The Persistent Racism Of Theological Schools – Part II

Photo: Eustress

Photo: Eustress

Your theological school might be racist if . . .

. . . you hear white colleagues tell their white PhD students that they shouldn’t bother trying to apply for a tenure-track position because of the discrimination that exists against white men in the academy.

. . . the class syllabus has no books written by scholars of color, and if it does, the book was published in the last century.

. . . the sole faculty of color serves on every committee having to do with diversity.

. . . as a student of color, you are constantly asked what does your community think about the issue being discussed.

. . . white feminists use the term “womanist and mujerista” to show they are on fleek, even though it reveals their ignorance concerning the complexity of the Latina discourse, hence making this phrase problematic if the attempt was to signify inclusiveness.

. . . you are told as a student of color how eager the faculty is to have you in class so that they can learn from you (even though they are the ones being paid and not you).

. . . you are told by a white adjunct professor that you are were hired with tenure-track because you are of color.

. . . scholars of color who are scholar-activists are dismissed because they are perceived to do social work and not real scholarship.

. . . phrases like “maintaining academic excellence” or “not lowering the academic rigor of the school” are used when discussing hiring a scholar of color.

. . . when considering hiring an Asian woman, the Latino male colleague is told they already got him and he is more than capable of handling all that marginalized stuff, thus a need for another one really doesn’t exist.

. . . your fellow students in preaching class say how lucky you are as a black preacher cause you don’t have to do much work in preparing for a sermon because you can just wait for the Spirit to lead you.

. . . you are asked if it was hard coming from the hood, even though you grew up in an upper-class neighborhood.

. . . when discussing an incident that offended you, your white liberal colleague assures you that when it comes to racism, s/he “gets it.”

. . . your fellow student or colleague tells you s/he “gets it,” because they dated a person of color back in college.

. . . for mission’s day you are asked to dress up in your native costume, which creates confusion because you grew up in New York City.

. . . white students ask you as the professor what credentials do you hold that equips you to teach them.

. . . colleagues question why you are teaching Hegel instead of something more familiar to you from your own culture; and yet no one ever thinks of questioning the credentials of the white scholar who teaches Buddhism or Hinduism.

. . . during a faculty interview, one colleague remarks to the light-skinned Latina interviewee how she doesn’t look Hispanic, and how well she hides it; or when this same scholar is denied employment elsewhere because she does not look Latina enough.

. . . during a faculty interview, interviewees of color are placed in cheaper hotels and taken to less expensive restaurants than white interviewees.

. . . during a faculty interview, not all members of the search committee show up for your presentation and even fewer faculty attend; nevertheless  you consistently make the short list at top schools, even though the white applicant, who has published fewer books, receives the appointment because the “fit” is better – all the while, the search committee constantly moan about the need to diversify.

. . . the need to diversify no longer means racial and ethnic diversification.

. . . with the exception of a token person of color, every professor has the same white hue.

. . . professors of color over-represent the adjunct and lecturer posts.

. . . as a student you mention the scholarship of a leading scholar of color working within the disciple of your professor; but the professor confesses never having heard of her/him.

. . . white female faculty confuses confident men of color with being too macho; feeling a messianic need to save their sisters of color from what they imagine is a worse sexism than that which exists among whites.

. . . when setting academic standards, white colleagues offer to lower the criteria for students of color to make it easier for them to get through the program.

. . . your contribution to the discourse is described as an interesting perspective as oppose to the contribution of white colleagues that are accepted as universal concepts.

. . . when after a presentation you are praised for being so articulate.

. . . when after a presentation you are met with awkward silence.

. . . when after a presentation you realize that few if any white scholars attended.

. . . PhD students of color are constantly reassured that because they are a minority, they will have no difficulties landing an academic post.

. . .  you out-published all your colleagues, yet the academic rigor of your books is questioned by the dean; but when you ask which books was found lacking, you are told by the dean that s/he hasn’t read any of them.

