Two months after he found out he was to receive an award for his brain injury research, Bennet Omalu got a phone call: the award was off.
Omalu was first told about the Beyond Health Award, one of the Boston University School of Public Health’s highest honors, in April, according to The Boston Globe. The change came soon after Omalu was quoted in a Globe story about a conflict of interest between World Wrestling Entertainment and the Concussion Legacy Foundation, which is affiliated with Boston University. World Wrestling Entertainment has donated money to the foundation, and some criticized the foundation for focusing less on professional wrestlers.
“What I find very surprising is the timing of this, right after the [Globe] article,” Omalu told the Globe. “It feels like a vendetta against me.”
Omalu, the doctor depicted in the recent Will Smith movie Concussion, discovered the condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It’s a disease often found in professional athletes, and Omalu’s struggle to force the National Football League to recognize the disease has become well-known.
When Omalu asked for a written statement about why he would no longer receive the award, Sandro Galea, dean of the School of Public Health, sent an apology letter. At the 40th anniversary gala, he wrote, the school will be honoring people with “closer connections to our School of Public Health.”
“Dean Galea is giving the keynote address at the Carter Center’s November meeting and spoke at their annual meeting a few years ago,” Boston University spokesman Colin Riley told the Globe. “The decisions on the invitees are the dean’s.”
In the wake of the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday morning -- when a large number of Latinx lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other club patrons were murdered in one of the largest shootings in United States history -- some people in higher education are probably feeling themselves targeted and traumatized. I’m reaching out to anyone who may feel that way to say that I am thinking of you and that you are valued by some of us. I imagine the violence itself and the aftermath of responses and nonresponses from colleagues, friends and the news media can be overwhelming for people who are already treated as less than in our society. You do matter. In fact, we desperately need you -- even when we don’t do a good job showing it.
I also am writing because I believe what has been happening is incredibly relevant to the work that we do in higher education in general and as faculty members in student affairs in particular. I have been taking stock of my own response, or nonresponse, to the shooting and trying to make sense of it in light of my identities as a cisgender, white, agnostic woman from a middle-upper-class background. My privilege allows me to not engage in the conversation, not participate in community events necessary to show solidarity with targeted individuals and not think about terrorism being directed at me on a daily basis. I can simply go about my life, teaching, hanging out with my family and finishing those projects that I need to get done for my own benefit. I acknowledged the shooting to my partner and a friend I know who identifies as queer, but otherwise I have not been present in solidarity or action.
Some of you who are reading this may be wondering what you can do in the world generally and in academe more specifically in the wake of the horrific tragedy in Orlando. Based on my experiences and knowledge of the literature, here are some things that have started to come to mind for me.
Engage in the conversation, especially with people who haven’t brought it up yet and probably won’t in the future.
Listen, listen, listen to what people who have been targeted might be trying to tell you about their experiences.
Continue to do your own work to understand issues of oppression -- especially those related to your privilege areas. (The most highly skilled people practice this every day.)
Show up in solidarity (attend or help plan events hosted by others) but don’t expect praise for it. Then, keep showing up.
Start a conversation with students by framing curriculum in a way that they must ask critical questions about how people in positions of power make decisions with or without including people who have been or are often excluded.
Pay attention to when the conversations start to be about dominant-group perceptions, stereotypes (e.g., Islamophobia, heterosexism, cisgenderism) and feelings (e.g., “I didn’t mean it that way, and I’m really trying, so why are you mad at me?”). Shift it back to challenging the norms: Why was this group targeted? What are the consequences of stereotypes? Where do our norms come from, and how do they harm everyone? How can I question and resist norms that privilege a few people at a cost to many?
Give resources -- time, money, people -- to establishing programs, policies, procedures and other methods of dealing with issues of inequity. That could include, but not be limited to, hiring faculty members who have experience or expertise about equity issues; tackling social-justice topics in courses; creating mechanisms for faculty, staff and students to report instances of bias that they experience; and developing means for handling instances of bias that occur.
Seek out good sources of advice on the issues. The University of Michigan, for instance, has some great resources for educators about being inclusive and having difficult dialogues.
I plan to use some of the continuing discussion taking place on the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page to help my students understand how incidents like these have a traumatic impact on our higher education community. If you look on social media, you can see some mostly LGBTQ people expressing frustration and anger that the student affairs FB group and professional community have been silent or dismissive in the wake of the Orlando attack.
The central question raised in the Facebook group is whether or not student affairs professionals should be expected to be supportive of people who are minoritized in society. Should we as a whole be knowledgeable about the issues minoritized people are confronting and responsible for supporting minoritized students and others? How can we go about addressing that essential question in our field?
