Watch our program “How Critical Race Training Is Harming Higher Education” — “There’s a bureaucratic, therapeutic apparatus of administration within the universities” that is “creating their own demand.”
On Sunday night, December 13, the Legal Insurrection Foundation held what — in my humble opinion — was our best online event, “How Critical Race Training Is Harming Higher Ed.” You can read the bios on the speakers at the event announcement page.
The event was hosted by Kemberlee Kaye of Legal Insurrection, and the order of speakers was me (Cornell Law School), Jodi Shaw (Smith College), Wilfred Reilly (Kentucky State University), and Wesley Yang (Freelance Writer). The total original program was about 50 minutes, followed by another 50 minutes of discussion and Q&A. The “chat” among the almost 200 attendees was very active, and generated a lot of questions.
Embedded below is a highlight reel excerpting 18 minutes from the program, as well as a transcript of the highlight reel. Please note that the highlight reel compacts clips of statements by the respective speakers and are not single uninterrupted presentatoins, it should be obvious where the break in the original comes (but if there’s any doubt, you can watch the full video at the bottom of the post). Also, the transcript is mostly auto-generated, so there may be transcription errors.
Highlight Reel Video
Here is the highlight reel:
HIGHLIGHT REEL TRANSCRIPT
(Mostly auto-generated, may be transcription errors. Time stamps are approximate.)
Kemberlee Kaye, Legal Insurrection (00:11):
In this particular panel, we’ll be discussing critical race training and its impact on higher education. And our contention is that it’s problematic, and it’s causing a lot of harm to a lot of people.
Professor William A. Jacobson, Cornell Law School (00:24):
And the reason that we titled this program “Training” and not “Theory”, “Critical Race Training in Higher Education” is that Critical Race Theory is a doctrine, and I’ll talk a little bit about that. The others might have other things to say. But it’s not really my concern, frankly, if somebody wants to read about that or teach about that or pontificate about it. The detriment to higher [education], in my view, is when that theory moves into practice and becomes mandatory training and mandatory requirements on campuses. So, what is critical race theory? And again, others may have other views. I think in some ways it’s easiest to explain what it’s not. It is not what people of my generation, people who are in their early sixties, who maybe grew up in the sixties and the seventies think of as the Civil Rights Movement.
Professor William A. Jacobson, Cornell Law School (01:24):
It is not the concept of judging people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It is everything about judging people by the color of their skin. And it is not about equality or equal opportunity. It is about “equity”. Equity is a word you will see used very frequently, and it may slip by you. You may think equity means equality, and that’s not actually what it means. It means equality of outcome, as opposed to an equality of opportunity, as opposed to an equality of treatment. So, it’s not about affording all citizens equal rights, regardless of race or ethnicity. It’s not about what was the ethos, when I was growing up, of the civil rights movement, which is affording everyone of every race a full seat at the American table. It is in fact about flipping that table over(…)A model of social life and political structures and economic system is founded upon race.
Professor William A. Jacobson, Cornell Law School (02:38):
And here’s a word you’re going to hear a lot. Because that is the foundation of our society, and that is the nature of our society in their view, racism is “systemic”, and therefore they advocate that that system has to be overturned in varying degrees (…) The modern incarnation of race theory, at least on campuses, is I think epitomized by the book, How to Be an Anti-Racist (…) It creates two competing parties. You are either racist, or you are “anti-racist”. There is no middle ground there. You cannot be simply “not racist”. Simply treating everybody fairly is a racist act. According to that doctrine, you have to be an activist. You have to actively participate in seeking to root out racism and to explore your own racism. It’s very much a doctrine where you’re either with us where you are against us. There is no middle ground.
Professor William A. Jacobson, Cornell Law School (03:41):
And if you are against us, by definition, you are racist. And that has profound implications for free speech on campus and for the free exchange of ideas. Because if you disagree with them, then you are racist. And, if you are racist, according to a lot of people on campuses, you have no right to be on campus. You have no right to speak. So, this is a very pernicious doctrine that I think is going to have a profound impact. And it now permeates on many campuses, every aspect of campus life (…) Cornell is turning itself, [at] the direction of the president’s office, into an anti-racist campus (…) And the end result, and what I see as the real harm that’s going to happen here, is that it goes in. It’s an interference and academic freedom. It is an interference in people’s ability to speak freely (…) So we’re, we’re really heading into what I see is a very, very bad area (…) It’s a juggernaut that has accelerated since the death of George Floyd (…) And I think that a lot of the events have been exploited to push this forward.
