The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has rejected charges that some protests against Israel at the University of California at Berkeley constituted illegal anti-Jewish bias, as some Jewish students and alumni charged. A letter from OCR found that the protests "constituted expression on matters of public concern directed to the university community. In the university environment, exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience. In this context, the events that the complainants described do not constitute actionable harassment."
The board of Norfolk State University has fired President Tony Atwater, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. Atwater has served for two years, and the board praised his efforts. But the historically black university is facing criticism from its accreditor and from state legislators on a range of issues, including the inability to complete an audit in the last two years. Previously, Atwater was president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a position he left amid disputes with the faculty over his management style.
The University of Sydney is debating the censorship of the cover of a student newspaper -- Honi Soit -- which was forced to place black bars over portions of 18 photographs of students' vulvas. The Student Representative Council, which publishes the paper, ordered the addition of the black bars, citing Australian laws on obscenity, The Sydney Morning Heraldreported. Michael Spence, vice chancellor of the university, told the newspaper that "personally my view is the cover is demeaning to women but I do realize I'm not the target audience for Honi Soit. However, the student body at the University of Sydney has a long and proud tradition of independence and it's a tradition we will continue to uphold."
Despite all the efforts to block the cover, copies of the original cover leaked and can be found on various websites and Twitter. (Readers who do not wish to see close-up female genitalia may not wish to follow this link, which shows the original version and the censored version.) While the body parts are not identified, some students have come forward to not only defend the project, but to point out their participation. See, for example, this blog post "That's My Vagina on Honi Soit."
The newspaper's website has been shaky with all the traffic since the controversy broke. But an editorial explaining the rationale behind the cover also was posted to the newspaper's Facebook page. "Eighteen vulvas. All belong to women of Sydney University. Why are they on the cover of Honi Soit?" says the editorial. "We are tired of society giving us a myriad of things to feel about our own bodies. We are tired of having to attach anxiety to our vaginas. We are tired of vaginas being either artificially sexualized (see: porn) or stigmatized (see: censorship and airbrushing). We are tired of being pressured to be sexual, and then being shamed for being sexual. The vaginas on the cover are not sexual. We are not always sexual. The vagina should and can be depicted in a non-sexual way – it’s just another body part. 'Look at your hand, then look at your vagina,' said one participant in the project. 'Can we really be so naïve to believe our vaginas the dirtiest, sexiest parts of our body?'"
Florida International University has suspended Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity while investigating screen shots of a series of postings on the brothers' Facebook page, The Miami Herald reported. Members of the fraternity aren't talking, but the Facebook posts (some of which are published with the Herald article) refer to some women as "sorusitutes," quote the availability of drugs (sometimes with tiered pricing for brothers and non-brothers) and apparent encouragement to engage in hazing.
In May, I gave a reading from my contribution toDefiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and The Sexual Politics of Meat, a book edited by Kara Davis and Wendy Lee. The text pays homage to Carol J. Adams’s foundational ecofeminist animal studies work The Sexual Politics of Meat, first published in 1990 and in print and much-discussed by scholars ever since. I read my entry at a local bookstore packed to the rafters with friends and strangers alike, all of whom hung on my every word. At the end of the reading, people hugged me. They bought the book and asked me to sign it. In my professional life, I have never given such a reading and, as a result, I have never experienced anything that felt quite as rewarding as what I experienced that evening.
On May 18, Adams posted on Facebook that in reader reviews for a literary criticism article, a scholar was told that her paper "relies too heavily on Carol Adams (a non-academic animal rights writer) for its theorization of animals, women, and oppression." Further, the unnamed writer is instructed to incorporate more scholarly animal studies sources, like the work of Derrida, for example.
I want to talk about what’s going on with the dismissal of Adams’s work in terms of what such dismissal says about women’s invention of new ways of knowing in the academy, and I want to do so because as an academic woman, the omission of Adams’s work from scholarly consideration raises very real and problematic gender-based issues with regard to how we within the academy police and are policed in terms of our scholarly production. I’m using Adams as my example, because she’s the one I know best, and I think that her case offers real historical parallels to the disappearance of women’s writing more broadly.
