Saida Grundy is not a racist

I found about about a little academic drama brewing around Saida Grundy, newly hired assistant professor of sociology at Boston University. Grundy is getting fired upon by conservatives and alumni for tweets that call out whiteness. The one leading most of the headlines reads as follows:

“why is white america so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?”

You can read more of her tweets here, at the socawlege.com site that initially “broke” this story. Grundy has since hidden her twitter feed (smart, but sad) and must now suffer the indignity of having the sort of lukewarm back-handed support that only a college can give. Fox News (I know, I know) reports that Boston University has “condemned” her words, if by “condemnation” you mean backtracked from their earlier support of her right to free speech on the pressure of the public and the alumni to state the following:

“‘The University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements,’ Riley told FoxNews.com Saturday.”

Not quite a condemnation–more a bit of face-saving pablum to keep those donations flowing.

I want to sit with the tweet I quoted earlier for a few minutes, though, because it’s the one that seems most under scrutiny, and it’s the one that I think is a conversation starter for anyone working in a college or university setting today. Critics of Grundy question her ability to teach all students, arguing that her statement reveals a natural predisposition to treat white males students unfairly in her classes. I take issue with that for these reasons:

  • She was hired for this position after what I can only imagine was a round of rigorous scrutiny on the part of the university in question, a process that surely included a review of her previous teaching experience, student evaluations, a teaching demonstration, and interviews.
  • She is speaking from a particular context to a particular situation set in a particular context. The tweet in question was discovered mid-March, right about the time that the nation was witnessing a number of high-profile cases of problematic racial and gendered behavior on the part of various fraternity chapters. To make such a comment in that moment seems natural, appropriate, and provocative; we need to talk about this issue in our culture, and that’s a conversation that is dificult.
  • Grundy isn’t the one that made it about race and gender; the white men involved did by their actions, actions that perpetuate toxic behaviors and attitudes. While the general public is shocked by these incidents, it is also quick to move away from them, taking the rectification of the local problem (suspension of a chapter, expulsion of a student) as the ultimate solution without seeing these events as part of a larger problem. By doing so, we make it impossible to discuss the real issue because we let the population in question–and the various institutions (the family, academia) that are involved–off the hook for dealing with the underlying issue.

So kudos to you, Saida Grundy, for daring to say what needs saying. I hope that your tenure at Boston University gives you ample opportunity to challenge and teach the very minds critics say you will try to “indoctrinate.” Education is not about reaffirming beliefs; the best education helps us to understand why we believe what we believe and, if appropriate, change our beliefs and behaviors to better be the people we wish to be in the world. Posing the sort of questions she poses is a way forward to that goal.

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