A Conversation on Contesting Whiteness at Hamilton with Professor Mariam Durrani
Introduction by Madison Lazenby, Editor-in-Chief
Transcription by Matthew Buneta, Staff Writer
Video and audio editing by Eric Santomauro-Stenzel, Managing Editor
Introduction from Madison Lazenby: Hello readers and listeners, for those who do not recognize me by voice, my name is Madison Lazenby and I am the editor-in-chief of the Monitor, Hamilton’s social justice paper. What you are about to read and/or listen to is a conversation between Professor Mariam Durrani of the Anthropology Department and Monitor Managing Editor Eric Santomauro-Stenzel and Staff Writer Saphire Ruiz. After making her resignation from and critiques of Hamilton College public, there was an outcry of support from students for Professor Durrani culminating in the Our Hamilton protest on Friday March 4. Since these events as well as the additional resignations of several more faculty and staff members, white supremacy at Hamilton has been the predominant conversation on the Hill. Eric and Saphire sat down with Professor Durrani via Zoom to talk about these developments and learn her opinions on the college’s diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments; President Wippman’s understanding of cancel culture; how the college leaves marginalized students and faculty unprotected from virtual harassment; and more. We have included a transcript of the interview as well as this audio format for greatest possible accessibility. Content warnings for this piece include discussions of racism, sexism, sexual assault, and experiences with harassment. Thank you for reading or listening.
Saphire Ruiz: For those who don't know, could you summarize the events of the past few months as it relates to your resignation from Hamilton College?
Professor Mariam Durrani: I don't know when the story really starts in some sense, because it's almost like, after things are happening, I kind of see earlier events in a different light sometimes. I think that maybe I was unsure about what I was going to do until December of this last year, when I found out that I have fibromyalgia and fibromyalgia is the second chronic illness that I've been diagnosed with since starting at Hamilton. The first one I was diagnosed with in 2019. And at that time, I didn't really see it as linked to the stress that came with my work and my position at Hamilton. But I think this second diagnosis was almost like a really big wake up call to me that, you know, this is really changing the quality of my life in many ways. And, I think that, like, I need to see the connections. So that's where it started, I guess, a few months ago for me personally, and I talked it through with a lot of people. And eventually, in February, I resigned, as we were starting to plan for the next semester, because I wanted to be upfront with especially students. And then as it unfolded, as more people found out, as students found out, you know, it has created an entirely new conversation that I could not have predicted, when I made the decision to resign. But I do feel really grateful that it has played out this way, because I think otherwise, it was kind of not really going anywhere. And the events are that I resigned, and then I did not really receive, I feel an appropriate response from the administration. And, then in complete opposition, when I started to share it with students, they were really alarmed. They were surprised, they were really sad for me, including alumni. So that made me feel at least seen. That the things that I had said in my resignation letter were acknowledged as real things. And so from then on, it's actually just kind of like, compelled me to be more transparent about what I think and how things have been playing out. And so I guess that's what's brought us to this conversation. to kind of go through some of this a little bit more.
Eric Santomauro-Stenzel: Yeah, I can definitely say being in one of your courses, I have noticed, since you have put out this letter, that emphasis on the transparency of how you were approaching your pedagogy. Since the Our Hamilton protest and your piece in the monitor prior to spring break, which for those listening and watching can be found on the Monitor's website, hamiltonmonitor.com. What's happened since that protest, and that piece, what have been the reactions that you've gotten from folks associated with Hamilton, particularly administrators, and what do you think of those reactions?
