I’m a White Professor. Here’s Why I’m Suing Penn State.

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I’m a white writing professor, and apparently, that’s a problem. That was the unmistakable message sent to me at Pennsylvania State University—and that’s why I’m suing the school.

In November 2020, nearly half a year after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, I was subjected to a  video titled “White Teachers Are a Problem” for a monthly professional development meeting for writing faculty.

The video’s featured speaker, Asao Inoue, is a self-described practitioner of anti-racism. Not an obscure one, either: About a year prior, Inoue gave the Chair’s Address at a prestigious writing studies research conference—the same field in which I earned my Ph.D.—and declared, “White people can perpetuate white supremacy by being present. … Your body perpetuates racism.”

At the heart of Inoue’s appalling comments is the baseless attribution of negative characteristics to a particular race.

Inside radical academic bubbles, that might be applauded; in the real world, that’s called discrimination. And it’s illegal. When discrimination enters the workplace, depending on its frequency and intensity, citizens can file a lawsuit alleging a hostile work environment against their employer.

At my Abington campus, my direct supervisor pushed an aggressive “anti-racism” campaign through private emails and monthly meetings. She laid the groundwork by echoing a colleague’s stance that “reverse racism isn’t racism,” thereby abandoning cherished human rights principles.

“[R]acist structures are quite real in assessment and elsewhere regardless of [anybody’s] good intentions,” she claimed. “Racism is in the results if the results draw a color line.”

Later, citing a resolution on “Black Linguistic Justice!” from an increasingly politicized research organization, my supervisor issued two directives: “Assure that black students can find success in our classrooms” and “Assure that all students see that white supremacy manifests itself in language and in writing pedagogy.” 

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Translation: The English language is racist, teaching writing is racist, and grading black students by consistent standards is racist.

Tough spot if you’re a white writing instructor and one of your black students doesn’t submit a big paper. Even tougher if you work at a “majority minority” campus: Out of 20 undergraduate campuses across the Penn State system, to its credit, Abington is the only with a majority of minority students.

But the toughest position goes to every black student in this environment—an educator seems to believe they’re incapable of achieving academic success on their own merit.

Misguided as my supervisor was, she wasn’t just one rogue professor in the bunch. Anti-racism fever ran rampant through the school’s institutional culture.

To commemorate Juneteenth 2020, Abington’s DEI director told us: “Stop being afraid of your own internalized white supremacy” and “Hold other white people accountable.”

That same week, amid faculty panic over a masked-up return to campus, one colleague invoked “history and white male privilege” to forecast, without discernible evidence: “One can already see a mile away that there will be some who resist wearing masks, etc. Such resistance is also more likely to be led by white males and in classrooms taught by women and people of color.”

In September 2021, I complied with my state-mandated duty to report bias in these (and other) incidents.  The Penn State Affirmative Action Office summoned me into a Zoom meeting, where its associate director informed me, “There is a problem with the white race,” and then directed me to continue attending anti-racist workshops “until you get it.”

The next anti-racist workshop was titled “The Myth of the Colorblind Writing Classroom: White Instructors Confront White Privilege in Their Classrooms.” During this meeting, my supervisor provided this quote: “Without attending to issues of inequity and particularly the role race [plays] in constructing social inequities, we remain unaware of and thereby unwittingly reproduce racist discourses and practices in our classrooms.”

As the target audience for this message, I sensed that I’d soon get accused of racism for holding my students to reasonable (and necessary) standards. I could feel my $53,000-a-year, nontenured, and nonunion job hanging in the balance. So I asked for examples of how I could bring equity into my classroom and what this actually looked like in practice.

Rather than help me to “get it,” the Affirmative Action Office deemed my questions to be evidence of bullying and harassment. Yet, my supervisor’s yearslong actions were “in line with the Campus Strategic Plan.” Human Resources asked me to sign a performance reprimand, then Penn State inserted those charges into my annual performance review.

Now I’m fighting back.

With a right-to-sue letter from the Justice Department, it’s time for Penn State to account for real racial discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. I’ve got the support of Allen Harris Law and a nonpartisan civil rights group called the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism.

“Anti-racism” isn’t quite the right term to describe the performative activism that’s happening across academia and corporate America. Let’s call this hustle what it is: plain and simple racism.

And just like racism, the so-called anti-racist movement threatens everything in its path: freedom of speech, due process, healthy workplace relationships, professional excellence, academic rigor, and the psychological welfare of teachers and students alike.

Originally published by RealClearWire

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