My comment on CAS Dean Andrew Marcus’s blog post about the blackface incident.

The post from CAS Dean Andrew Marcus on his blog is below. He doesn’t allow public comments, so I’ll respond here. You can too. There is also a change.org petition, with 232 signatures so far.

To: CAS Dean <casdean@uoregon.edu>

Andrew, your post is outrageous. Yes, dressing up in blackface, in an attempt to honor a Black doctor, was stupid and offensive. But why do you feel the need to pile on? Where’s your defense of free speech, privacy, due process, common sense, and basic human decency and compassion towards a colleague whose life’s work for UO has now been left a ruin? I know you are better than this. 

Bill Harbaugh

His post:

Dear Colleagues,

I woke up on this post-election morning to a new world, one I never expected to see. As I thought about communicating with the college, I worried that the message I’ve been planning to post—about the blackface incident and my responsibility as dean—might be the wrong focus on this day.

But the more I thought about it, the more I came to think that this is exactly the time for this communication. I want everyone in our university community to know that the College and the UO want to be a safe harbor for individuals and their creativity, a place that welcomes and embraces all, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, political creed—or however we differ from each other.

I woke up this morning with each and every one of you on my mind. In this time, in this moment, I am even more inspired to work with, help, support, and cherish all the light you bring to this world and to our university.

Andrew Marcus
Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences

__________________________________________________________

The past week has been hard. The blackface incident, even experienced from afar as I traveled, was illuminating in a very painful way, bringing focused attention to a seething, underlying set of issues in our campus and in society at large.

Over the past week, I have wondered: What is the role of a dean in responding to an incident like this? I know my obligation is more than that of one individual; I also need to step forward on behalf of the college. But how?

There are many things I—and anyone—can do. Like others, I can express outrage and support for those who feel attacked. Thankfully, many of our campus leaders have already done this, making clear that this incident is utterly unacceptable (see President Schill’s post on this topic, which completely captures my sentiments and intents). Or I can address the many reasons why wearing blackface is so wrong—but again, others have already done this with more historical insight than I can provide (for example, see Professor Matthew Dennis’ post).

Rather than repeat what others have done, I want to do what others cannot do on behalf of the dean’s office, or for me: State the basic principles and actions I personally will follow—principles and actions that I hope will help lead to a better day. Those principles are:

Listen and learn. During the past week I immersed myself in the public commentary, open letters, and campus-wide messaging that the blackface incident generated. I also heard from you personally, or heard your voices through messages conveyed by my associate deans. And finally, I have taken private time to reflect and listen to my heart, to work at understanding the experiences and perspectives of others.

As I heard the pain, anger and anguish—and, in some cases, criticism of me and my office—I strove not to be defensive. Instead, I sought to listen, understand, and adjust my actions and those of the dean’s office to respond to the individual and college-wide needs that you expressed.

As I listened, I came to realize that the open letter Professor Michael Hames-Garcia sent to President Schill was particularly instrumental in affecting my thinking, in helping me learn. In referring to the practice of white people wearing blackface, Professor Hames-Garcia stated, “It’s impossible to understand why black people are so angered by its use unless one knows what it is that black people see when they see white people in blackface.” This simple statement shifted my focus, caused me to reexamine the event from a different perspective. It brought to life for me how frightful the blackface caricature is, not just for African Americans, but for all who experience systemic discrimination.

Reveal and respond. The blackface incident revealed something I think we all know already, that different individuals on this campus have radically different experiences. These lived experiences, these truths, need to be revealed by the people living them, but often those individuals feel they cannot share those experiences safely. As dean, my job is to make it safe and easy for everyone in CAS to communicate their perspectives and concerns to me, and to respond productively to what I hear—particularly as it pertains to improving our work climate and our hiring practices.

Other truths take the form of cumulative metrics. Such reports are stripped of personality, but are still impactful. Two years ago I produced an Elements of Diversity in the College of Arts and Sciences poster as part of Yvette Alex Assensoh’s 2014 Showcase Oregon event. This data analysis again reveals what we already know—that different pockets in our college experience diversity, or lack of diversity, in very different ways. In other words, there are many areas where we have a long way yet to go in terms of equitable representation.

In the future, I commit to working with Institutional Research and the Office of Equity and Inclusion to update these data on a more regular basis and to provide them to all departments within CAS. Just as we have a publically posted Budget/FTE/SCH Dashboard and a Graduate Program Dashboard for the entire college and each unit, so we will have a Diversity Dashboard. Let’s be open about the makeup of who we are , and who we should become.