MD: Um, so just to kind of like go over kind of how I've seen the protest is, you know, the protest was planned relatively quickly, as we know, and, I'm really glad that you know, that students kind of took the conversation. I think, originally there was going to be some other versions of an event, but ultimately, they decided on doing a teach-in, which I thought was just really brilliant because there is so much information that is not more widely known, and I think that, you know, creating spaces where where that is addressed and like kind of, you know, actively, like, challenged, is great. And so for example, um, there's a student in my introductory class, who did his field note on the protest, on the teach-in. And so what was really interesting is kind of, you know, he talked about how the feeling changed. So like, prior to the event, everyone was kind of just not sure what was going to happen. And like, you know, we're all together. And there were so many people, which was also kind of like, surprising, I think, because the organizers did not realize there's gonna be, you know, people on every floor of the library, and you know, they went through with their plans. And then, in his field note, he just commented that everyone seemed to be moving as a unit that there was kind of, like, a togetherness that was really emotionally felt. And I think that is, what has played out since is that there's a conversation that those who are, I think, involved in the conversation are really trying to pay attention to that fact. Or to that kind of, like, you know, just how that's playing out that dynamic in terms of, and I'm also just trying to be like paying attention to it. So anyway, I think that's why I wrote the response in the Monitor, to basically say, like, thank you. I mean, that's kind of what it was, like, thank you so much for listening. And I just want to point out that again, in contrast to my colleagues, it seems that students understand what's at stake. You know, if there's something at stake here, it's not just about me as an individual. And I've really tried to be very, like, explicit about that, again, and again, is that what we're talking about here is a larger culture, and it's affecting everyone. First of all, it's affecting everyone and it is affecting everyone very differently. And that difference is part of why we have not had a conversation on this, that gives any respect to the idea of like, respectful dialogue, like nowhere in the vicinity, are we of like civility, if you actually want to talk about it. What we're doing is we're you know, constantly avoiding the elephant in the room, which is that Hamilton College is incredibly, like, uncomfortable because of the racism, the misogyny, the ableism, the homophobia, transphobia, on campus. It's visceral, for those who feel it. And that viscerality is, I think, what we feel as chronic stress, as, you know, mental unwellness added to many other issues. And so, it just Yeah, I think that's that's where I think the connection keeps happening is that, you know, what I'm saying is actually resonating with somebody. And what they say, the messages that I get on Instagram, over email in person, like, the door full of like, messages from students on like, three by five, like note cards, like, all of it is basically just affirming that, like, this is indeed a thing. This is a thing that we're talking about. Nobody is like, some people say things like, Oh, I'm not crazy. Like, I feel like I'm not crazy. And I feel like that's exactly it. Yeah, like you start to doubt your own experience. Because everyone keeps telling you what your experience is. And I feel like that's basically what happened when I wrote my resignation letter every single time that I have gone to colleagues and administrators that like I'm dealing with this problem, they diminish the problem. They like to make it into a smaller problem. And they're like, there's nothing to worry about here. Like, just don't worry about it. If you don't do anything about it for like 24 to 48 hours of you know, having a digital targeted attack, then it'll just go away. And it's like, in my case, it happened in 2018. But it happened in 2019. Then it happened in 2021. And each time it changed form, and it gave the college an ability to rationalize their like, you know, their non accountability around these issues that are happening on their campus. And so like, I think that's the issue is that like, that's just one little case of a larger problem. And I'm just constantly saying that, yes, that is what happened. And that is resonating, that these things do happen. And other people can say like this happened to me and this happened to me, and there is a connection.
SR: Yeah, thank you, you know, you mentioned concepts of civility and what like mental health looks like at Hamilton and stuff and something, or that's something that we're gonna be talking about later. So it's great that you’re already kind of bringing that up. Our next question has to do with your letter of resignation. Where in it, you mentioned that both the dean of faculty and Chief Diversity Officer for the college didn't take adequate action in response to your complaints. What does it say to you about Hamilton's diversity commitments that college officials whose explicit responsibilities include to address issues of bias and discrimination didn't actually do this?
