‘We have racism and sexism raging on the left.’
Those are words I didn’t expect to hear from deep inside the East Coast, elite liberal arts college culture — from a person with everything to lose by saying them.
Let’s take a journey to the heartland of wokeness, the western Massachusetts college town of Northampton; and in particular, one of its biggest employers, Smith College.
Smith, established in 1875, has long been a Mecca of sorts for the burdened white girl.
Famous alumnae include Sylvia Plath, Betty Friedan and the statuesque firebrand Gloria Steinem, who no doubt began formulating her ideas on female oppression while at Smith — perhaps in part due to the actions of her fiancé at the time. He was an Air Force pilot, and such an evil patriarch he wrote ‘Gloria’ in the sky over the college campus in her honor. The bastard.
Smith is a place where genteel and well-meaning parents pay upwards of $70,000 a year for their daughters to be given, as the online prospectus states, ‘the focus of all the attention, and all of the opportunities’ (emphasis not mine).
Much like every other liberal arts college in the US, Smith, or at least its leadership, is fully in thrall to the idea of fighting that now-ubiquitous boogeyman, white privilege. In the name of social justice, the university is pushing this agenda on every student, and has even made it part of the obligatory annual review of its administrative, non-faculty staff, requiring them ‘to reflect on how they have contributed to an inclusive campus environment’ in the course of annual performance reviews.
What is unusual, however, is that Smith has Jodi Shaw: a staff member who has spoken out and publicly criticized the college.
Shaw, who describes herself as a ‘desk jockey’ in the Residence Life department, has made a series of videos about how this toxic, racially charged ideology has created a hostile environment. Not for the precious, hothouse flower, all-female student body (though Shaw is concerned about them as well), but for the ordinary men and women who make up the college staff.
On October 27, Shaw posted a video on YouTube entitled ‘Dear Smith College: I have a few requests’ (currently standing at over 63,000 views), in which she politely asked the following:
‘I ask that Smith College to stop reducing my personhood to a racial category.
‘Stop telling me what I must think and feel about myself.
‘Stop presuming to know who I am or what my culture is based upon my skin color.
‘Stop telling me that as a white person I am — quote — especially responsible for doing the work of dismantling racism.
‘Stop emboldening students to act abusively towards staff by refusing to hold them accountable for their own egregious behavior.
‘We have the right to work in an environment free from the ever-present terror that any unverified student allegation of racism or any other ism has the power to crush our reputations, ruin our livelihood and even endanger the physical safety of ourselves or our family members.’
If, like me, you have been following racial toxicity at liberal arts colleges for a while, these words are stunning. Revolutionary, even. Because they come from the people on the ground who are being harmed and have been, until now, voiceless. This is — we should hope — the first hole poked through the dam of elitist privilege that has been enabling and encouraging critical race theory, at a huge cost to non-elites. A torrent of common-sense rejection of the ideology must surely follow.
Shaw’s video was the result of frustration stemming from a months-long tussle with her employer over her increasing discomfort with race being a topic of the college’s ‘professional development training’.
She started out as a willing participant. ‘I voluntarily went to a meeting once on “whiteness”…it felt very scripted and performative and I was expected to say very specific things about my race. And I felt uncomfortable lying. It’s fake, it’s uncomfortable,’ she told me in a phone call from her home in Massachusetts.
To Shaw, being asked to discuss personal recollections from childhood was not appropriate in a work setting. ‘This isn’t a therapy session, you know? And add to that they wanted me to say certain things about myself. So I was just like, no, I’m not going to do that anymore.’
But the college persisted. ‘Anti-bias’ sessions became mandatory for the staff. In one group session, with hired professional facilitators Romney Associates, each staff member was asked three questions, including: ‘as a child, what did you understand about your cultural and/or racial identity?’ Anticipating being made to discuss her own race, Shaw had already informed her director before the session took place, ‘I’m not comfortable talking about my innate characteristics at work.’ Shaw says her director told her, ‘No problem, just say that at the meeting.’
Shaw did so, but the response of the group facilitator was chilling.
