Pacific Lutheran University, my place of employment (Go Lutes!), recently hired Rae Linda Brown as the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. To put it eloquently, Rae Linda Brown is a baddie. She earned both her M.A. in African American Studies and Music and Ph.D. in Musicology from Yale, served extensively in multiple academic affairs positions at different institutions, and is gearing up to do big things at PLU. Every time I see her around campus, I want to tell her how awesome she is. Actually, I do try and tell her that, but it always comes out awkward because I’m awkward, and I think she thinks I’m kinda weird. Also, throughout this article, I will be referring to Rae Linda Brown only as Rae Linda Brown, because not using the full 13 letters seems wrong. Put some respeck on her name, please.
Recently, PLU published an article on Rae Linda Brown’s upcoming strategies for enhancing the school’s academy excellence, specifically, her call to diversify our very white faculty and staff. If you have time, read the whole article here. It has some fantastic gems, including:
“We cannot expect to recruit and retain students of color if the academic climate is not welcoming to them,” [Rae Linda Brown] said in her speech. “We cannot expect to be an institution of excellence if voices are absent from the community.”
Of course, not everyone is thrilled about this, and when PLU posted the article on its Facebook page, some people were mad. They came ready with their thesis statements on why they thought Rae Linda Brown was full of it. White tears came to play, because obviously we can’t have nice things when White fragility is threatened.
Honestly, it’s upsetting to see people so distraught over the idea of hiring staff and faculty of color, but it’s not new. Whenever institutions, especially institutions of higher education, try and create plans in place to hire more people of color, there are always those who cry “unfair affirmative action.” Instead of coming out right and acknowledging White Supremacy and
their own subconscious desire to have a majority White faculty and staff body because they’re the worst its role in creating a lack of educators of color at universities and colleges, they make excuses on why focusing on diversity in hiring practices is awful. There are typically a few of the same arguments* that come out of the woodwork when we talk about any school hiring more diverse staff and faculty, and many of them presented themselves in the comments on Facebook.
*In fact, I’m being generous by calling them “arguments,” because Webster’s Dictionary defines “argument” as “a coherent series of statements leading from a premise to a conclusion,” and some of these comments are absolutely not that.
Argument 1: It shouldn’t matter what color people are, but only if the faculty are excellent.
Yes, faculty should be great. The goal isn’t to hire terrible faculty. But why is hiring faculty of color mutually exclusive with hiring amazing faculty? Is it so hard to believe there are some fantastic professors and staff who aren’t White?
And I hate to break it to you…but it actually does kind of matter. I want to stress: our staff and faculty are very White. So White, we could have a collection of “So White/How White jokes” devoted to the lack of melanin. I can’t think of any at the moment. But what I can tell you is we have 35% students of color (and 41% are first generation college students), and we miiiiight have 15% staff and faculty of color. Maybe. We know that students of color need faculty and staff of color, both for mentorship opportunities, and for the feeling of belonging that comes from seeing someone who looks like you in a position of educational power. How can we serve students of color when the possibility of them going through PLU without seeing a single faculty of color in the classroom is high?
And p.s., yes, that hyper-underlined sentence in the middle of the previous paragraph contains nine different articles supporting my claim that students of color need faculty of color for support (and there are easily dozens more). I come with my receipts ready to go.
Argument 2: Race is a social construct, we are all #oneloveoneraceoneskinonemind, and by talking about diversity, you are the racist.
Yes, yes, the modern day, scientific “I don’t see color.” Race is a social construct. And guess who made it a social construct? Hint: it wasn’t the black and brown bodies that were colonized, enslaved, murdered, and/or ignored proper medical treatment. I don’t ever want to hear or see the phrase “race is a social construct”, unless it’s followed up by “and because it was a social construct designed by European and White folks, a group of people with structural power, the negative impacts, prejudice, and racism that come with this man-created hierarchy are very real.” Because “racism as a social construct” does not equal “there is no racism, and no need to hire faculty or staff of color.”
Also, I’m perplexed why highlighting diversity automatically means we’re causing a divide, and how “seeing color” is “racism.” Okay. Also, let me not catch you using all your breath to cry “racism” when we’re talking about hiring more folks of color, but then staying silent when people of color are slain by the police. 🐸☕️
Argument #3: We need to be able to understand our faculty!
As a daughter of immigrant parents, this one especially boils my blood. The argument is that sometimes, when we hire global scholars, they aren’t good teachers because English is their second language, or they don’t speak English in the “correct” way. This is the worst dot com backslash this is ridiculous.
- Why don’t we celebrate people’s ability to speak more than one language? Especially if the faculty or staff just came from another country where they had the opportunity to speak in their native tongue. In fact, we should do more than celebrate, we should be in awe. The ability to teach in a language that isn’t your first-learned language is an incredible skill.
- The fact that we say “we can’t understand” someone because they don’t speak English they way YOU understand it is so far rooted in US-centrism and Whiteness, it makes me sick. Why is there only one way certain way to speak a language, to pronounce certain words? And why is it that Americans, and often, White folk, get to decide the pronunciation?
A thousand petty prayers upon whoever makes argument.
Argument 4: Random “points” that have nothing to do with ANYTHING.
I.e., in this case, someone took the time to comment how “sad” they were that PLU graduated students who “no longer put their faith in God” but become “atheists.” They took the time, however, to pray that PLU students “return to their Christian roots,” though, so. Thank you for your kindness, I guess.
If three plus seven equals tree, and Kim Kardashian eats peaches, then is there no place for God at PLU? Oh, what? That sentence doesn’t make any sense, nor is it pertinent to my point? Huh. HOW WEIRD. What fight are you even fighting here? I don’t think you read through the prompt, let alone took the time to study for the right quiz (I guess, in my analogy, the quiz being “Let’s Get Mad About Hiring More People of Color”). And why do I get the feeling that even if you were on a relevant track, you’d still be wrong?
The vindictive cousin of Argument #4 is “Attacking the person in the article by using racist statements that have no place anywhere, let alone this comment section” (like for example, oh, getting so mad over a reboot of a movie because your nerd-masculinity is so easily broken, you end up calling a Black woman an ape). Luckily, the comments didn’t veer that way. And you don’t know how mad I am at myself, and society, that I actually typed out that last sentence. Like, “whew. Okay. The comments were terrible, but at least no one called Rae Linda Brown a racial slur publicly on Facebook.” I don’t think I’d expect that from PLU community members; then again, I have been unpleasantly surprised time and time again.
I’m not going to waste any more of my time on those enrolled in the Abigail Fisher School of Being Upset That Someone Wants to Make a Place for People of Color in Higher Education. All I can say is, if you’re mad that a school wants to hire more educators of color, I need you to take a critical look inward and ask yourself why.
And of course, keep embodying #BlackExcellence, Rae Linda Brown.