Adams holds a divinity degree from Yale University and has published dozens of books with both academic and popular presses; she publishes in scholarly journals and in mainstream media, and she speaks regularly on college campuses across the country. She is prolific, productive, philosophical and, yes, accessible. She is a public intellectual of the first order, an "independent scholar" of the finest magnitude, and she’s been doing work on animal studies, ecocriticism, women’s studies, and literary analysis (to name a few of her areas of intellectual interest) since the 1970s.
Some scholars in animal studies and ecocriticism have tried to address the way that the recognized "legitimate" scholarly discourse has essentially written certain foundational female theoreticians right out of existence, as male scholars, one after another, appear to tell us, as if for the first time, what these modes of inquiry mean. For example, in the first edition Ecocriticism: The New Critical Idiom, Greg Garrard failed to include Adams’s concept of the absent referent in his chapter on animals – an oversight he corrected in the book’s second edition in 2011, but only after Adams herself contacted him to ask why he omitted mention of her foundational concept and examined instead "second generation" animal studies literary critics – many of whom have been influenced by Adams’s work.
Greta Gaard takes up the omission of female writers like Adams in a 2010 article in Isle in which she advocates for a more feminist ecocriticism, one that addresses the ecocritical revisionism – by such writers as Garrard and Lawrence Buell – that has rendered a feminist perspective largely absent. She notes that omissions of foundational ecofeminist texts in "ecocritical scholarship are not merely a bibliographic matter of failing to cite feminist scholarship, but signify a more profound conceptual failure to grapple with the issues being raised by that scholarship as feminist, a failure made more egregious when the same ideas are later celebrated when presented via nonfeminist sources."
And in a 2012 essay in Critical Inquiry, Susan Fraiman tracks gender in animal studies, noting that "In 1975, Peter Singer galvanized the modern animal rights movement with Animal Liberation, a work that would be heralded as one of its founding texts. That same year, The Lesbian Reader included an article by Carol Adams entitled “The Sexual Politics of Meat,” inspiration for a book eventually published in 1990. Her scholarship contributed to a growing body of ecofeminist work, emergent in the early 1980s, on women, animals, and the environment."
Unlike Adams, who has written consistently over a period of nearly five decades on the subject of animals, Derrida, on the other hand, had only the slightest interest in animal studies, with a singular sustained commentary “L’Animal que donc je suis (a` suivre),” a lecture given in 1997 and published in 2002 as "The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)” in Critical Inquiry. Fraiman’s work is concerned with the revisionist history that places Derrida at the fore as the father of legitimate animal studies and erases from that discourse the voices of pioneering women – like Adams. What Derrida did was to remove the gendered component from the analysis, to take animal studies away from its at that point established linkages with women’s studies.
So my defense of Adams is not really new, but what’s troubling is that despite such attention to the importance of Adams’s work, she continues to be dismissed over and over again as "non-academic," and I don’t think that this omission is simply because she doesn’t work in the academy. It’s more about what she’s saying and the way that she says it; it’s more about her unruly feminism and her position that there are linkages with regard to various oppressions – between animals, women, and colonized peoples. It’s about our tendency to cast feminism in a series of "waves" (first, second, and maybe third), and then decide that if feminist thought occurred during a previous wave, it’s now obsolete. And it’s about her impatience with patriarchy and with patriarchal dictates that determine not only what constitutes oppression but also how and when it is or is not appropriate to discuss both oppression and patriarchy.
If this piece feels like it’s about praising Carol Adams, that’s because it is, but it’s also about the stakes more broadly. Earlier this year, Pat McCrory, governor of North Carolina, the state in which I live and the state in whose university system I work, commented in a radio interview with Bill Bennett about our system’s offering courses that provide "no chances of getting people jobs." He said, "If you want to take gender studies that's fine. Go to a private school, and take it, but I don't want to subsidize that if that's not going to get someone a job."
At my own university, as the result of an extensive program prioritization process, women’s studies has been recommended for discontinuation, marginalized, as it has been, out of relevant existence. I don’t know that this is necessarily a bad thing, as I’d like to see women’s studies incorporated into and given equal footing within the fields that such a moniker indicates: philosophy, anthropology, and English, but I’m also troubled by the fact that women’s voices, as always when they assert themselves in the service of women, fail to be heard, maintained, and championed.
