By Mark Allen Peterson, Guest Column
Thank you for your letter of encouragement yesterday in what is, for most faculty and students, a deeply demoralizing time. I agree that we must “reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence, and to our shared values that are grounded in qualities of character, intellect and service.”
I have spent the last two days listening to the fear and anger of faculty and students. It is not about which party won the election; it is about the national validation of a discourse that privileges and discriminates, that builds walls and tears down recognition of common humanity that depresses, angers and frightens them.
Because of that, I appreciate your offer of counseling. It may help assuage the fears of the many victims of sexual assault and harassment who have been clearly shown that their experiences can be dismissed by men of privilege with a wink and a leer. Counseling may benefit the new faculty member with a baby on the way who must wonder if her marriage to another woman will be protected, or even recognized, by the time she comes up for tenure. It may help young men and women of color who fear that two years of struggle to assert that black lives also matter has borne no fruit.
Hopefully it will address the shock of faculty and students who thought those who spoke divisively and dismissively were living in a bubble, only to discover that it was they who were living in a bubble, and that the world is less safe and committed to inclusivity than they thought it was.
Thank you for considering the needs of those people.
But there is a large constituency your letter fails to address.
I am a white, heterosexual Christian man who only began to really grapple with his own unearned privileges in his early thirties, and who has struggled with the help of his wife, his children, his colleagues, his faith and his friends and students on three continents, to recognize, resist and retrain himself, only to have these efforts mocked as ridiculous, and to see those privileges ratified, in an agonizing public drama that reached its culmination Nov. 8.
Who is going to counsel me?
And who is going to counsel young white men who are now encouraged to see themselves as victimized by the successes of women and people of color around them?
Who is going to counsel the faculty who published anonymous letters painting hundreds of Asian students at Miami with the same broad, critical and shaming brush, now that they are vindicated in this narrow, illiberal and self-centered way of categorizing people in their teaching?
Who is going to counsel the young men who are encouraged to infantilize and depersonalize the women around them, and to dismiss their most heinous behavior as frat boy hijinks and “locker room talk?”
Who is going to counsel the students who are assured that they have the right to decide on whether someone can lay claim to their Native American heritage on the basis of how they “look” to them?
Who is going to counsel the students who are now reassured that the complexities of identities, power relations and religious faith commitments in the Middle East I insist on in my classes can be dismissed as “political correctness,” and that their own fears and prejudices are legitimate guides and bellwethers?
Who is going to counsel the students who don’t know they need counseling?
I know that the answer will be, must be, in part, our mission of teaching and learning. But what changes now in the way we carry out that mission? Clearly some things must change, because the things we say in our pledge of “I Am Miami” now sound sadly, frighteningly out of tune with world around us.
I look forward to your leadership on this issue.
Mark Allen Peterson
Professor and Chair, Department of
Anthropology & Professor, Global
and Intercultural Studies
Nov. 10, 2016