And how can we work with others throughout higher education to grapple with it? What kinds of things can -- and should -- we in higher education do to confront violence and inequity and support people traumatized by continuing oppression? I hope we can work to find more answers and make changes in higher education to better live our expressed values of equity and inclusion.
Stephanie Bondi is a faculty member in the student affairs program at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Her scholarship focuses on power and oppression, teaching and learning, and student affairs preparation.
After years of stalled negotiations, the City University of New York announced on Thursday a tentative contract deal with its faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress. The proposed contract includes 10 percent in compound salary increases over seven years, most of it retroactive. In addition to pay, the contract features a multiyear appointments for adjunct faulty members and a provision that would allow professors to devote more time to individual students.
Barbara Bowen, union president and a professor of English at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said in a statement that it was “able to negotiate a strong, imaginative contract in a period of enforced austerity for public workers because our members mobilized. The fight for our contract was a fight for investment in quality education at CUNY.”
James B. Milliken, CUNY chancellor, said in a separate statement that the agreement “provides not only a much-needed increase in pay for our many faculty and staff, but it also includes additional provisions important to CUNY’s competitiveness for talent at all levels.”
Faculty members at the University of Washington voted down a controversial plan to address salary compression, a common term for when junior faculty members make close to or more than what senior professors are paid due to changes in the market between points of hire. About 58 percent of eligible, full-time faculty members at Washington’s Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell campuses participated in the online vote; the tally was 1,328 for the plan and 1,356 against, with 58 abstentions. The initiative, which included a peer-approval mechanism for tiered and retention raises, needed a two-thirds majority of affirmative votes from those casting ballots to pass.
Gautham P. Reddy, a professor of radiology at Seattle and a member of the Washington Faculty Senate’s executive committee, said he agreed with the outcome. While faculty members in some schools and colleges would benefit from a new faculty salary policy, he said, “the proposal would not have worked well for some of our academic units, including the medical school, some of our other professional schools and our fast-growing campuses in Bothell and Tacoma.” The Senate is expected to continue working on salary compression issues next year.
Gail Stygall, a professor of English at the Seattle campus who supported the plan, said Washington knows salary compression is a serious concern, and that she hoped a feasible plan to address it would soon emerge. In the meantime, she said, “We’ll struggle onward.”
It is Sunday morning and I wake up to a flurry of text messages and Facebook notifications. My wife texts, “Have you seen the news?” I open Facebook and find dozens of posts about the horrific event that took place overnight at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. By the time I am reading about it, news outlets are reporting that around 50 people are dead and more than 50 others are injured. One lone shooter has been identified, a man possibly motivated by a kiss he witnessed between two men a few days before in Miami.
I am living in a studio apartment in the French Quarter in New Orleans, just a few blocks from the site of what had previously been considered the most deadly mass murder of LGBTQ folks in the United States. During the 1973 arson attack on the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar, 32 people were killed. I am staying on the same block of Dauphine St. where a man who was perceived as gay, Joseph Balog, was stabbed to death in 1993. The history of queer-antagonistic violence is just below the surface in this neighborhood of gay bars and rainbow flags.
I am in New Orleans conducting research on sissy bounce, a term used to describe the cluster of queer rappers and performers who have seemingly taken over the local homegrown hip-hop genre. I will spend a few weeks interviewing artists, visiting archives, speaking with locals and, yes, attending bounce nights at local clubs. As a queer woman in a city that has frequently been described to me by locals as “dangerous,” working among a community of artists who have experienced violence and tragedy firsthand and going to bars late at night without any companions, I knew my spouse was already worried about my safety.
Because we live in a rape culture and because I was raised to not travel alone or drink too much or wear anything too revealing or do anything to put myself in a position where I could be targeted -- some of which are things that my fieldwork requires of me -- I sometimes worry about my safety. A friend who lives in New Orleans recently told me, “This city is full of lucky motherfuckers. You’re lucky, until you’re not.”
Anytime I go out into the field, I text updates to my wife back home.
11:56 p.m.: Waiting for Uber now
12:00 a.m.: On my way to the club
12:04 a.m.: At the club, waiting in line
2:50 a.m.: Waiting for Uber now
2:56 a.m.: In the car now
3:02 a.m.: In the apartment now
3:08 a.m.: Good night
The constant checking in reminds me that I have people who care about me, but it also reminds me of both my limitations as a queer woman scholar and my privileges as a white person moving through spaces populated by different groups of people.
