows of support in the black community, Beyoncé has and continues to uncritically capitalize on society’s biased preference for lighter skinned blacks. At the start of her career, for example, the other members of Destiny’s Child were encouraged to tan to facilitate Beyoncé standing out as the lightest. Her latest video, “Formation,” passes this on to the next generation by featuring her daughter, Blue Ivy, as the lightest in a group of little girls.

 

And when she performed with all-black female dancers at the Super Bowl, Beyoncé was, as usual, the lightest (and the only one with light hair) in the group. The fact that all of the Super Bowl dancers were darker than Beyoncé suggests they were selected not just for their dancing skills but for their appearance as well.

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To be fair, prominently featuring brown skinned, black-haired black women in one of the biggest events of the year is important to celebrate given the pervasiveness of colorism in the media. Nevertheless, when browner skinned black women are used as the backdrop against which the lighter skinned, long blondish-brown haired star can stand out and seemingly shine even brighter, then blackness is subordinated to whiteness despite any lyrical affirmations to the contrary.

Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance sent viewers two messages. It verbally asserted that black lives, culture and politics are valuable while simultaneously visually affirming white aesthetic supremacy. The performance literally conveyed that even in 2016 when black women “get in formation” it is lightest skinned first and then, as the old adage goes, “if you’re black, get back.” Obviously Beyoncé cannot change her skin tone, and since light hair looks very nice on her I am not suggesting she dispense with her chosen hair color either. I am suggesting however that the next step in her growth, maturation and development as a black celebrity/political figure should be to take a long hard look at why she feels the need to so often position herself (and now her daughter) as lighter than others. Beyoncé has already shown that she has embraced #blacklivesmatter.

I look forward to the songs and shows to come were she someday to embrace #blackisbeautiful, too.

 

~ Jennifer Patrice Sims, PhD, is an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Her work examines racial perception, mixed race identity and the sociology of fictional societies, in particular Harry Potter.

An Update on the Rooney Rule: The NFL, Facebook, and Universities

It’s been a busy week for the Rooney rule—the rule adopted by the National Football League (NFL) to help increase diversity at the senior level by requiring at least one minority candidate be interviewed for each senior position. Last week we published Warren Waren’s call to higher education to institute such a rule in America’s colleges and universities in order to address the consistent racial disproportions among faculty.

That same week, Facebook announced it would include a similar rule in an effort to increase its diversity. And this week, the NFL itself updated the rule to include consideration of female candidates.

However, the biggest news in the Rooney rule comes from the University of Texas. Last Thursday, the new chancellor of University of Texas system announced a broad application of the Rooney rule to all administrative positions at the dean level and above.

In a presentation accompanying the formal announcement, Chancellor McCraven said,

This slide [referring to the racial gap between students and administrators] makes it very clear that we are not doing the job we ought to be doing in driving equal opportunity and fairness in our hiring and promotion processes. This is particularly disappointing because education is all about opportunity. Making sure our faculty and staff reflect the changing look of Texas is not just about fairness. It’s also about effectiveness. We need faculty, administrators and campus leaders who understand the people they’re serving, who come from the same kinds of places.

Which other college or university would be ready to implement such a program? Some other large public university? Perhaps one of the Ivy League? An elite research institution? One of our many small private colleges or universities? One of our community college systems? I hope my university (Texas A&M University) is next.