No, white supremacists did not march through the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). No, there was no violence on the streets of Anchorage like what happened in Charlottesville. Nevertheless, what happened at UAA over the past two weeks suggest that racism and white supremacy are winning on our campus, too.
You see, racism and white supremacy isn’t just neo-Nazis marching with their torches while chanting “White Power” and “Blood and Soil” and “You will not replace us.” Racism and white supremacy isn’t just the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses on people’s yards. Racism and white supremacy isn’t just in Charlottesville. Racism and white supremacy happens in less blatant and more subtle ways, every day, in all aspects of our lives all over the country. Racism and white supremacy happens in Alaska, in Anchorage, at UAA.
But five days after the violence in Charlottesville – rather than explicitly condemning racism, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis and reassuring those in our university community who are feeling extra vulnerable that our leadership has their backs – the UAA chancellor released the following statement instead:
“Dear UAA Community,
In light of events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in the aftermath that is playing out across our nation, we must affirm UAA’s commitment to diversity, tolerance and inclusion, the values that underpin the University’s Diversity Inclusion and Action Plan.
The UAA community must reject hatred and violence, and be a place that is welcoming to all, including those of different races and ethnicities, national origins, sexual orientations, gender identities, religions and cultural backgrounds. While opposing hatred and violence, and the groups that espouse hatred and violence, we must and will honor and encourage tolerance.
We value and celebrate our diverse community. As a campus, as a Cabinet and I, as Chancellor, honor this commitment. This is inherent in our mission: to maintain a campus where all can teach, learn and serve.
I invite you to join me on Sept. 12, from 1-3 p.m. in the Lew Haines Conference Room, Library 307, to learn more about the Diversity Inclusion and Action Plan and how you can help with its implementation.”
This is a weak and frightening “many sides” statement, particularly the sentence: “While opposing hatred and violence, and the groups that espouse hatred and violence, we must and will honor and encourage tolerance.”
Go ahead, read that again.
Did UAA leadership actually say that although we may not like and agree with racists and white supremacists, we must still tolerate them anyway? Is this why there is so much emphasis on “tolerance and inclusion” – Does UAA leadership believe that racists and white supremacists must be tolerated and included? And when UAA leadership say that they want “to maintain a campus where all can teach, learn and serve,” do they mean that they want racists and white supremacists to teach at UAA too? Do they mean that they want racists and white supremacists to graduate from UAA too?
And this leads me to the other reason why this statement is weak and frightening: It fails to explicitly condemn racism and white supremacists. As Dr. Shaun R. Harper and Dr. Charles H.F. Davis III - national leaders on campus diversity and racial climate issues - have stated:
“In moments of racial crisis, students and faculty — especially people of color — look to senior administrators for guidance and reassurance. They expect courageous leadership and the responsible use of evidence.”
Over the past year or so (actually, ever since these lands were colonized and this country was founded), the evidence has been very clear and overwhelming that racism is happening all over the country, and that people are getting hurt – and dying – because of racism. When our leaders ignore such evidence – and fail to name racism and white supremacy as the problem despite the evidence – “it signals to students and faculty that their university is either too unaware, too afraid or insufficiently skilled to talk about racism, let alone to address it.” (Harper & Davis, 2017).
Because I am a proud UAA alumni, UAA professor, Anchorage resident, and Alaskan who believes that my university is better than this, I gave the chancellor’s statement the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it was written in haste and not enough thinking went into it? Perhaps the chancellor was not getting appropriate advice?
So the day after UAA leadership released their “many sides” statement, I directly emailed the chancellor expressing my concern and asking him and his cabinet to make a stronger statement that explicitly condemns racism, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis. I even provided an example “draft” for them to consider. It has been nine days, and I have yet to get a response.
Also the day after UAA leadership released their “many sides” statement, I directly emailed a vice chancellor – someone who is part of the chancellor’s cabinet – expressing my concern and asking them to make a stronger statement. I was told that the chancellor would address the issue again during the faculty and staff welcome event. I looked forward to it.
A few days later, during the welcome event when the chancellor said many things but “racism,” “white supremacists,” and “neo-Nazis,” I got on the microphone and – once again – expressed my concern and gave the chancellor yet another chance to explicitly condemn “racism,” “white supremacists,” and “neo-Nazis.” In his response, the chancellor said many things again, but not “racism,” “white supremacists,” nor “neo-Nazis.”
It is deeply troubling that racism and bigotry have become so normal that: (1) neo-Nazis and white supremacists are marching in front of cameras without hoods on; and (2) some people – including people in power – are actually finding it difficult to condemn racism, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists.
Rather than courageous, bold leadership that explicitly names racism and white supremacy as the problem, my university’s senior administrators have been giving us – in very many but empty words – the “many sides” statement instead. As a proud UAA alumni, as a UAA professor, and as an Alaskan, it is embarrassing – and as an immigrant person of color, it is terrifying – that a university built on indigenous lands in the most racially diverse city in the country is “too unaware, too afraid or insufficiently skilled to talk about racism, let alone to address it.”
It is embarrassingly terrifying that my university leadership cannot even say that they condemn racism, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis. If my university leaders cannot identify and condemn even the most blatant forms of racism and white supremacy, how can they be aware of the subtle forms of racism and white supremacy that take place everyday? And if they can’t even name the problem – if they can’t even talk about racism and white supremacy – how are we supposed to believe that they see it, that they are aware of it, that they are going to address it, and that they are capable of tackling it?
As Dr. Harper and Dr. Davis stated, “Campus chief executives, including those who are people of color, join white nationalists in preserving and exacerbating white supremacy when they neglect to name and boldly counter racism.”
The UAA leadership – despite many opportunities and despite repeated pleas – has refused to name and boldly condemn racism, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis.
Instead, UAA leadership seems to be asking the university community to tolerate racism and white supremacy.
This is why white supremacists are winning in my university.
How are they doing in yours?
E.J.R. David is the author of “Brown Skin, White Minds: Filipino -/ American Postcolonial Psychology” and the editor of “Internalized Oppression: The Psychology of Marginalized Groups.” He has two upcoming books, “The Psychology of Oppression” (Springer Publishing) and “We Have Not Stopped Trembling Yet” (SUNY Press). He also writes periodically for Psychology Today. Follow him on Twitter here.