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Workings of structural racism

| Thursday, March 30, 2017

It is hard to think of a more perfect illustration of the working of structural racism than the recent events on this campus: Professor Phillip Munoz of Constitutional Studies (a program within Political Science) invites thoroughly discredited pseudo-scientific white supremacist “scholar” Charles Murray to campus under the guise of representing a variety of viewpoints for a “thoughtful dialogue in which people of good will listen to one another.” When students and faculty protest at the choice of speaker and initial failure to allow a rebuttal (brilliantly performed by Professor Agustin Fuentes after much activist intervention in public and private), Munoz falsely claims they oppose free speech. And the accounts given by students in Professor Karen Richman’s class, the very students who were questioned and admitted, are even more concerning: At the event, campus police block protesters’ entry to the building. After the event, campus police challenge black students access to the building for a regularly scheduled class, while white students enter without difficulty. Even after showing IDs the black students are blocked until someone else vouches for them; one student cannot gain access to attend class — cannot, that is, pursue her ongoing education on this campus — at all. Yet again, students of color are treated like unworthy interlopers trying to infiltrate Notre Dame’s hallowed halls. Murray’s theory of cognitive hierarchies consistently fails to account for just this sort of ugly truth: that inequality and injustice, manifest in these painful, real-time illustrations of white skin privilege and bigotry, are alive and well in this country and on this campus.

When there is one set of rules ensuring rights for those with light skin and another denying them for those with dark skin, we call that racism.

I was going to end this letter there, but that’s too easy. What is this community going to do in the wake of these events? The students and their allies were magnificent in their protest, as the 24-minute video from the South Bend Tribune shows. What will be done to answer them? Has President Jenkins met with the students and faculty who protested? Has the political science department or the Provost’s Office offered to fund a preeminent scholar’s lecture countering the pernicious assumptions circulated by Murray and his supporters (I don’t think Munoz should be given that responsibility since his ability to evaluate and characterize argument is demonstrably flawed)? Will there be an investigation into campus police’s denial of entry to certain students to the building before, during and after the event? Will those in power listen to those systematically excluded from and marginalized by it?

Sarah McKibben

associate professor

Department of Irish Language and Literature

March 29

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