Professors Talk about diversity
Jessica Guerrucci – Editor-in-Chief
Desteny Maragh – Reporter
An hour of virtual anti-bias and critical race theory teaching featured 10 professors who spoke on the issues of diversity, equity and anti-bias training.
The discussion centered on an executive order, “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping,” passed by President Donald Trump on Sept. 22.
“The purpose of the order is to forbid federal agencies and federal contractors to offer any training that includes what the order deems ‘divisive concepts’ and forbid the use of federal grant funds for such training,” said librarian and Women and Gender Studies liaison Kari Swanson.
The discussion, “Critical Race Theory,” was moderated by Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, chair of women and gender studies. It was held on Oct. 26 via Facebook Live.
The order they discussed was intended to “promote economy and efficiency in federal contracting, to promote unity in the federal workforce, and to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.” However, it brought a very different response.
KC Councilor, professor of communications, media and screen studies, spoke about the role of language and how references to LGBTQ+ people were erased from websites after Trump’s inauguration.
He discussed how the order has “color blind individualism” that seeks to maintain a white supremist status quo. He said he believes the order shows a deep anxiety about the shift in consciousness that is happening since the tide is turing toward justice.
Swanson said the language of the order suggests that marginalized people are committing acts of racism against white people by providing training aimed at enhancing mutual understanding of race and gender equality within the federal force.
Ultimately, she described the executive order as “a form of censorship that strips federal agencies from the freedom to fulfill these American principles of equality and fairness.”
Cassie Meyerhoffer, associate professor of sociology, said racism did not begin with Trump and it will not end with Joe Biden, if elected. However, what is “terrifying” about the order is the idea that people don’t see color so white people don’t have to be uncomfortable or see their role in upholding a the racist social order.
Diane Ariza, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, called the executive order a “personal attack.”
“By ignoring racial difference and the reality of deeply institutionalized injustices to racial minorities, we continue to perpetuate oppression and the status quo,” Ariza said.
She said critical race theory is one of the many theoretical frameworks that offers the ability to examine how issues of power, race and racism continue to be embedded in structures, policies and procedures.
Janani Umamaheswar, assistant professor in the department of sociology, also spoke. Her perspective came from her studies in criminology, incarceration and gender.
“This color blind attitude, this notion that we can approach questions of social equity and social justice from a race neutral and gender neutral, is fundamentally flawed,” Umamaheswar said.
She said it is important to not be neutral in race conversations because race matters and we need people to have these conversations head on.
Brandon Hutchinson, Associate Professor of English, said people don’t get beyond the issues of race by deciding not to talk about it anymore; it will always come back and reassert itself.
Speaking as a white female speech-language pathologist, Barbra Cook, Associate Professor of Communication Disorders, said critical race theory is important to her work as meeting the needs of individuals whose needs are not being met, as they are over or under identified.
Instead of hiding stereotypes, she said people need to learn to understand racism and learn about how different cultures influence each other.
As a historian, Siobhan Carter-David, Associate Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies, said perhaps criminalizing the discussion around critical race theory becomes problematic when it comes time to do her job.
“If we think about critical race theory, one of the major points that it proposes is that white supremacy and racial power are maintained over time, and in particular that law may play a role in this process,” she said.
She said it is impossible to teach U.S. history without understanding the role that white supremacy has played in the nation’s history, even if it feels uncomfortable.
The order, according to Luciana McClure, a women’s and gender studies MA student and graduate assistant, is attempting to erase the U.S. oppressive history. As a woman, mother, and immigrant, she said her and the people she loves feel personally impacted.
As educators, she said it’s is their duty to make sure the order does not move forward.
Stephen Monroe Tomczak, Professor of Social Work, said it is important students learn about critical race theory and understand how the executive order restricts and undermines everyone.
“As I pointedly tell my students on the first day of class,” he said, “you cannot understand social welfare policy in the United States without a deep understanding of the impact of racism and other forms of oppression on its development, design and structure.”