Jodi Shaw, Smith College (04:56):
My perspective is different because I am staff. (…) So, I decided to return to Northampton because, in my mind, you know, I’d remembered it as a “super liberal place”. And I always thought of myself as a “super liberal” (…) About a year after I started working at Smith college, something happened on campus. A black student accused a white staff member, a custodian, of engaging in racially motivated behavior against her. And she did not file a formal complaint. This was in a Facebook post, and the college immediately went into full-on apology mode and started creating initiatives and councils and committees to address this problem of racism on campus. And [the college] immediately went into supporting this narrative that we had a very bad problem of racism on campus. And this is where I started hearing the term “systemic racism”, “structural racism”.
Jodi Shaw, Smith College (05:51):
And this was before an investigation had even begun or been conducted in any way. So, they did do an independent investigation. It was very thorough, and I think any reasonable person would be very hard-pressed to read the outcome, look at the exhibits and the outcome of that investigation, which are public on Smith’s website, and know the context and the facts surrounding this incident and argue that it was a racially-motivated incident. I think it would be hard to do that. Nevertheless, the college still persisted in this narrative that there was a huge problem of racism at Smith College (…) Kind of the backdrop against which I am entering higher education, into this very highly racialized environment in which everything’s about race, and the college’s proposed solution to this racism problem is to have a lot of trainings and a lot of discussions.
Jodi Shaw, Smith College (06:45):
And most of these discussions for the mostly white staff are about “whiteness” and “white privilege”, and so on and so forth (…) where I did have to attend trainings where we discussed our identities, gender, race, other protected characteristics. And these discussions always felt very scripted and performative, in nature (…) Last December, I was told that I was going to be mandated to attend a three-day professional development retreat, and that the first day would be devoted to discussing our identities (…) This felt very uncomfortable to me. And so, I talked to my supervisor and I said, “You know, I’m not comfortable discussing my race at work”. I just had decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. And she said that, “You know, that’s not an issue. Just say that at the workshop”. So, in January I attended this workshop with my colleagues in Residence Life, and the hired facilitators went around the room and asked everybody to talk about how they understand their race and or culture in the context of their childhood and their adolescence (…)
Jodi Shaw, Smith College (07:58):
And then it got to me, and I abstained. I just said, “I’m uncomfortable talking about that at work,” but a little bit later, the hired facilitators said to the group that any white person who exhibits discomfort or any kind of resistance toward discussing their race when asked to, is actually not uncomfortable at all. What they’re doing is they’re displaying symptoms of “white fragility,” and it is a power play (…) I realized that I was in a position now where shame public shaming, which is, by hired facilitators under the auspices of Smith college, authorized by my supervisors, was now being used. And that’s when I realized that I couldn’t just quote, “Keep my head down on my mouth shut” anymore. As Bill said, you’re either anti-racist or you’re racist and simply abstaining or remaining silent is considered racist.
Jodi Shaw, Smith College (09:00):
In this case, it was framed as an act of aggression (…) My response was to go and file a complaint with the Institutional Equity Compliance Officer at Smith (…) At the same time, the college released a document, a four-page document, called “Toward Racial Justice at Smith”…more trainings, more discussions, a proposed class mandatory class for students, one thing which is unusual at Smith because Smith does not have mandatory classes for students outside their major. Along with mandatory trainings for staff…there are proposals to start evaluating pay based on equity, across “registers of social identity” as they put it (…) Along with the book How to Be an Anti-racist, I was given documents called, “White Supremacy and Me”, and I was signed up for the white staff accountability group (…) So I sent one last email out to several members of the president’s cabinet and some deans, saying I have a complaint pending.
Jodi Shaw, Smith College (10:03):
I feel like now everything’s been ramped up more. Now there’s more stuff coming here at me. And this is really a racially hostile work environment (…) And nobody responded to that email. So, six days later, I decided to make a video, and I posted it to YouTube (…) Staff are very afraid that anything they say to a student will be, and could be, construed as some kind of racism. They’ve already been told, in essence, that they are racist simply by being white. So, you can only imagine the environment that we are working in at Smith College.
Professor Wilfred Reilly, Kentucky State University (10:38):
[Critical] legal theories, especially in that racial space, tend to paint one group of people as heroes and another as villains. Teaching a focus on racial differences very often intensifies, rather than reduces, tensions. But to me, as a methods focused person, this is what I’m going to focus on today. The biggest problem with CRT or “critical training” in an educational, empirical environment is that so many of the core principles are just wrong (…) The basic idea of all critical theories, most of which originally came out of the Marxist-influenced “Frankfurt School” and its contemporaries, is that systems that seem facially neutral are in fact set up primarily to oppress somebody (…) And this is really a very influential idea on the political level (…) What critical race theory specifically does is replace the working class with blacks, or with racial minorities, as this sort of “imagined group” that the entire system was designed to beat down(…)Is it a mathematical claim that all disparities in performance are proof of oppression?