MD: Yeah, I mean, I think it speaks volumes, that that's what happened. And I think it again echoes other people's experiences of saying that we have complaints of being targeted, and the college kind of not really moving on those complaints. I think it's structural, based on my research of this whole situation. It's a structural kind of policy to deflect, again, any actual real effort made to address issues around equity. And so it becomes kind of like, again, diminishing what these issues are actually about, and makes it about some, some very simplistic branding around diversity. And I think, you know, because, again, I occupy categories that are marginalized at Hamilton College, I have been, you know, asked to do this type of diversity work in multiple waves, when I'm asked by, and I wouldn't call it, I wouldn't always call it diversity work, right. So I think when students asked me to, you know, be on a panel or support an activity or an event, I see that is exactly what the kind of work that I should be doing at Hamilton College, because my research is looking at race and looking at these issues. And, I see that as part of my scholarship and my pedagogy. But at the same time, I'm also been asked to do, like an interview for the Hamilton communications office in my second or third year, and I recently watched, and I feel like I actually didn't really watch it that carefully until now, where I see that I was struggling, like, physically, I could see that I wa a little bit just not healthy in the way that I want to be healthy. I think I was not feeling very comfortable with the whole interview. But I was trying to be open minded. And so for example, one of the questions that was asked was about who would I want to have dinner with and I had two people that I talked about, I talked about, that I want to have dinner with AOC, which is what's in the interview. And I also said that I would love to have dinner with Malcolm X. I've admired him since I was in, you know, middle school since I first learned about him. And I see him as one of those people that like, was in a position of high status and privilege within his organization. And he was approached by women who had relationships with the leader of the organization and had gotten pregnant, and now we're taking care of children, and were not being supported. And he saw that as a major rock. And he actually left, you know, the Nation of Islam because of this. And that I see again, as you know, what it means to have integrity around these kinds of issues, that you don't do it when it's convenient for you, but you actually, you know, speak up when it's not convenient. And I think that's the problem when it comes to the complaints that I have registered with multiple people, within my department, within the faculty, within the administration in multiple ways, where I've said that this is happening and I've also been gracious enough that I actually did the research for them. I wrote about all the attacks, I gave them background information of who the organizations were, where their money comes from. And in the process, I ended up writing enough that I turned it into two academic conference papers, including one which was on hate speech and free speech at Fordham University. And then I also published it in American anthropologist last year, as a scholarly essay, where I talk through kind of what I experienced. In that essay, I don't go into the details when it comes to the college. But in my resignation letter, I do say that part of the reason that I have ultimately decided to resign is that when you hire a scholar, such as myself, whose work is on the ways that the war on terror, shapes anti Muslim racism, and racialization processes in the US and Pakistan, that there's a certain kind of, you know, consciousness that I have had, from the very beginning, that I am working on sensitive topics, and that I have to do it in a way that, creates the greatest kind of like safety, not just for myself, but also for my participants. You know, when I was doing research in New York, the NYPD had recently been called out by the Associated Press for a surveillance and monitoring monitoring program that specifically targeted Muslims. Muslim places of worship, mosques, restaurants owned by Muslims, grocery stores, you know, community centers, etc. And Muslim student associations on college campuse. And so I've been aware of the various kind of machinations of both kind of state surveillance projects and programs, but also, the media, the private kind of like, companies, you know, such as Fox News and campus reform, that have been doing this work and targeting people who talk about these issues for years. Now, the thing is, is that I came to Hamilton right out of my postdoc, so I was a very kind of, you know, early scholar at the time that I started getting targeted. And that's the main reason that I've always been very surprised, because most of the time that people do have these kinds of issues, it's after they've actually produced some scholarship