Dear James Doti, President of Chapman University,
Hello. We don’t know each other, but we do look a little bit alike. Well, I mean our gender, socioeconomic status, and age are different, as is our keen fashion sense (me in flowy dresses, you in some pretty sweet suits – kudos, btw), but we’re both white.
Eek. I know. You don’t see race.
I probably appear rude for pointing it out – that I’m white and you’re white. I know you mentioned your prescribed world view and policy mindset of colorblindness on several occasions; quoted in The Panther on 9/8/14, your editorial regarding The Panther’s comments on 9/15/14, and your editorial on Affirmative Action on 4/27/03.
You want to see a world where racial discrimination does not occur. That is so awesome. It’s important that someone in your position believes this.
I must inform you, however, that your views and actions perpetuate racism – not erase it.
Further, while your beliefs and policies may be well intentioned, they actually go against what has been presented in higher education research. Sir, you are not operating along best practices guidelines. Quite frankly, your ideology is harmful to students (both white students and students of color) and that is why I, some random higher education professional in the Midwest, saw it imperative to write this post in order to address, point by point, your September 15th editorial to The Panther.
[Disclaimer: Let me clarify before I continue: I see this as an open letter but also as a blog post intended to generate conversation on the topic. Dr. Doti is not the only higher education professional or decision maker in the world with this seemingly innocuous yet irrefutably harmful worldview. My communicative style will be casual and could be interpreted at times as disrespectful in either tone, word, or image. I assure you none is intended. I just believe that a humorous tone is sometimes the best in blog posts.]
[Note: In the time since I wrote this, Chapman students have responded in the student newspaper to Dr. Doti’s editorial. Seniors K.B. Jenny Kim and James David Ruby both wrote responses, as well as former student Sonja Lund.]
1. The Value of Multicultural Centers
I would like to know where you have found this research because I am quite unsure if it exists. In fact, it is the opposite. There is so much research on the value of cultural centers – whether they are cultural centers for specific ethnic groups (African American/Black, Latin@, Asian, Native American), a multicultural center (meant to support all students of color/underrepresented identities), or culture centers for other marginalized identities (Hillel, LGBTQ+, International, Women).
Focusing on multicultural centers (or any center supporting students of color), these are a vehicle for providing social, emotional, and academic support. They are effective as recruitment and retention tools. Additionally, they promote ethnic solidarity.
I know. The words ethnic solidarity probably make you squeamish. But I promise that it’s not about ‘kill whitey’. See, students of color at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) face ‘straight-up racism’ (you know – the kind we tend to identify easily, like what’s been happening in Ferguson – as you took note of in your editorial) as well as microaggressions (Buzzfeed, NYT, Microaggressions Project) and other incidents related to systemic racism.
From a historical perspective regarding Black Culture Centers, African American students saw these centers as “’an island in a sea of whiteness’ that offered them a sense of identity and protection in an environment which they saw as hostile or indifferent” (Young, p. 13). These centers “were designed to help African American students on predominantly white campuses cope with the alienation, loneliness, and isolation, which so many often felt and still tend to feel” (Princes, p. 18). “Today, particularly during this time of demographic change, cultural centers have been pivotal in providing safe havens for ethnic minority student groups who have traditionally been denied full access and, in most instances, any access to PWIs” (Jones, Castellanos, & Cole, 2002, p. 21).
While I am sure that your goal is to have all Chapman students feel fully integrated (and not just your 58% white students), I am making an educated guess that not all students of color (SOC) feel that way; my guess is educated, mind you, because it draws on numerous articles examining the experiences of SOC at public and private universities. Clearly, according to Chapman’s newspaper, there are a good number of Chapman students who do feel there is a need for a multicultural center.
2. “The Fundamental Flaw”
You believe there is a fundamental flaw in designating a specific location for discussing multicultural issues. I get that. Perhaps you believe that if you designate one area as the “Multicultural Center” then you will be saying, in essence that there is only one space to discuss multicultural issues. That you are limiting the conversation by creating the center.