I flash back to a conference that I attended between my first and second years as a Ph.D. student. After a long day of papers, I am at dinner with a group of ethnomusicologists, all of them women, when the topic of safety and gender comes up. A number of senior scholars I’m very excited to spend time with are at the table, and they share stories of close calls and dangerous situations that, because they are women, they endured while conducting fieldwork. These range from unwanted flirting to being shut out of performances to being cornered and threatened by unknown men.
The conversation shifts to experiences that took place not in the course of research but in familiar spaces, such as childhood homes and college campuses, including sexual assault. We are all stunned by the how common such experiences are across generations. Incidents occurred at home, abroad, in the 1980s, in the 1990s, a few years ago. It doesn’t really matter. Being a woman scholar is dangerous. Being a woman is dangerous.
Back to present day. I read article after article about the attack on the Orlando gay club, which took place during Latin night, where mostly queer and trans Latinx folks and other QTPOC -- queer and trans people of color -- are the victims. I think about the time that I spent in the archives during the previous week, poring over decades’ worth of gay, then gay and lesbian, then finally LGBT newsletters and periodicals, desperately searching for stories that were not about white cisgender men. Looking for faces that were not white. Looking for history that was not white. It’s not to be found in these archives.
I also think about a few days before, when I go alone to a black LGBT club with no sign out front in a “rough” neighborhood. (My local friend later asks me incredulously, “You went there? Alone!”) The DJ plays nonstop bounce tracks for appreciative dancers.
In response to my explanation that I’m going to bounce night, my Uber driver tells me that New Orleans is a very dangerous city. I wonder if he really thinks it is dangerous, if he thinks black people are dangerous, or if he thinks bounce music is dangerous. This seems to be a familiar trope among the white people I encounter. At the club, I sit alone at the bar, nodding along to the beat. No one speaks to me, except to apologize when they bump into me. I am grateful to be among other queer people and hope I am not intruding with my whiteness into a space that is not meant for me.
I remember when I was a college student in my home state of Michigan and how important gay bars became for me during those formative years while I was coming out. I think of nights spent on the dance floor, the joy at being in a whole building full of other queer folks. How freeing that was. How safe I felt, despite the drinking, despite the hookup culture around me, despite the part of town the bar was in. The gay bar made me brave. Brave enough to dance late into the night.
I read on Facebook pleas for increased gun control legislation in light of this most recent tragedy. I read posts by Native American and indigenous folks and their allies reminding us all that this was not the worst mass shooting in United States history. I read compassionate calls not to resort to Islamophobia in our grief or anger. I read the erasure of race in this conversation by both conservative and liberal politicians -- and even (though perhaps not surprisingly) by members of LGBT communities.
I also consider the alarming number of mass shootings that have taken place on college campuses in the last few years. I question my safety in these spaces where I spend so much of my time, but this is not a new concern, given the prevalence of rape and sexual assault on campuses. I will be applying for academic jobs in the fall, and I wonder whether or not I want to apply to positions in states that are enacting anti-LGBTQ legislation that targets trans people in public spaces, states where concealed weapons will be allowed on college campuses, states where the tenure system is being dismantled by anti-working class governments, or any number of places that seem to not want me or want to keep me safe. I wonder what jobs will be left if I limit my search by location. Where exactly could I feel safe?
Then I realize that the spaces that have meant the most to me as a queer academic have lost any feeling of safety. And then I ask myself what impact this loss of safety has had on my scholarship.
I come back to my current research and think about the act of dancing as queer resistance and survival. I think about my informants here in New Orleans who stress the relationship between dancing and bounce music. When you hear that beat, you can’t help but move. Many people, especially LGBTQ people of color, view bounce as a catalyst for dancing, which is a necessary form of self-care. Dancing can be a way to work through and shed the stress that accumulates from moving through a world that does not seem to want you. This is what I did as a college student in Michigan. This is what the patrons of Pulse were doing on that fateful June night.
In light of that realization, I resolve to continue my work here in New Orleans and do my best to amplify the voices of the most marginalized in our communities. I acknowledge both the access I have been granted and the limitations that have been imposed on me, and decide to work with, through and around them when possible.
I promise to continue dancing.
Lauron Kehrer is a Ph.D. candidate in musicology at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester. Her current work focuses on the intersections of race, gender and sexuality in contemporary American hip-hop.
