A few months ago, days after the death of George Floyd, Arizona State University (ASU) president Michael Crow sent an official email message to all ASU students, faculty, and staff. I’m a student at ASU, so I received this message, titled, simply, “A Message from ASU President Michael Crow”. In the message, President Crow lamented the death of George Floyd, affirmed his and the university’s support of American constitutional principles and values, and called upon everyone who read the message to send him suggestions and ideas about how the university could “do more” to, essentially, solve the problem of racism in the United States. The purpose of this message was, fundamentally, “to voice ASU’s rejection of racism and discrimination[,] and to reaffirm our university pledge to always pursue the highest levels of social inclusion and impact.”
I don’t know how this message was received generally, but I do know that I received it poorly. I get that it is now commonplace and even acceptable (to some people) for companies and institutions to express their political beliefs publicly, but I’m not cool with it; I pay a lot of money to go to ASU, and it’s not because I want to hear what my instructors or administrators think and feel about Donald Trump, rather because I wish to become educated. Politics — especially the personal politics of these, irrelevant players — has no place in the domain of knowledge and ideas, as it invariably corrupts the minds of those who participate, and students shouldn’t be subject to it as a consequence of our own sacrifices and investments.
Nevertheless, we are subject to it. Messages like the one from President Crow continue to appear in my inbox, from various offices, departments, and student organizations. And they’re exactly what you would expect them to be in 2020: praises of Black people, condemnations of White people, celebrations of women, pronouncements of diversityequityandinclusion, declarations of solidarity, reminders to wear masks — all mushy, predictable political stuff for which nobody asked and from which none of us can unsubscribe. And all the while, I find myself asking, Who is this for? I don’t want these messages, so why am I receiving them? I have not contributed to or participated in these initiatives, so why am I being updated about them? I am obviously not the market for these ideas, so why do they continue to be sent to me? What is the purpose? What is the goal? And if I’m not the market, then who is?
But it’s more than just the messages and ideas; it’s also the actions and initiatives described in the messages. For example, just a few days ago, on Wednesday, September 2, President Crow issued another message, this time updating us on the status of his first message, or what he is now calling “ASU’s commitment to Black students, faculty[,] and staff”. This message was in part inspired by the shooting of Jacob Blake, and in part as a follow-up to the initial message, and it contained a list of twenty-five actions that the university has initiated “to accelerate meaningful change…at ASU[,] and to contribute to a national agenda for social justice.” The list contains actions such as appointing Black faculty, organizing Black committees, implementing Black advising and success programs, establishing Black scholarships, funding Black initiatives, constructing a multicultural space, introducing bias training, and offering a new bachelor of arts degree in race, culture, and democracy.
And all of this is fine, except that nobody asked for it; it is all unprovoked. What does the death of George Floyd have to do with ASU? What does COVID-19 have to do with Apple? What does police brutality have to do with Nike? Students at ASU did not call for action on the part of the university after the death of George Floyd, nor did we call for action after the shooting of Jacob Blake. Had we done so — and had these incidents been somehow linked to ASU — I would understand sending messages and developing programs and initiatives in response. But we didn’t, and they weren’t. So what is this all about?
We could say that it’s virtue signaling — and maybe it is — but is it really? I can’t imagine that all of this energy and resources would be expended simply to posture; it has to be for something more, right?
Maybe I’m just not getting it; after all, I’m straight, White, and male, so not-getting-it is to be expected. Still, I can’t imagine that this is what Black students want. At the heart of all of this posing, posturing, signaling, and submitting by White people is, of course, fear and pity. Why else would White people submit to Black mobs if not because they were afraid? Or why else would White people use their “privilege” to create programs and initiatives that exclusively advantage Black people if not because they pitied such people for their Blackness? Are these the motivations that Black people desire in White people, that Black students desire in their instructors and administrators? Do Black people really desire for White people to treat them according to their Blackness? Isn’t this already the problem?
The assumption in these and other similar initiatives is that the way things are now at ASU disproportionally benefits White students, or is exclusively in service of White students. But White students do not graduate college because they’re White; they graduate college because they meet the standards and fulfill the requirements for graduation. Now, though, as a consequence of these programs and initiatives, Black students at ASU have to wonder if they’re graduating college because they meet the standards and fulfill the requirements for graduation, or because they’re Black.
How is this helpful? How does this reduce bias and discrimination? How is this just, or how does this enable equality or that horrible, unattainable equity? If the problem is that Black students are uniquely inhibited from succeeding in college, then instead of uniquely enabling Black students to succeed in college (which unique enabling is unfair to non-Black students, thus producing inequality), simply remove their unique inhibitions. But, of course, nobody knows what these unique inhibitions are, or if they even exist at ASU; if they did exist at ASU, and if ASU knew what they were, then these inhibitions would be addressed in the list of twenty-five initiatives. If ASU were engaging in practices that disadvantaged Black students, then the list of twenty-five initiatives would be a list of twenty-five apologies. But this is not what the list is. So what problem does the list solve? What question do the twenty-five initiatives answer? What is the evidence for the assumption that ASU needs an action plan consisting of twenty-five Black initiatives? Who asked for this?
The solution to any problem is always the opposite of the problem. So the difficulty in problem solving is, not in devising solutions, but in properly identifying problems. For example, if you come home to wet floors, the problem is not that your floors are wet; the problem is that you have a leak. And the solution to this problem is, not to collect or redirect the water, and then to dry the floors, but to seal the leak.
In creating the list of twenty-five Black initiatives, and by stating that the list is both “initial” and “inadequate” — meaning, more initiatives are to come — it is obvious to me that the relevant people at ASU have yet to properly identify the problem(s) that they are attempting to solve. For example, if the problem is that ASU lacks a multicultural center, then, yes, the solution is to build a multicultural center. But is this really the problem? If the problem is that ASU lacks an Advisory Council for African-American Affairs, then, yes, the solution is to appoint such a council. But is this really the problem? If the problem is that ASU lacks a bachelor of arts degree in race, culture, and democracy, then, yes, the solution is to establish such a degree program. But is this really the problem?
I could go on like this for every item on the list. And maybe the response to my doing so would be to say that all of these items, combined, constitute a solution to the problem. But do they really? And if they do, what are the merits of this solution if it produces problems and inequality in the other direction? These twenty-five initiatives create opportunities for Black students that are not afforded to White students. How is this fair? How is it progress? And how is it not discrimination?
Fundamental to all of this nonsense are three major assumptions, the same made by any person or organization engaging in similar activities and practices as is ASU: first, that something can be done about the problem of racism in the United States; second, that something must be done about the problem of racism in the United States; and third, that the people who feel that something can and must be done about the problem of racism in the United States are the ones to do it. But why have these assumptions been made? Based on what evidence? What observations of ASU are indicating to its leadership that there even is a problem? Because I get the sense that, still, even months after President Crow’s initial message asking for suggestions, ASU has no idea what it’s doing. And I wouldn’t care were it not that its not knowing affects me as a student, at least in that I have to continue receiving mushy, hypocritical, politicized, proudly discriminatory-against-White-people messages. And it’s just exhausting, you know?
My intention in writing this article is not (merely) to criticize; my intention is to state facts and articulate opposition, and, by so doing, offer help. Because I cannot stand, as a student of the university, and as a person in the world just trying to become educated, both funding and being subject to this horrible ideological hysteria. Thus, perhaps a voice such as my own — indeed, a voice of reason — will be useful to the leadership at ASU at least, as I hardly imagine that I’m the only student who intelligently disagrees with and disapproves of their ideas.