Daily Egyptian

Letter to the editor: Concerning the new chancellor search, institutionalized white supremacy, and ways to do it differently

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Crys LaCroix

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have participated in all the open forum question and answer sessions with each new potential chancellor. I approached each session with a sense of wariness because all candidates chosen for the position are white men. My suggestion is not that white men cannot embody critical approaches to education and institutionalized oppression — but that it is difficult to embody this critical approach when one does not have to think about it. Let me extrapolate on this:

I am a white woman and, in many ways, I embody white supremacist ideologies. As a graduate assistant, I teach forty-four undergraduate students in a 101 public speaking course. In many ways, my pedagogical approaches to the classroom embody white supremacy. For instance, each of my speeches requires the use of eye contact, which ignores that in certain cultures, eye contact is a sign of disrespect and rudeness.

Additionally, many international students, who express anxiety about their accents, often drop the course. Notably, *Powell and Collier (1990) found that 75 percent of students who withdrew from public speaking courses at California State University were students of color. This may be because these courses uphold white, hegemonic norms of communication. These are things that I struggle with constantly to be a better instructor who can make education welcoming to all students. Yet, in many ways, I embody white supremacist teaching methods because I have been taught that skill, knowledge and ability looks and sounds decidedly white (use of “proper English” works here as an example).

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While I do not view myself as an exemplar of critical approaches to education — in fact, I often fail my students of color — I do believe that reflexivity and honesty are places to start. What I saw in most of the chancellor Q&A sessions was an inability to be reflexive and honest. Every candidate, for instance, noted that he would hold events to address issues of diversity and inclusivity on this campus.

While I believe events can be useful, I also believe this go-to method does not allow administration to hold themselves accountable for the white supremacist ideologies they, and the university, are upholding. Diversity Week, for instance, does not address the lack of administrational diversity and the fact that students of color often feel devalued. Additionally, I have found that individuals with marginalized identities are often the ones putting these events together: which is to suggest that our solution to diversity issues is that those with marginalized identities do labor so that white folks can learn from them.

[Interim Chancellor] Brad Colwell’s response to a black graduate student who asked about students of color feeling accepted but not included is an example of a lack of reflexivity. Colwell responded by stating, “I pray that is not the case.”

Many of these forums were heavily populated by Black graduate and undergraduate students — most of whom were stating that that is, in fact, the case. A breakdown of this exchange can be read as follows: students of color expressed that they felt dehumanized by the University’s inability to support them, and Cowell stated, “I pray that is not the case.” This is a wholly inadequate response that does not offer suggestions, solutions or possible methods for working to humanize and support students of color.

Moreover, when a Black woman stated that she felt frustration about the lack of university support, particularly after listening sessions, surveys and meetings have occurred but no actual, realized and tangible changes have resulted, Colwell stated, “I’m sorry that you feel that way, I am not going to engage any further than that.”

Again, this is a wholly inadequate response that dismisses the feelings, realities and frustrations of students of color. Moreover, Colwell has a choice to not engage, while students of color do not have the choice of deciding whether teachers, administration and fellow students will humanize, respect and value them.

Colwell gets to be momentarily uncomfortable while students of color must constantly navigate the ways that white supremacy have negatively impacted their educational experience on this campus.

It is the responsibility of the university to listen to its students. It is the responsibility of the university to value its students. It is the responsibility of the university to support its students. If a student of color were to tell me I was upholding racism in my teaching methods, their critiques would warrant exploration.

I would not focus on how the accusation makes me feel, but on how to support the student. It is uncomfortable to be told one is upholding white supremacist ideologies, but it is more uncomfortable to be dehumanized and devaluated by these ideologies. Likewise, if a disabled student informed me my instructional methods were inaccessible, I would work to address my ableism and to make my classroom accessible to them.

It is inexcusable to prioritize my own embarrassment and discomfort over my students’ dehumanization. What matters in this institution is the students: all of them.

I ask and urge all administration, faculty, professors, students and the newly appointed chancellor to work toward supporting and valuing marginalized students.

*Powell, R., & Collier, M. J. (1990). Public speaking instruction cultural bias. American Behavioral Scientist, 34, 240-250.

Crys LaCroix is a masters student in Communication Studies

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