A few years back, The Hermitage had a weekly Friday roundup called F You Fridays. This week, after a long rough year of #BlackLivesMatter protests and brutal events affecting African-Americans disproportionately, after a heated semester of campuses confronting racial strife, the Supreme Court of the United States weighed in yet again in the University of Texas Affirmative Action case brought forth by Abigail Fisher.
While driving home yesterday I heard the NPR news recap some of the pithiest remarks by Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Roberts. Both men really made their presumptions about Black collegians and those majoring in science really clear.
Scalia said that there were people who would contend that "it does not benefit African-Americans to -- to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less -- a slower-track school where they do well."
He argued that "most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas."
"They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're -- that they're being pushed ahead in -- in classes that are too -- too fast for them," Scalia said.
—From Talking Points Memo
His comments felt like a gut punch. I was struck dumb for the longest time; but Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein summed my feelings (and so many, many other #BLACKandSTEM’rs) accurately:
I'm not mad at Scalia. I'm mad about how many people who sound like him have played a major role in my professional life
The Ivory Towers of Academia and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) are replete with people who think and believe what Scalia says. African-American, Latino American, Native American and many Southeast Asian Americans confront a range of obstacles just trying to get an education and do their work. Whether or not we come from high performing high schools or not, or struggle in a class or not, come from middle class families or not, came prepared for college or not, experience a lack luster semester or not has nothing to do with our racial or ethnic background. These are things ALL students experience at some point in their lives. But the problem is Black students (and faculty) are conditionally accepted, and often treated as terminally inept.
“What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?” Roberts asked, according to a transcript of the hearing. “I’m just wondering what the benefits of diversity are in that situation?”
From The Daily Caller.
And Dr. Jedidah Isler, Astrophysist answers his questions perfectly (and reads Scalia, Roberts, and their sycophants thoroughly)
But like most other Black and Latino STEMrs, we collectively seethed and gnashed our teeth at those comments. (Seriously, if you didn’t check in on your Black students, grad students, colleagues, then go do that RIGHT NOW.) Black collegians, faculty, and especially #BlackandSTEM shared how hauntingly familiar Roberts and Scalia comments are. Their comments sting so bad because we've all heard or been told this about ourselves, the quality of our work or scholarship, and/or our productivity REPEATEDLY since college, heck high school. And IT NEVER ENDS. Not when you earn the BS, or get admitted into grad school or win the high stakes grant/fellowship, get the PhD, get the job, the promotion, etc. I'm tired. We are all tired. And for the young underclassmen, this is a slap in the face.
Scalia and Roberts, sitting on the highest bench in the land just said out loud what many of us hear mumbled almost daily: Why are you even here?
If you’re “lucky enough” to attend a prestigious school, then you’re treated as a charity, an undeserving individual who snuck in or took someone’s else seat. I’m at one of the most prestigious Ivy League Schools in the nation and I see a fair share of African-American students…and my first thought is, whoa, these kids are bright, cream of the crop. This is Cornell! But you know what some of their classmates say about them? "Oh, they are majors on the public side of the university (Agriculture, Arts and Sciences), they aren’t really that competitive.
There are also a fair number of African-American graduate students here and yes, many attended HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), a.k.a. “lesser schools” that offer "slower tracks". Nevermind that HBCUs are responsible for training most of black students who later go on to earn doctorates in the sciences and engineering.
There is no winning. We are constantly treated as unworthy…and in the halls of many non MSI colleges and universities (MSI=Minority Serving Institutions) this attitude and treatment is structural and pervasive and incessant.
Do you know how much effort it takes to erase a message that is subliminally implanted into your subconscious about who you are?
Dr. Chris Emdin asked this question in response to a recent incident when he was hosting a guest speaker (Mr. Percy Miller) sharing lessons about financial literacy and motivating urban high school students. Dr. Emdin isMath & Science Education Professor who focuses on urban education and inspiring the next generation of #BLACKandSTEM scholars via Hip Hop Pedagogies. While the two men tried to stay on task and interact with the students, mostly Black and Latino, the police were called. They hovered and paced during the entire presentation. (Read the full recap here).
Why are you even here?
This behavior is intentional and a glaring example of institutional oppression that students and faculty of color deal with. Daily. And for what? Why? And all of the workshops and minority guest speakers talking about resilience and grit feel empty after a while. I mean even when you’ve achieved the credentials and the accolades, they will still find a way to diminish you and/or your work.
That’s what makes Roberts and Scalia words so worrisome. They legitimize and codify black participation in academia as inherently lower quality. They presume white is the default in science and minority participation is a distraction, a poor fit, unnecessary. It’s these presumptions - The Presumption of MisMatch, The Presumption of Intellectual Inferiority that feed into the poorest most often rolled out excuse for lack of diversity and inclusion in academia and the STEM workforce: We don't want to sacrifice quality for Diversity.
Yeah. Tell me again how these systems don’t work to exclude.
Not holding my breath