. . . you out-published all your colleagues, and rather then recognizing that you out produce them, rumors are spread that the only explanation for you productivity is that you plagiarizing the work of your students – even though no evidence presented.

. . . you out-published all your colleagues, and rather then disagreeing with your perspective, white colleagues question if you really understand the issue.

. . . white students and faculty hold the privilege to touch your body, especially your hair if you are black.

. . . Indian faculty hear from students and colleagues that they too have Indian blood; and even those who do not make such a claim still insist that they been accepted by a Native community as one of their own.

. . . your white colleagues and students get to perform sacred Indian rituals as part of their “new age” spirituality without having to be Indian.

. . . you walk by a classroom where a course germaine to a community of color is being taught and you notice that the vast majority of the students in the room are of color.

. . . during the faculty evaluation of a professor of color, the one or two negative student evaluations raises red flags in considering promotion or wage increases; even though the one or two negative evaluation of white scholars are dismissed as an aberration.

. . . fellow white students express gratitude to affirmative action for your acceptance to the program; although it is a shame that there must be some more deserving white student who lost their seat to you.

. . . classes taught by scholars of color on similar themes are scheduled for the same time; while later during evaluations, the dean expresses concern that fewer students are signing up for your class.

. . . the reason given for hiring scholars of color is because many of the institution’s students comes from that particular community, and if we want to do outreach, we should at least hire one of them; besides, too much pressure is being placed on the institution to make a minority hire.

Unfortunately, all these comments were either heard by me or were retold to me by a colleague of color.

Miguel A. De La Torre

13 thoughts on “The Persistent Racism Of Theological Schools – Part II

  1. Been there. Done that. But not because of seminary. In fact, it was New Brunswick Theological Seminary (New Brunswick, NJ) under the leadership of President Dr.Howard Hageman from 1973 to 1985 that brought together students from around the world (in a very small student population) and exposed us to each other’s experiences – and prejudices in a safe environment of discovery. NBTS (Reformed Church in America) continues this tradition and mission on the Rutgers and New York campuses under the leadership of one of Dr. Hageman’s most accomplished students, Dr. Gregg Mast. I fear you are confusing the process of exploration by individuals away from their limited family/cultural experience and labeling any institution that may have heard the above sentences mentioned in their halls or classrooms as racist. You don’t overcome racism by suppressing its language. You overcome it by taking away the fear of the ‘other’ and begin that walk together towards the New Jerusalem where all nations will be gathered.

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    • while it is true that a constructive discourse on race, racism, oppression, whiteness, white privilege, black genocide, police brutality, white privilege, white liberalism, white conservatism, white radicalism, white privilege, white privilege, white privilege (do you see the pattern?) needs to be had in order to dissect and dismantle racism, stereotypes, prejudice, etc. It does not negate the fact that these comments, statements, questions, etc. ( as well as the ideas that they originate from) are, in fact, racist. Secondly, I need you to recognize that your white privilege (as I assure you that you are) is what allows you to deny that these comments aren’t anything than what they are. How dare you step on my toe and tell me not to say ouch. Lastly, your comment about living in the “New Jerusalem” is all well and good lip service but it totally reifies everything that was commented on in this post. It is a problem when you want to “spiritualize” these types of conversations and look to some eschatological by and by to settle our differences and that somehow, without you actually confronting the issues of race, class, gender, oppression, WHITE PRIVILEGE, etc. we can all come together and sing kum-by-ya (which is another cultural misappropriation and racist). And, As a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ, i have many friends that have attended NBTS and experienced these same kinds of interaction. It is true that we must honestly be allowed to speak but ther opressor must not become defensive when the oppressed speak or noting will be resolved.