after they've actually kind of, you know, put some work out. But my targeting started from the moment that I was in my first year at Hamilton College, and specifically, the incident of the fall of 2017, when there was a somebody who was invited to the AHI. And then that person was invited by individual faculty to their classes on campus. That led to some protests, some public remarks on this issue, which did not having anything to do with me. And then at the faculty meeting in November, I didn't hear anyone talk about this issue. And so during the end, at the end of the meeting, when the President David Wippman has his kind of remarks and does a question and answer, I asked a very simple question, which is, is there an update on the whole Gottfried situation? We've heard from the Government Studies Department, we've heard from individual faculty, there was a student protest. I'm curious if there's anything that the administration has to say on it. That's it. From that point, you know, it developed into a statement that President Wippman put out. That statement was then critiqued by somebody who works at the AHI in a right wing publication, Front Page Mag. And in that piece, they specifically targeted faculty. One was a visiting faculty who was in at the time the philosophy department was a Jewish woman who was targeted for work around Jewish voices for peace and Palestinian rights. And I was targeted, and in the way that I was targeted it was entirely based on my faculty page, so you know, public information, but only that which was on the College website, not anything about me on any other website, but the fact that now I was a faculty and it was pointed out that I was a recent tenure track hire. And I think that's what I mean by like, if the way that the college understands diversity is that we want to hire someone who does all these things, we want to put them on, you know, videos and college communications materials to say that we have such interesting faculty who do such interesting work and talk about eating dark chocolate gelato at the Village Square. So great, you know, I've done I've done a little bit of your marketing for you, in return, what I expect is that if I'm being targeted, and I have evidence to say that that targeting is occurring from members that have access to the internal communications of the college, that I expect that I should have some kind of response on that issue. You can't have one without the other, you can't invite people to come and teach around these topics, and celebrate that when it comes to your branding and marketing strategy. And then when it comes to their protections as employees, you subjected them to inferior Terms and Conditions. Because nobody else has this issue, that at Hamilton that I've been dealing with. Just a fact. Nobody else in the tenure track has had this particular issue. So like, I do feel like I have been experiencing that. And then there are other issues that other people who are on the tenure track are dealing with that I am not dealing with. Black faculty have a completely different set of challenges teaching at Hamilton College. So do Latinx faculty, other faculty also have issues, international faculty do not get properly supported when it comes to their visa paperwork, such that they have to overnight, you know, leave the country because they'll be on expired papers. This has happened to somebody just in the last two years, these kinds of things really make it clear that we are being hired. Sure, we're being hired, but we're not at all being treated fairly. We're actually being kind of, you know, treated to these conditions, and the college is well aware of these conditions. And the College uses all kinds of very manipulative tactics to diminish these critiques, such that with every kind of, you know, new hire, they have to learn anew all these things. I mean, if you don't have enough senior faculty of color, when new faculty of color come, there's not enough support. And so that seems to be a pattern at Hamilton, that it's pretty kind of standard at this point to hear that 'oh, so and so worked here for so many years, and then they left'. And when you ask those people about it, they don't have anything but to say. And I think that, you know, people might think that that's not a problem. That's only if you never leave like Clinton, I guess.
ESS: Right, right. Yeah, thank you for that. And I think you touched on a little bit of what this next question addresses: the way that the college values the image and aesthetic of the labor of faculty of color and other otherwise marginalized faculty to market itself, but not actually value their input or academic analyses of the problems that exist within the institution itself. So to that end, what do you see as the difference between paradigms like diversity, equity and inclusion, the one that is really dominant for Hamilton College, and racial justice and other forms of identity based justice? And why is that distinction between the two of them important to you?