Truthfully, that is one flaw at most universities. Cultural Centers are funded and then everyone considers diversity to be ‘their job’. Instead of undertaking the work to integrate diversity and multiculturalism into all areas of an institution, folks rely on the ‘diversity people’ to get the job done.
At the end of the day, at least students have one place to discuss cultural issues. One place that feels like it is their own. One place where the space is safe(r).
Does your university have at least one space?
You see, by not designating any space as a ‘multicultural center’, you are not necessarily opening and maintaining other opportunities for dialogue on race, culture, ethnicity, and racism on your campus.
~~Racism is scary~~
It’s not something we want to talk about, as humans. Especially white humans.
So it makes sense that we don’t go out of our way to discuss it.
Ultimately: You are not neglecting dialogue on multiculturalism by creating one space in a multicultural center. You are creating a ground zero for discussion that can have ripple effects on the rest of the university. With no intentionally created ‘one space’ there is no space at all.
Dr. Doti, I understand that the word ‘ghetto’ is defined as “to restrict to an isolated area or group”. I am sure it was not your intention to use a racial and classist slur.
However, intent does not equal impact.
For example, if I’m doing the dishes and I break my grandmother’s prized crystal wine glass, I did something wrong. I did not intend to break her prized glass, but I did. And while I can try to superglue those fragments back together, the glass will never look the same. Ultimately, I just have to admit I was wrong, learn enhanced washing techniques (maybe research some best practices scrubbing skills), and do better in the future.
“Ghetto” has never had a positive connotation. NPR’s Code Switch explores the etymology of the word in the article ‘Segregated From Its History, How ‘Ghetto’ Lost Its Meaning’. “In the 16th and 17th centuries, cities like Venice, Frankfurt, Prague and Rome forcibly segregated their Jewish populations, often walling them off and submitting them to onerous restrictions” (Domonoske, 2014, para 3).
Post-World War II and ‘white flight’ or large urban areas, “ghettos” referred to areas of black and brown bodies living in low-income households. Ghetto has been a slang word for decades. Please don’t tell me that you are unaware of how loaded this word is in American society.
Dr. Doti. Stop. Please.
You cannot just keep throwing this word around.
Yes, yes, and yes. I do believe that after reading your editorial (unfair, I know, but what would you have me do?) and I do agree that racism does exist.
Your ‘truth’ is your lived experience. You believe what you believe due to how you were raised by family/household, in schools, what you saw in media, and your overall life events.
I need you to understand that you may be operating from a singular perspective. As you read above, there are multiple reasons why multicultural centers are needed on campus. As you continue reading below, please pay particular attention to my remarks on colorblindness.
5. Enrollment Management Best Practices?
First, thank you.
I do commend you on wanting to direct more money towards scholarships for low-income students of color.
However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you), you are overlooking something. Your plan will bring more students of color to campus….but will they stay?
Currently Chapman University’s retention rates for first-time freshmen from fall to fall are 91% and the six-year graduation rate is 72%. These are healthy rates – par for the course for most private institutions. Yet as we know, persistence rates for students of color do increase with programs that support their identity – such as a multicultural center.
It may be worth it to examine the 28% of students who leave the institution, what their backgrounds are, and their experiences at Chapman in order to understand why they left and what factors were at play.
I recognize that Chapman University has students from over 60 countries so in that regard (and because yay global society), courses on global studies and world cultures would be great. But what about some increased courses in ethnic studies so students can examine race & culture from a domestic lens? While I see some within the sociology department, it looks like there could be an increased focus (I am an outsider, I recognize this, and only know what your website tells me).
As for study abroad – this may help students build empathy towards cultural and racial differences, but I do feel these additions within your editorial distract from the overall message that underrepresented students are requesting further support on your campus.
6. MLK is More Than “I Have a Dream”
Sir, if you would allow me to be your socially-aware public relations manager for a moment, I urge you to refrain from ending any editorial regarding race and culture with a quote from MLK. It speaks of an eagerness to pander to those that care about racial justice and represent yourself as a ‘white man that gets it’.