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      • Patrick, you missed my point. The implication by MDLT in the title of the piece was that all seminaries encouraged, supported, or permitted racist behavior. I simply wanted to clarify that that is not the case with all seminaries, in particular NBTS. This does not imply that every student and professor is without guilt in this issue. It is the responsibility of the leadership of these (and other) institutions to dismantle the barriers created by racism – as well any action or structure that limits or demeans another person’s ability to fully experience the gift of being created in God’s image. In the case of Howard Hageman, before becoming president of NBTS, he served in the intercity of Newark for over two decades and led the fight against the South African policies of apartheid within the Reformed Church in America and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. As president, he created the environment and leadership within the RCA (particularly on the East Coast) that sought a wider ministry to all communities which led to the eventual adoption of the Belhar Confession. It should be pointed out that this was the first new creed adopted by the Reformed Church in America since 1771.

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      • I experienced much of this as a professor at a leading university and moved from assistant professor through tenure to Full Professor and now Emerita. And I am still experiencing this as a student in a theological school–mostly from the professors and administration. There is no “proper” place for us except where we decide it is. Once that happens, we must cloak ourselves in courage and self knowledge. I have given up hope that anything will change in my lifetime.

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  2. Ouch. I will continue to keep my heart open to hearing the truth of your experience and working to change the system that allows such racism to persist.

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  3. Last year I sat on a tenure committee for a Black female candidate. She did not fit the ethos of the seminary, received poor teaching evaluations, had conflict with her department and administration. Her publishing was marginal and below the standards of other faculty from her department. Even though the faculty committee unanimously voted to deny her tenure request for cause, she received tenure after she played the minority card and had another minority colleague remind the administration that lawsuits cost a lot of money and they hurt the reputation of the seminary.

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  4. Mama Jane, the playing of the “race card” does occur – although I think it is an aberration, rather than a commonplace. I suspect that those who enjoy white privilege and fear its erosion amplify these exceptional cases far beyond their statistical significance. It’s also worth remembering that tenure review is an inherently contentious process, and non-minority candidates often threaten litigation.

    Although I don’t know Miguel well, I suspect that he would not advocate lowering the standards for tenure any more than he would lobby for lowering the standards for evaluating minority students (see the list above). In his own case, as a minority, he was routinely subjected to *higher* degrees of scrutiny and suspicion than his white colleagues, not lower.

    We’re not really talking about underperforming minorities; we’re talking about making seminaries spaces that encourage minority achievement. That means eliminating the paternalism of low expectations. The fact that you’ve introduced the point tells us more about the anxieties of privilege than about the moral hazards of hiring minority scholars. Let’s stay on point here.

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  5. Interesting article and even more interesting comments. As a President /Dean of one of the constituent seminaries of the Interdenominational Theological Center, I’m intrigued by this discussion. The fact is this kind of institutional racism at seminaries across this country has and will continue to exist primarily because we don’t trust one another and because of our limited knowledge of each other which therefore foster inherent fears of one another, a frank dialog and discussion which may lead to some solutions continue to be a distant hope. Sad, so sad because there is so much the world can benefit from when we all come together and begin to wrestle with the bible.

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  6. What is this about a New Jerusalem? The Old Jerusalem is very fine and does not to be appropriated by Christians or renamed by Christians. You did this already to Torah (Old Testament), misinterpreted words from Hebrew in Torah ( to’evah not mean abomination rather ritual impurity) and now the holiest City for Jews, to be totally appropriated or renamed? בשום אופן לא You folks need to learn to share and also stop the cultural imperialism, e.g.holy books, which you have done regardless of race, ethnicity, age, class, gender identity, sex, region, or mental/ physical,ability. Just sayin.

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  7. Thank you for naming it! As a pioneering indigenous woman Dean in an Anglican seminary in New Zealand I can identify with every single one of your indicators – I can attest to the relentless nature of the violence, the abuse, the undermining, and sadly it wasn’t only from white folks . . .incredibly, am literally en route to Bangkok to share with CWM colleagues a paper on the very topic! Blessed assurance indeed!

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