Friday, February 1, 2008

A Line By Line Response to the Scripps Dean of Students

My response to each of her statements will be made in italics.

From: "Official Scripps Student List" <All-STUDENT-L@Lists.ScrippsCollege.Edu>
To: "Official Scripps Student List" <All-STUDENT-L@Lists.ScrippsCollege.Edu>
Date: Fri, 01 Feb 2008 13:27:04 -0800
Subject: Racist/Sexist Material on Campus

Sometime in the last few days, the CMC class of 2010 left racist and sexist party invitations with what appears to be a racist party theme on the dining room tables at Scripps College, Malott Commons.
First of all, the CMC class of 2010 didn't all go leaving allegedly racist and sexist party invitations. Saying that the class of 2010 went around and did this altogether is slander and is the same kind of group mentality that we ought to be avoiding.
These invitations were not stamped approved and we do not know if any CMC staff knew of them or approved of them.
The notion of approval for messages on a campus that is largely adult is insulting. What's more some of those messages, like those of VOX, are patently offensive to students with a pro-life or Christian view point. Of course, those students never complain or demand censorship because they understand the importance of free thought.
I will not describe the content of the invitations so as not to do any more harm or damage to women and African Americans than has already been done , as I suspect these invitations were deposited throughout one or more of The Colleges.
Failing to describe the contents of the invitations is a cop out. When you are unwilling to even address the content of what made some students so upset, you do violence to those of us who want to know what happened. How can we have a dialogue when you won't even address the substance and when you insist on tarring the Class of 2010 as racists and sexists?

Further, how dare you speak for all women or African American students? The presumption that all of them were somehow hurt by one flyer is deeply insulting. Not everyone has such ultrasensitivity. When earlier in the year we had a Black Party, you were also silent. How interesting how quickly you jump on somethings and not others.

While principles of free speech may protect these students' rights to advertise in this manner, free speech is best exercised with common sense, intelligence and sensitivity. I am saddened and dismayed , and angered, that students in the year 2008 would use this kind advertising to promote a party. It harms not only women and African Americans, but all of us here at the colleges and undermines our educational efforts.
Principles of free speech have nothing to do with students' rights. The First Amendment of the U.S. protects the right of free expression, even if it offends. No one asked you when free speech is best and I, for one, don't care what for your opinion of free speech.

You have a right to express yourself , but you have no right to speak for others, even though you are the Dean of Students at Scripps College. There is no harm here, which I suspect you know because you won't even address the content of that advertisement.

You harmed my right to equal information and to see the flier and make my own determination of whether or not it is sexist or racist. Your argument that it somehow affects education on the colleges is untrue. Students will continue attending classes, professors will continue teaching them, and the world will keep spinning.

I urge any other campus which received these invites to take a similar stand against racism and sexism and communicate their anger and dismay to the CMC Class of 2010 through appropriate ways- such as not attending the party, writing letters to the class leadership and/or student news papers, and refusing to tolerate this kind of treatment of members of our communities.
You are well within your right to be upset at the slightest of things, but I have a right to refuse to tolerate your treatment of the class of 2010. You are welcomed to boycott whatever party you want. I somehow doubt that the Dean of Students would have been attending anyways. I almost certainly doubt that Scrippsies will be boycotting the party in question.

The Scripps Dean of Students Staff, faculty members and members of the Diversity Coordinating Committee
( listed at )
stand by to support members of our community, and support may be found at the
Office of Black Student Affairs and Chicano/Latino Student Affairs Center.
Ah, finally the real thing comes out. You just want a reason to continue justifying the existence of these racial centers. Why doesn't anyone else see that these centers continued existence undermines our peace of mind because they constantly must seek aggrieved parties

I have already communicated directly with the CMC Dean of Students so he is aware both of the invitations and the nature of them , and my strong feelings about the theme of this party and how people are depicted in the advertising for it.
In my view, the appropriate response for the CMC Dean of Students is to politely ignore the Dean of Students at Scripps College, particularly seeing as the Dean of Students of Scripps College isn't willing to tell her colleagues why these fliers are offensive.


ConfusedMinority said...

And while we're at it, lets boycott the mustache and facial hair party because it discriminates against Sikhs and women. And the Toga party because it discriminates against Greeks, Non-Greeks and everyone else. And the 'Go America' party because it discriminates against Non-Americans and terrorists. And the Christmas TNC which discriminates against non-Christmas...

Anonymous said...

The point you made about Scripps' desire to find a reason to justify their racial centers really makes sense. Also, I would challenge the Dean of Scripps to come forth with evidence as to why the ENTIRE class of 2010 ought to be blamed for this.

Robert said...

Don't let this go to your head but bravo sir, bravo.

Candace said...

I'm not sure how administrators and other CMCers should view these fliers, but I'll talk about my view for a second.

Anyone who knows anything about about the history of pop culture knows that these fliers are an homage to blaxploitation films and popular art of the 1970s. I have very mixed views about this genre, but I can definitely see how people are offended at this throwback. These films drew on the 'Jezebel' stereotypes about black women that have existed since slavery. The 'Jezebel' stereotype is that black women are 'sex machines' that tempt men to sleep with them. Look at the poster itself - those women are dressed exactly like blaxploitation characters - they are highly sexualized.