This month has opened with another two-step in the national campaign. Donald Trump throws out a blunt allegation, and the news media and political class rise in sputtering indignation. Trump has questioned the fitness of Judge Gonzalo Curiel to preside over the Trump University lawsuit. Judge Curiel has Mexican-American parents, and Trump believes his plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico bias the judge's decision making. An NPR story on the matter cites Trump referring to Judge Curiel in a speech in San Diego as “a hater of Donald Trump, a hater.” On CNN, he accused the judge of issuing “very unfair rulings, rulings that people can’t even believe.”
Response has ranged from dismay to outrage on both left and right. John Kasich thinks Trump should “apologize to Judge Curiel and try to unite this country.” At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick, always a reliable voice against Republican villainy, opens, “No truly sane person can defend Donald Trump's vile, racist slander against Gonzalo Curiel.”
Anyone who has worked in academe for a measure of time has to wonder at the shock and ire of these critics. What's the big deal? We have heard the premise of Trump's gripe repeated so many times that it has become a standard part of the stagecraft of public and private debate. No concept has undergone more dismantling in the last half century than objectivity. And no criticism against objectivity has had greater popular impact than the one that says judgment is inevitably swayed by racial/ethnic/gender/sexual factors.
That line of thinking is the sole legal basis for affirmative action in college admissions, for instance. In her 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor acknowledged "one's own, unique experience of being a racial minority in a society, like our own, in which race unfortunately still matters." The racial diversification of the student body, the court ruled, means the diversification of experiences, which enhances the education of everyone. College and universities may practice discrimination because of the reality of racially conditioned minds.
The grounds for that assumption reach back to the Marx and Freud, among others, especially to their critique of the liberal dream of cognitive freedom. The dream allowed that, with enough education and a cosmopolitan disposition, you could transcend your circumstances and reach an unbiased viewpoint. Familial, tribal and national interests would fade, identitarian limits (racial, etc.) would fall away, and a universal human eye would be achieved.
Readers of Inside Higher Ed don't need a rehearsal of how that objectivity collapsed. Hegel historicized it, Marx materialized it, Freud psychoanalyzed it. Forever after, the liberal mind was considered a pretense -- an effort to transcend history, class or psychic repression. Race/class/gender/sexuality critics of the 1980s and ’90s gave these grand undoings an identity twist, an easy step to take in the wake of civil rights, women's lib and the Gay Liberation Front.
Many years ago, in a speech at a law conference, Sonia Sotomayor gave the identity theory a clear and simple expression that is now one of the canons of our age: “Our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see …. I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society.”
Donald Trump has done nothing more than to accept Justice Sotomayor’s point. But he has broken a taboo. For identity arguments are not equal opportunity. You can raise the objectivity problem when a white man is in power, but you may not do so when a woman or person of color is in power. In other words, Trump has crossed one of the prohibitions that sustain the identity regime. He dares to challenge a man of color on the grounds of his color; also, he reveals the double standards of those who routinely challenge white men on the grounds of their color (and sex).
The dismay on the right comes less from taboo sources than from a philosophical and a tactical source. First, conservatives don’t like identity politics. As Ian Tuttle put it in National Review, Trump’s charge “plays into the left’s identity-politics game, in which one’s heritage or sex determines whether one can render a fair judgment.” Second, Republican politicians fear the “racist” tag because they believe it leads to lost votes. The left has put them fully on the defensive on the issue, and their handlers tell them that the Hispanic bloc is crucial to success in 2016 and beyond.
My prediction is that this controversy will pass like all the rest. Trump’s supporters know that the right’s standard response to identity politics -- to refuse them -- hasn’t slowed their progress one bit. Group thinking and the bad-straight-white-male image have never enjoyed so much popularity. I believed in 1992 that nobody but a transient subset of humanities professors would pay attention to identity theory after the fashion went away, but I was wrong. The feminism and neopragmatism and critical race theory and queer theory that assailed objectivity and dominated the seminar room have settled into dogma in the press, the courtroom, the art world, the White House. The counterculture is now the hegemony.
Trump is an intervention in that spread. He breaks the rules, breaches decorum, says the unsayable. He is precisely the transgressive figure that critical theory in the ’90s exalted. If they were principled in their assumptions, academic theorists wouldn’t join the universal denunciation of Donald Trump by the elite and the establishment. They would situate him in a framework of taboo and totem, interdiction, madness and civilization, or the scapegoat. I’m pretty sure that if Foucault were alive today, he would have been fascinated and amused by the phenomenon of the Republican primary winner -- and utterly bored by the other side.
Mark Bauerlein is professor of English at Emory University and co-editor (with Adam Bellow) of The State of the American Mind (Templeton, 2015).