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Diversity efforts in universities are nothing but façade painting

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Soon after the Derek Chauvin verdict was made public on April 20, faculties at many universities and colleges in the United States and Canada received emails from administrators, asking them to provide “support” to students by offering additional drop-in office hours. Faculty were also asked to state that these hours were not just for course-related questions, but for “general checking-in”.

Some university administrators even asked faculty to acknowledge, explicitly, either verbally or in writing, that we were aware of the most recent police murders – not just that of George Floyd – the outcome of the Chauvin trial, and its potential impact on students’ mental health, as if mental health is the beginning and end of the conditions that demand urgent change on campuses. It was also clear that faculty were being directly asked to do emotional and political labour well beyond the scope of our work as educators at institutions of higher learning, and – importantly – for which most of us have neither expertise nor training.

Later, at a slew of public “town hall” style meetings, students and faculty alike were assured that we would be welcome to speak openly about racial discrimination and that our voices would be heard.

Let’s be sober in our assessment of what is actually going on.

Universities are committed to keeping things as they are, while suggesting otherwise. And, even more importantly, most university administrations expect those of us who notice that change is not happening to keep quiet and be civil about the betrayal. Those requests to faculty to look after students in a moment of crisis belie a much deeper problem in the university: its own reluctance to adequately account for the violence it is party to.

The emails and invitations to “speak your truth” are clever institutional-speak that do little but elide the institutions’ responsibility to their faculty and students. Inviting someone to “speak your truth” is a way of reducing what the speaker says to a personal interpretation of an experience of discriminatory practices and/or behaviour. It implies that the “truth” is filtered through the speaker’s emotions, that it is subjective and belongs to the speaker’s experience of events, alone – rather than an indication of “factual” realities and the intractable structural arrangement and relations of the university. Such invitations are meant to reduce observations and analysis based on evidence to “feelings” – and to ameliorate the excitable speaker with a nice, rational arm around the shoulder. In the face of these charm offences by administrators, calls for more far-reaching structural change remain unanswered, even as the diversity and inclusion offices, officers and administrators proliferate.

As institutions in which........

© Al Jazeera

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