Notes Re Coming Academic Year
From: Dean of Arts
I hope you are enjoying your well earned summer vacation. I know I am. However, a number of issues have arisen which I feel I must bring to your attention.
1. Marking: Many of you are still clinging to the outmoded idea that marks are designed to measure absolute progress in a subject. You are insisting upon received grammar and spelling in essays. You are setting exams and papers which, in themselves, are triggering events causing significant anxiety. Worse, you are not taking into account the often heart rending oppression narratives which many of your students bring to class. Stop it.
2. Subject matter: It is not enough to include writers and topics from outside the tragically exclusionary Western Cannon. The fact is that even a reference to Shakespeare will trigger feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, racial othering, religious persecution and, of course, sexual confusion. Just stop it. The same with references to the Bible, Plato, Milton, any so called Saint, Mark Twain or that Moby D*** fellow with the harpoon obsession. Each of these references will only serve to underscore the possible ignorance of your students which, rather obviously, will make them feel anxious, disrespected and unsafe. Best not to mention any of it.
3. Women: This is a minefield. First off, for those of you who are cis male and not queer, women should not be discussed in any context whatsoever. Just stop it. You have nothing to say about women’s experience. The same goes for “cis female not queer” instructors as the gender identification of women in the past is a contested subject and you have nothing to say about lesbian/bi or “just a little confused” womens’ experience. While the rules, perhaps, should be different for instructors coming to women from a queer perspective, there are too many potential triggers for this to be a truly safe topic. There really is no right answer as to why Vita was asked to take off her earings. (Or, for that matter, why queer men liked first Berlin and then Tangier.) So stop it. By the same token, POC instructors are advised to a) avoid discussions of non-POC women except in the context of oppression studies and there only for purposes of illustrating relative levels of oppression, b) wondering if Vita would have taken her earings off had her paramour been black and the marks wouldn’t have shown quite so much on those dusky thighs.
4. Islam: Are you joking? There are no circumstances whatsoever in which Islam is a proper topic for classroom discussion. The danger of unsafe speech from Zionist oppressors or even well meaning, but white privileged, students is far too great. This is particularly true where the instructor is Jewish, queer or female. Just stop it.
5. Science: As we know “science” is the socially constructed study of natural phenomena which has advanced from first principles all of which were created by cis male, usually straight, often Jewish, so called scientists. There is math. It has no place in a safe, inclusive ARTS faculty. However, by all means discuss global warming as it is well understood to be science free.
6. Race: Pretty much the live hand grenade of the Arts Faculty. Say anything and it explodes with unknowable consequences. Even a supportive statement such as “slavery is wrong” can lead to disastrous conversations about Black African complicity in the trade and the continuing Islamic acceptance of slavery. Plus, and this is an acute problem, Chinese and South Asian students, dealing with our university’s current admission policies, may take strong exception to remarks vis a vis affirmative action or diversity. Just don’t go there.
7. Logic/Argument/Reason: Mansplaining at its heteronormative worst. It is pretty clear that argument, both verbal and written privileges middle class, usually white, usually male, left brain dominant, testosterone charged, individuals. By prioritizing thinking over feeling, requiring reason means an instructor risks making women, minorities and queer students feel unsafe with the feelings they often use in discourse rather than accepting the oppressor’s terms of exchange. Stay away.
8. Economics: At one point it was safe within undergraduate Arts Faculties to discuss and even teach Economics. Between Marx and Keynes undergraduates (and there is a word which needs rethinking) could learn to structure arguments in favour of social justice. However, recent advances in correct thinking underscore the fact that even Marx and Keynes are rooted in a form of logic and Keynes, it turns out, had some math in several of his books. (Plus, Keynes was a queer traitor happily marrying a ballerina of all things.) While it is certainly acceptable, indeed practically obligatory, to teach inequality theory you are on safe ground there as, like global warming, it is theory untainted by actual economics.
9. History: Whose history? Here again what had been a safe, non-controversial subject in which white imperialists committing genocide in the name of Christ provided the oppression narrative for many of our Aboriginal and POC peoples. However, a huge new danger of anxiety and triggers (and possible in class beheadings) has arisen. Until very recently the understanding of the historical facts surrounding the spread of Islam was confined to a tiny, dry, silent, scorned, academic anti-elite. With the rise of ISIS, popular attention has been drawn to this area to the shock and, of course, anxiety of Islamic students and their allies. Don’t go there.
10. Political Science: Not at all safe. There are two big dangers – individual rights and democracy. Individual rights looked good in the 60s and 70’s but more up to date thinkers realize that the very idea of an individual right as opposed to collective rights will always privilege dominant, cis male, heteronormative, white people at the expense of “the Other”. Democracy, the idea of giving the already privileged the right to vote to keep their privilege is, of course, the ultimate tool of oppression. Rights talk and democracy cannot help but create anxiety and a sense of unsafeness for anyone not a member of the privileged group. Worse, any conversation about rights and democracy by definition is an insult to Islam and we know what can happen with that.
I am sure that I have left a few things out and I humbly beg your pardon if I have in any way offended you by my errors or omissions.
Now I know a few of you will be wondering, in light of the list above and its implications, what will be safe to teach in the coming semester? Well, there is always global warming. And you can can teach inequality theory provided you don’t use any math or those curvy things economics professors draw on blackboard. But mainly, no matter what the subject, it is best to listen to your co-learners. Make sure you structure any written work or class discussion to be inclusive. Avoid assigning readings as this will privilege the cis literate.
Remember, our Faculty is committed to respectful, safe and inclusive learning.
Have a great summer…see you in September.