MLK is more than his ‘Dream’ speech. He was a radical that has been sanctified since his death as someone who just wanted us all to get along. And above all, I do not believe it right when my fellow white folk use his words to plead for colorblindness.
7. Now for the Heart of the Matter: On Colorblindness.
Dr. Doti, when you embrace ‘colorblindness’, you are embracing racism.
This realization is growing as writers at places like Psychology Today and Policy Mic are discovering this; however it is rooted in academia, under interdisciplinary areas of Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT grew out of critical legal studies and has been innovated within education, women’s studies, sociology, and other fields.
“Furthermore, the notion of colorblindness fails to take into consideration the persistence and permanence of racism and the construction of people of color as Other… Furthermore, CRT scholars argue that colorblindness has been adopted as a way to justify ignoring and dismantling race-based policies that were designed to address societal inequity (Gotanda, 1991).
In other words, arguing that society should be colorblind ignores the fact that inequity, inopportunity, and oppression are historical artifacts that will not easily be remedied by ignoring race in the contemporary society. Moreover, adopting a colorblind ideology does not eliminate the possibility that racism and racist acts will persist” (DeCuir & Dixson, 2004, p. 29)
Or, if you want to ignore CRT scholars, consider what one of Chapman’s students told to a The Panther reporter in regards to your statement on colorblindness: “That triggers me so much. As humans, we see color, that is what it is,” said George. “Oh, so you don’t see me? They’re choosing to be ignorant that I am black.”
You may not want to notice race, Dr. Doti, because perhaps it is the ‘professional’ thing to do or maybe because you took MLK’s words to heart. But no matter what you want to believe, there are many different (socially-constructed) races and in America us white folk have a lot of privilege – such as the privilege to ignore race.
(a fantastic entry into understanding white privilege, btw, is ‘Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack‘. Also, try attending some events and locations where you are the only white person. See if you notice race then).
Dr. Doti, please accept this message with an open heart and open mind. I do appreciate other areas of your leadership – in particular I appreciated your The Panther editorial on 11/6/11 on equality marriage. However, I was very disturbed to read your comments and thought some discussion was in order – and not just for you, but hopefully the many folks out there in education who believe the way you do and believe the way I do.
Also, since Chapman is a Disciples of Christ affiliated church, I felt more obligation to write for that denomination has been a key part of my life at one moment in time (upon moving to a new city, it looks like I may be Methodist..ah, church shopping! But that is another tale…)
DeCuir, J. T., & Dixson, A. D. (2004). ” So When It Comes Out, They Aren’t That Surprised That It Is There”: Using Critical Race Theory as a Tool of Analysis of Race and Racism in Education. Educational researcher, 26-31.
Jones, L., Castellanos, J., & Cole, D. (2002). Examining the ethnic minority student experience at predominantly White institutions: A case study. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 1(1), 19-39.
Princes, C.D.W. (1994). The Precarious Question of Black Cultural Centers versus Multicultural Centers. Annual Conference of the Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education (Harrisburg, PA, March 2-5, 1994).
Resource Guide to Better Understanding Race in Higher Education
(adapted from my Critical Race Theory class syllabi, summer semester 2013, by Dr. Lori Patton Davis
Yosso, T. (2002). Toward a critical race curriculum. Equity & Excellence in Education, 35(2), 93-¬‐107.
Teranishi, R. T. (2010). Asian Pacific Americans and critical race theory: An examination of school racial climate. Equity & Excellence in Education, 35(2), 144-¬‐154.
Gildersleeve, R. E., Croom ,N.N., & Vasquez, P. (2011). “Am I going crazy?!”: A critical race analysis of doctoral education. Equity & Excellence in Education, 44(1), 93-¬‐114.
Harper, S. R. (2009). Niggers no more: A critical race counternarrative on black male student achievement at predominantly white colleges and universities. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 22 (6), 697-¬‐712.
Yosso, T. J., Smith, W. A., Ceja, M., & Solorzano, D. G. (2009). Critical race theory, racial
microaggressions, and campus racial climate for Latina/o undergraduates. Harvard Educational Review, 79(4), 659-¬‐690