Meanwhile, back in grad school

The other day we looked in on college life. Here’s grad school:

Val Rust’s dissertation-prep class had devolved into a highly charged arena of competing victim ideologies, impenetrable to anyone outside academia. For example: Were white feminists who use “standpoint theory”—a feminist critique of allegedly male-centered epistemology—illegitimately appropriating the “testimonial” genre used by Chicana feminists to narrate their stories of oppression? Rust took little part in these “methodological” disputes—if one can describe “Chicana testimonials” as a scholarly “method”—but let the more theoretically up-to-date students hash it out among themselves. Other debates centered on the political implications of punctuation. Rust had changed a student’s capitalization of the word “indigenous” in her dissertation proposal to the lowercase, thus allegedly showing disrespect for the student’s ideological point of view. Tensions arose over Rust’s insistence that students use the more academic Chicago Manual of Style for citation format; some students felt that the less formal American Psychological Association conventions better reflected their political commitments. During one of these heated discussions, Rust reached over and patted the arm of the class’s most vociferous critical race–theory advocate to try to calm him down—a gesture typical of the physically demonstrative Rust, who is prone to hugs. The student, Kenjus Watson, dramatically jerked his arm away, as a burst of nervous energy coursed through the room. After each of these debates, the self-professed “students of color” exchanged e-mails about their treatment by the class’s “whites.” (Asians are not considered “persons of color” on college campuses, presumably because they are academically successful.) Finally, on November 14, 2013, the class’s five “students of color,” accompanied by “students of color” from elsewhere at UCLA, as well as by reporters and photographers from the campus newspaper, made their surprise entrance into Rust’s class as a “collective statement of Resistance by Graduate Students of Color.” The protesters formed a circle around Rust and the remaining five students (one American, two Europeans, and two Asian nationals) and read aloud their “Day of Action Statement.” That statement suggests that Rust’s modest efforts to help students with their writing faced obstacles too great to overcome. The Day of Action Statement contains hardly a sentence without some awkwardness of grammar or usage. “The silence on the repeated assailment of our work by white female colleagues, our professor’s failure to acknowledge and assuage the escalating hostility directed at the only Male of Color in this cohort, as well as his own repeated questioning of this male’s intellectual and professional decisions all support a complacency in this hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color,” the manifesto asserts. The Day of Action Statement denounces the class’s “racial microaggressions,” which it claims have been “directed at our epistemologies, our intellectual rigor and to a misconstruction of the methodological genealogies that we have shared with the class.” (Though it has only caught on in recent years, the “microaggression” concept was first coined in the 1970s by a black psychiatrist.) Reaching its peroration, the statement unleashes a few more linguistic head-scratchers: “It is, at its most benign, disingenuous to the next generations of Scholars of Color to not seek material and systematic changes in this department. It is a toxic, unsafe and intellectually stifling environment at its current worse.” The Ph.D. candidates who authored this statement are at the threshold of a career in academia—and not just any career in academia but one teaching teachers. The Day of Action Statement should have been a wake-up call to the school’s authorities—not about UCLA’s “hostile racial climate” but about their own pedagogical failure to prepare students for scholarly writing

The above was a footnote to a Heather Mac Donald piece on the big lie of today. You can see from what goes on in grad school that this pernicious foolishness isn’t going to stop on its own any time soon. Too many people have too much invested in this nonsense. Actually, we’re pretty optimistic that things can change; look at the pathetic level of jibber-jabber from allegedly smart people. Oops, we watched a replay of the MTV music awards yesterday, and we’re depressed again. There’s no hope for this country if this is what the culture has become. Help!!

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