Less talk, more action. Unless acted upon, the above principles are just words. What our college community deserves is sustained, focused action. To that end and well prior to the blackface event, Senior Associate Dean Karen Ford began writing a blog post on Thinking about Diversity. We intend to post this in the near future.

Karen’s posting will outline the strategies that we have launched and plan to launch from the CAS dean’s office. Activities we have already supported include: launching an African American Studies cluster of excellence; recruiting and hiring top-level faculty from underrepresented populations through the Target of Opportunity process; mandating implicit bias training for search committees; supporting an ethnic literature postdoctoral program in English; and more. But this is only a start; many challenges remain for us to overcome. All of us in the dean’s office look forward to working with you on these challenges.

The blackface incident has been hurtful, but it has—with your help—forced me to think about the urgency of diversity issues in a deeper, more personal way. The pain and anger I have heard have deepened my commitment to diversifying our college; to improving the climate for our underrepresented faculty, staff and students; and to learning more from all of you in the days and years ahead as we work to make our public university one that is truly a university for all.

As always, please share your suggestions with me via the Suggestion Box, or e-mail me directly.

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9 Responses to My comment on CAS Dean Andrew Marcus’s blog post about the blackface incident.

  1. not a scientist, faculty member, student or UO employee says:

    The black face incident was disgraceful. If someone greeted me at the door wearing poorly applied black face and a thrift store afro I would be shocked and appalled.

    However, my reaction wouldn’t be to storm out the door and shame the prof on social media. My reaction would be to question her. I would simply ask her why she chose that costume and why she felt it was appropriate. If she gave me a bad answer I would choose not to associate with her or her friends.

    Unfortunately, the black face incident is being used as a scapegoat for a much bigger problem.

    The black face incident is a symptom of a much bigger problem. The problem is a lack of both ethnic diversity, cultural diversity and diversity of thought on this campus.

  2. It Wasn't says:

    The number of first-person-singular pronouns in that soliloquy is astounding. The Dean seems to think it’s all about him, somehow. Wow.

  3. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    It’s interesting to me that the public response, as evidenced by, say, letters in the RG, to the UO administration on the party incident, has been almost uniformly negative.

    In my opinion, the incident has been completely overblown. The law school looks ridiculous, anf not for the first time. The administration seems to have approached a state resembling a nervous disorder.

    UO wants a special $100 million for the Knight facilities. Higher ed wants the same for general expenses. I don’t think Schill is helping lately with his overreaction to the Halloween incident.

    In fact, I think he’s unintentionally egging on the many cretins out there.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “I want everyone in our university community to know that the College and the UO want to be a safe harbor for individuals and their creativity, a place that welcomes and embraces all, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, political creed—or however we differ from each other.”

    Well, some of our student body chanting “Fuck Donald Trump” and “Black lives matter!” may not create the most welcoming atmosphere on campus…

  5. Nope says:

    Story in the Daily Emerald about three people on campus wearing blackface. At what point does it go from protected freedom of speech to racial intimidation? I don’t think this is it, but how will we know when it gets there? And wouldn’t it be better to stop it before it does?

  6. Moonman says:

    The damage has been done. No amount of rhetorical gymnastics can undo this blackface incident and the perception it affirms that Oregon is a lily white state unfriendly to African Americans.

    Wait, let me back up. The UO is, in fact, very friendly to black athletes who advance the cause of the football team.

    But the irony was never lost on me or others watching (from afar) the Ducks’ rise to national prominence in football the past fifteen years.

    Nike consciously used its swag and sneakers to lure black teenagers from around the country to a state with a most racist history. Still does. And the university has been complicit in the charade.

  7. jackmckoy says:

    The interesting dichotomy is that too many “Fuck Donald Trump” is free speech, but “Fuck Hillary Clinton” is misogynistic hate speech.

  8. Captain Nemo says:

    Right on Bill. Sometimes modifying social behavior is best done with discretion that with a sledgehammer. As a society and as individuals we ought to care about others and we ought to admonish where it is needed, but this kind of public shouting seems to say more about the state of mind of the person shouting than about finding a thoughtful and gracious solution.

  9. uomatters says:

    I’m deleting some of the more tangential comments on this thread – including a few thoughtful ones. Sorry, but please keep on topics related to Dean Marcus’s statement.