Professor Wilfred Reilly, Kentucky State University (11:45):
And that’s kind of right in my wheelhouse as a researcher (…) So “crits”, critical theorists, say this quite openly (…) already been proven by the existence of these disparities. And there are a lot of other ideas associated with this whole paradigm that are presented in kind of “empirical”, quasi-scientific terms. So “white fragility” is the idea that whites never hear criticism about their race as versus P.O.C., so they are measurably more sensitive to criticism. “White privilege” is the idea that just being Caucasian confers a measurable benefit in, for example, income terms only onto whites. But the problem with these arguments to me, as a “wonk”, is that virtually all of them collapse if you just start honestly analyzing the underlying claims using any basic modern technique (i.e. linear regression, logistic regression, well-done cross-tabulations). A lot of this turns out to be bluntly nonsense (…) I find when I do serious research that almost all of the gaps between groups that are used to “prove racism” in the trainings conducted by for example, a Dr. Kendi or Robin Dangelo simply vanish if you adjust for any traits, other than race, that also differ between groups (…)
Professor Wilfred Reilly, Kentucky State University (13:04)
None of this means that race does, and the near race wars of the past in the USA, had no impact on black or minority or working class Americans. Past oppression, if we’re being honest, the culture that grew out of it, is almost certainly the reason why there’s more crime or less studying on average in “the hood”. But what all of this does prove is that there’s no hidden invisible “racial force” inside our systems that stops black people or anyone else from succeeding. And teaching that there is, is generally a variety of academic malfeasance (…) Today, a black guy, a white guy, and an Asian guy from Cleveland, Ohio who are all the same age in years and have the same board scores are going to go on to have very much the same life (…)
Professor Wilfred Reilly, Kentucky State University (13:50):
Something like 18 minority groups earned more than the average for “all whites”. So that’s my issue with Critical Race Theory and this entire process of trainings, Kendi’s, DiAngelo’s, Black Lives Matter’s, that have come out of it. It’s not that it’s too edgy and challenging, or that it makes white people justly afraid or something like that. It’s that in a world where Asian and African guys make up twenty-plus percent of the Ivy league and are suing to expand that, it’s pretty much just wrong. It seems like a series of dated ideas that basic analysis often debunks.
Wesley Yang, Freelance Writer (14:27):
There’s a bureaucratic, therapeutic apparatus of administration within the universities that we should see this through the lens of, that there’s an entrepreneurial project by a set of people that have a certain set of ideas that they want to bring into the world. And they’re in the process of institutionalizing them, and so they’re creating their own demand. And in the absence of any need for their professional services, [they] create evermore expansive definitions of the terms of “harm” and “trauma” (…) You have these people on payroll whose job it is to respond to these things and who. Therefore, need to have instances of things for themselves to respond to. And so they will take any opportunity, and they will promulgate definitions of “harm” and “trauma” such that they can justify their continued existence in their roles.
Wesley Yang, Freelance Writer (15:27):
It really is, at some fundamental level, as simple as that. (…) And in this case, we’re not talking about a war. We’re talking about people who are trying to embed themselves within institutions (…) Many things that student activists have been demanding for the last few years of student activism, schools were holding them at bay. But after a group of people went into the streets and demonstrated their willingness to tear apart the country, there was a sense it’s that all of these bureaucratic changes, the power to resist them, went down the drain at that very moment (…) You have the sort of “activist class”. The activist class has a particular set of interests.
Wesley Yang, Freelance Writer (16:14):
Those interests are premised on the existence of a great moral problem that [activists] exist in order to address. If that problem was to be resolved to their satisfaction, there would be no more need for these people in order to continue to enrich themselves, have access to sinecures. And the most effective way for them to go about doing this is to promulgate a set of axioms that they believe, become axiomatic in the worldview, that become doctrines that one is not able to dissent from, and everything else follows from it (…) That is the thing that is driving all of this, and there is this kind of bureaucratic “mission”; there is this kind of “entrepreneurial-ism” that we see at work.
Wesley Yang, Freelance Writer (17:07):
The other thing that I want to talk about, with regard to what Jodi was saying, is that the apparatus of “mind-cure”, surveillance and repression and the model repressive apparatus that we’re seeing at work, with regard to race was first created with regard to sort of sexual assault and sexual harassment, through the Title IX system (…) And it’s that sort of model apparatus that we now see, especially after the George Floyd protests, being exported from the realm of the Title IX regime into a more encompassing one (…) It ultimately is not as Jacobson mentioned just a matter of the fact that people are thinking these ideas, writing about them. And it’s not just that they are erroneous, as Riley pointed out. It is that they have behind them, the force of administrative decree.
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