I’m an academic, an English professor who has published a fair number of academic texts, articles in scholarly journals, books with scholarly presses. I’ve played the game as is appropriate, writing about things that I love only to have them read by very few people because I have chosen, again, as is appropriate, to place my writing in venues that would ensure tenure and promotion even as by and large I’ve relegated my words to inconsequence. I have presented papers at academic conferences numerous times over the years, but I have never had an audience as large or as interested as the one that I had in May, and I don’t know that I ever felt truly heard before then.
My work has shifted over the course of my career from a focus on postcolonial literature – particularly South African literature and, even more particularly, the novels of J.M. Coetzee – to postcolonial environmentalism, to animal studies, to cultural studies explorations of veganism in mainstream media. But in all of my scholarly endeavors as well as in my lived experience as an ethical vegan, Carol Adams’s work has proven foundational. Without Adams, I assert, there might not have been a real and sustained focus on animal studies with regard to literature; her work has found its way into pretty much everything I’ve ever written, so I was honored to be asked to contribute to Defiant Daughters, in order to speak about my lived academic and activist experience as someone who writes about and practices an animal advocacy informed by both philosophy and lived experience.
Adams sent me an e-mail after learning for the umpteenth time that she’s not scholarly enough and that Derrida invented the field of animal studies. She said "since the point of [The Sexual Politics of Meat] is its interstitial nature (I guess, not sure that is quite the adjective I want), I know it will always receive criticism. On the other hand, about once a day I get an e-mail or twitter post or Facebook message etc. that says 'your book changed my life.' So I prefer the interstitial!"
In terms of my own scholarship, I want to be influential, to hear that perhaps I’ve changed someone’s life or scholarly focus. But if I publish in the wrong place or if I publish about the wrong subject (or if I publish about the right subject but in the wrong way), then I will be locked out, or forgotten, or called not scholarly or serious enough to warrant consideration. And the more I consider the equation of what is scholarly and what is not, maybe the less such a designation matters and the more I’m inclined to want to publish with a press like Lantern, whose activist nature drives its mission. But regardless of what I do or don’t do, if those of us in the academy continue to perpetuate an elitism that limits or forgets women’s voices, we are doomed to be duped into believing that men’s narratives are the originary myths of our profession, our passion, and our scholarship. And it’s high time we stopped doing that.
Laura Wright is associate professor and department head of English at Western Carolina University.
MALDEF, the Latino civil rights organization, on Tuesday announced a suit against Pomona College over the tenure denial of Alma Martinez, who had taught in the theater and dance department. The suit says that the college discriminated against Martinez on the basis of her gender and national origin. While details of the alleged discrimination were not provided, the MALDEF statement said that Martinez had unanimous backing for tenure from her department. A college spokesman toldThe Los Angeles Times that there was no bias involved in the decision, but that he could not discuss the case because it is in litigation.
Dartmouth College is debating an appropriate response to a fraternity's "Bloods and Crips Party," at which the names of those gangs were the kickoff for a "ghetto" party at which participants (overwhelmingly white) mocked ghetto life in racial ways, The Boston Globe reported. College officials said that they were working with Greek leaders so that theme parties in the future would reflect "the Greek community’s commitment to hosting inclusive events." The party took place two weeks ago but the controversy didn't grow until campus blogs published invitations and information about the event in the last week. One blog, Big Green Micro-Agressions, noted that Dartmouth has been debating offensively themed fraternity parties for years. The blog featured a 1998 New York Times article about a ghetto party at at Dartmouth fraternity. In the article, a Dartmouth student from New York City was quoted as saying: " 'I live in a ghetto... For Dartmouth students in general to mock a situation that I was lucky enough to get out of by the grace of God just seems to me very snotty and very ignorant, because my next-door neighbor couldn't dream of being here right now. The party touched a nerve in me.' ”
The rector (or board chair) of the College of William and Mary has sent a letter to leaders of public colleges and universities in Virginia warning that the state's lack of gay marriage has created "a substantial incentive for our gay and lesbian faculty and staff to leave the Commonwealth’s public universities and colleges," The Washington Post reported. Jeff Trammell sent the letter after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a ruling that paved the way for gay couples in states that recognize single-sex marriage to have the full federal tax advantages of marriage that heterosexual couples receive. Trammell noted that some state officials have been hostile even to awarding partner benefits to gay employees.