Anyone viewing this poster in a cultural, historical, and political vacuum may see no problem with it, but it's absurd to dismiss people who are upset about the poster as irrational.

We have to balance rights of free speech with other rights. There are laws against slander on an individual level - if these posters were made to portray a specific African-American woman, that women could sue for damage to their image (and damage to their ability to make money, control how their image is used by others, etc). These posters portray a theme to a party and a large group of people (women and African-Americans specifically). We need to talk about these posters and assess if they are a form of slander.

Hope WM said...

Charlie, although I agree with you on the point that not Deb Wood should address the issue instead of skirting around it and just labeling it racist and sexist without providing reason, but I'm deeply bothered by your stance on the "racial centers". The Diversity Committee and OBSA are extremely important resources to me where I can find support and relate to others with similar experiences, which would be rather difficult to do in this community otherwise.

As for the anonymous comment agreeing that Scripps is trying to justify "our" centers, OBSA and Chicano/Latino Student Affairs Center are 5 C resources that are frequented with pretty equal representation from all campuses. These organizations are also frequented by people non-African-American and non-Chicano/Latino students.

The reason these centers need to exist should understood without explanation by anyone who has some vague idea of the history of American actions and treatment of these (and other) groups. I don't want to go as far as to offend you, but perhaps you don't understand the situation as I do because you haven't lived as racial minority Charlie.

I'm in no way saying that anything Deb Wood did was right. I'm agreeing with you there. However, I would strongly advise you to reconsider your position on these organizations.

Kevin said...

Candace, you're going to have to be more specific.

Why is the Jezebel stereotype called the "Jezebel" stereotype?

Can you name some specific examples of this being a stereotype since slavery, as opposed to during slavery? If this is a "stereotype" that no one knows about and that you must educate everyone about, at what point does it lose its "stereotype" status and become an old stereotype that no one believes anymore? One example of this sort of stereotype is the way whites were portrayed in blaxploitation films -- mean, corrupt, etc. Today, every time a white person is portrayed as corrupt, we would not consider it to be a stereotype. If there are two black ladies who have chosen to participate in "go-go dancing" for money, should a school looking to hire go-go dancers pass over the black dancers for white ones, or order to avoid the appearance of a stereotype? I don't ask this because I think it's a good idea to have go-go dancers on campus, but because I don't believe that if we're going to have any go-go dancers on campus that the racial question should be the most prominent one.

Also, can you clarify what you mean by "we have to balance rights of free speech against other rights"? What other rights? Surely you're not suggesting that these particular women were slandered.

Candace said...

The term 'jezebel stereotype' is the academic/pop culture name for a popular stereotype that many people hold about African-American women. We see it today in popular culture outlets - from music to films and novels. Although the negative stereotype got its start during slavery and was used to justify oppressing African-American women, we still see this stereotype in our society today. For black men, there is the 'myth of the black rapist' - or the idea that black men are hyper-sexualized creatures with child-like intellect and morality. For women there is a similar stereotype - the idea that black women are also hyper-sexual and find pleasure in seducing people. You could argue that a modern example of this is Halle Barry's character in Monster's Ball.

The reason why we view blacks in the media differently from whites in the media is because of the history and how many times blacks are portrayed in a certain way compared to whites. I can email you a few studies about the propensity of television shows and movies to portray African-American men in custody, committing criminal acts, acting vulgar, etc. compared to white men - blacks are often 2 - 5 times more likely to be portrayed doing those things. There are studies that show that children who watch television before age 2 - 3 are way more likely to have bad stereotypes about African-Americans, Hispanics, and women than their peers who did not watch television (of course the study controlled for factors such as geography, education of parents, income, etc).

I think that every action has to be given context. I doubt that any CMC students had the intention of being racist or degrading women when they made those posters. The problem, is that they unintentionally presented images that re-hash very negative stereotypes about African-American women. That is a problem - I'm not saying that everyone should strive to be super-PC and place limits on every form of expression. I think it's alright for women and minorities to express anger and discontent at the fact that there are so many people who lack an understanding of these issues and rely on old stereotypes without thinking about it.

It's all about context- if the students hire go-go dancers for a 'white party' with a flyer that clearly resembles a blaxploitation poster, it's much different than a group of young people who randomly hire black go-go dancers for a get-together.

I'm not talking about slander against the two women on the poster - I'm talking about the act of slander (it's not exactly slander because it's a group of people - but you know what I mean) against African-Americans and women. I think that children and adults have the right to live in a world where the color of their skin does not cause people to assume characteristics about their intelligent, sexuality, etc. I know that in my dating life, I have to make sure that I protect myself against men looking for their first 'black experience' or who assume that I'll exhibit certain characteristics in the bedroom because of my race. It's sad - but I also think that many people get this stereotype from pornography - there are tons of very popular sites dedicated to this stereotype - young, black women seducing older, successful white men.

It's a tough issue - I don't go around assuming that everyone has these negative stereotypes about my sexuality, but I do encounter this thinking very often and it's something I have to think about when I present myself to other people.

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