‘They told us: any white person who’s uncomfortable talking about race, or expresses discomfort, or even seems uncomfortable — because I guess it’s up to the viewer to decide if someone seems uncomfortable or in distress — they said because you guys are all nice, you might want to comfort that person. But don’t. Because it’s not discomfort. It’s called white fragility. And it’s a power play. My heart just dropped,’ Shaw says.
It was obviously a reference to Shaw, because she was the only one of the group to abstained from answering the question. She felt singled out and humiliated.
‘It was crushing to have my discomfort around discussing race, against the backdrop of such a hyper-racialized environment, framed as an act of aggression — in front of all my colleagues,’ she says.
She filed a 100-page complaint with the college, alleging multiple individual acts of ‘race-based hostility and discrimination’, as well as examples of ‘a climate of fear, hostility, exclusion and intimidation for its employees’. The complaint went nowhere.
Shaw is soft-spoken, thoughtful and modest. She’s the opposite of the emotional screamers who post videos of themselves having meltdowns about Trump, or the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She also has serious hipster-woke credentials, having gone to Smith herself in the early Nineties, and lived in Portland and in Brooklyn, both hotbeds of self-loathing white people trying to atone for their race. She laughs at the irony of a person like herself becoming a poster child for speaking out about racism against white people. As a young woman, she was an actual card-carrying member of the Socialist Worker’s Party. At Smith, she called out people who used the word lame. ‘That kind of language policing, I participated in it,’ she told me.
She’s all grown up now, though, and, like most people, has matured beyond the censorious fervor so common among the young. And she has put her job and her credibility on the line, as she was just put on paid leave while the college investigates her actions. Unlike others from academia who have spoken out against critical race theory, Shaw did not have a secure, tenured, prestige job and/or a large platform. Her Plan B, should she lose her position at Smith, is to work for a maintenance company clearing snow and raking leaves. She’s a single mother. When I asked her why she put her neck on the chopping block over this, she replied: ‘because it’s just wrong.’
The staff are on the frontline of this ideological race war. But it’s wrong for everyone involved. The students, who pay exorbitant fees to study at Smith, are being dealt with — at least by the staff who manage the student living quarters, food halls and security — according to their race.
‘It seems like we are supposed to view student conflict through that lens,’ Shaw told me. ‘So we had this one circumstance in particular, when we had one student who was white and one student who was black and the skin color played a role in how we acted and how we responded to the conflict. I’ve seen that before, my colleague looking someone up to see their picture, to see what color they are, because that’s supposedly important information to have.
‘“Considering color” is expected among staff…and that is concerning to me because I don’t know how to “consider color” without applying subjective stereotypes and assumptions onto somebody.’
How exactly to put into practice these racial-based theories is what Shaw’s first and most immediate concern seemed to be. In the language of critical race theory, terms like ‘considering color’ and ‘equity and inclusion are thrown around with abandon and treated as sacred texts. But when pressed for specifics of how, exactly, to practice these race-based policies without causing more racism, the race Mandarins cannot say. In Shaw’s case, she asked Smith’s head of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, Floyd Cheung, to provide a definition of ‘equity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘anti-blackness’ and ‘anti-racism’. The response was not to answer her question directly, but rather Cheung referred her to one of the canonical texts of critical race theory, How to Be an Anti-Racist. Definitions averted. Ideology asserted.
Jodi Shaw is in no way the first employee of an educational institution to run afoul of anti-white racism and racial hysteria. Perhaps the most famous victims of it were Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying at Evergreen College in 2017. There are no doubt countless others, not to mention the students of color whose experiences of college have been marred by the ‘soft bigotry’ — as Shaw puts it — of a deeply patronizing, white-dominated system that tells black students they can’t possibly achieve without help of white people.
Ultimately, however, Shaw has been one of the very few to defend those who until now no one has defended.
‘I’m speaking for the staff who can’t speak and want to be saying these things, because I have spoken to a lot of you who feel similarly to me and don’t feel you can say it out loud. And that’s part of the problem, the extreme intimidation we are all working under in regards to race.’