Re: “What Kind of White Faculty Should We Hire?,” Sunspots, Dec. 10
Christian Brickhouse recently penned an ambitious essay in this newspaper. Amongst other things, the author argued against the idea of creating a political diversity initiative in campus-wide faculty hiring. This “Republican Affirmative Action” as he coins it does sound counterintuitive, if not offensive. After all, CS majors or sociolinguists or behavioral psychologists are no more likely to better understand concepts taught by a Republican professor.
This is an open letter, one that will never reach the addressee, the type of letter that mostly benefits the author and maybe open some isolated, outcasted pairs of eyes. One of those that are not meant to be read, but meant to be written and spoken to strangers with familiar faces about familiar situations, one of those often charged with aggressive passivity, when maybe all they do is delineate a relationship between two people where names are not needed, where intimacy is beyond the point and from which no friendship will spring. I start and end with who I am, and in virtue of this identity of subject and writer I sketch the outline of who you are. To begin with, this is where I am from: a multitude of places, but – for the sake of this letter’s focus – from the self-sustaining micro-universe of a crowded dining hall. My face, I know you will not know, but maybe the colors will sound familiar – red speckled with a golden name tag, black over my hair.
When the cart rolled into the classroom, several of the students immediately left their seats and walked over. I followed suit. It was a steel double-sided cart, the kind that librarians use for shelving books. A few titles caught my eye: a complete encyclopedia of African American culture, Drown by Junot Díaz, and Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The students and I shuffled about the cart to get a closer look at the selection.
Auburn Correctional Facility is less than an hour’s drive directly north of Ithaca, in a city whose population is comparable to that of total enrollment at Cornell. Sitting atop one of the Finger Lakes, it looks like any other town to pass by on the rolling hills of Upstate New York. But if obscurity has different degrees, Auburn is not a place without a name. It’s where Underground Railroad heroine Harriet Tubman lived and died. It’s also home to one of the nation’s oldest prisons, one that pioneered the practice—the “Auburn system”—of daytime penal labor followed by solitary confinement at night, all under enforced silence.
Arbitrarily, the entire premise of college is to expand one’s knowledge of the world and gain new perspective, both of which can be inhibited without open, uncensored dialogue about controversial topics. While such topics can be difficult to digest for many individuals, certain provoking topics such as sexual assault, cancer and war are the brutal realities of the world in which we live. Although it is not innately effortless to immerse oneself in discussion related to such matters, it is vital that students participate to broaden their educations and perspectives. Thus, while professors should be mindful of the ways they expose students to controversial materials (and perhaps caution students of universally graphic material), they should not be required to administer trigger warnings or options to “opt out” of “triggering” topics. College is not the time nor the place to evade disconcerting topics; allowing students to disengage with materials on the basis that they are not rationally capable of handling such discussions is inimical.