MD: I mean, I think the most obvious distinction between the two is that in the second, the word, you know, race is referred to in some way. I think the specificity of what we're dealing with is critical to actually addressing it. Otherwise, it's kind of just like this, you know, very corporatized standardized idea that does not and will not ever, because it's actually not designed to make the changes that are necessary to actually create an equitable, inclusive environment. You know, like, that's actually not even on the horizon. There's a lot of, actually, criticism of the diversity kind of model, by many scholars, including scholars at Hamilton. But I think there's another kind of like, there's other critical parts of this, again, that don't come up in their scholarship. Specifically, I think, the history of the college as a settler colonial institution, I think the way that gender has been shaped by the Kirkland-Hamilton takeover. And so many people have, you know, talked about the various ways that race has just never really been dealt with at Hamilton. And I think that hiring a few people here and there, they kind of think will address the issue. But that's not a systemic, you know, solution. And the way that you can see that is a number of issues. I mean, I could go on about all the ways that this comes up, but like a couple of really clear examples would be right now the College website. When it comes to the discriminatory harassment section, it continues to use outdated language. This is 2022, the law was revised in New York State in 2019. To this date, I checked again, before our conversation today, and Catherine Berryman's office has not revised that language. I don't know if there's some other obstacle in getting that revised. But it's been two years. So whatever it is, it's too little too late. It kind of reveals, again, the ways that, you know, certain things are prioritized and other things like that are not. The Hamilton speech code/the maintenance of public order is the speech policy that was written based on the 1968 laws that were passed in New York State. And that was also in relation to racial justice protests at Cornell and other universities in the area. And so if you read it closely, you can hear the voices of those white men who wrote that policy. And we still don't actually seem to have a conversation about addressing these kinds of things. And I know, there's a lot of things to address. But I think these are the kinds of ways that the history of Hamilton is not the past, it's actually a very kind of like, present paradigm that we're still living in. We're still living in the Hamilton College of those white men, those faculty who have kind of created a lot of systems. They fit people into different kinds of like places, but structurally, you can see the way for example, in the Faculty Handbook, for faculty like me, who are single mothers, if you want to, for example, take your child with you, when you're going on a research trip or conference trip, you can't actually use your research budget to do so you have to kind of take it out of your pocket, because in the handbook, the only way that childcare is recognized is as babysitting fees in some section, which was probably, you know, written decades ago. And that these things don't take priority is the issue, you know, but they're urgent for people who, again, are not coming from these kinds of normative, racial, gender family systems, as a lot of colleagues at Hamilton are. And I think that again, this is the way that whiteness is just kind of, you know, maintained in these very mainstream forms. And people like to kind of like, think that they're not redoing that, but that's what they're doing. And it's uncomfortable, I guess, for them. But that literally is where the conversation begins and ends is how they feel when we talk about race, versus the fact that some of us are actually getting, you know, sick, dealing with racism and white supremacy and nobody seems to think that that's urgent.
SR: Yeah, thank you. It's funny that you brought up the laws too, because I know at least one of those laws have recently been repealed, actually, for or partly due to the fact that very quickly, you know, civil rights protectors and lawyers figured out ways to use those laws to their benefit, and it's actually part of what led Hamilton to lose their case about the divestment movement against the suspended students. So it's just really interesting that you brought that up and the way that, like even today, some of the policies might be inaccurate because those laws are no longer in place. Next question is about a piece that David Wippman wrote back in November of 2021 in Inside Higher Ed, it was an opinion piece that he wrote with Cornell Professor Glenn Altschuler entitled "How Colleges Can Counter ‘Cancel Culture’". And in this piece, Wippman makes the argument that quote, "the principal threats to academic discourse at the moment come from the right but those threats are largely external, whether they emerge from online trolling by the right wing outrage machine, or legislative attempts to restrict the teaching of critical race theory or other so called divisive concepts". However, the bulk of the piece is about a so-called threat to open discourse from the left. And he says, "by contrast, cancel culture on college campuses is an internal phenomenon driven largely, though not exclusively by the progressive left". Wippman's policy decisions and actions over the years have rarely if ever addressed what he apparently believes is, "The principal threats to academic discourse". In our time on Student Assembly he and other senior administrators, including the chief diversity officer, repeatedly use the term cancel culture to describe strong narrative campus reactions to incidents like, a student using the term 'rabid dogs' to describe the Black Lives Matter protesters and formerly incarcerated people, as well as the assemblies vote to deny the confirmation of the students to the judicial boards who said that a teen woman being killed by her obsessed stalker was the result of her manipulation of him by 'seemingly boasting about her sexual promiscuity, promiscuity and quote, causing his frustration that led him to murder her'. In light of these and other examples, why do you think the bulk of Wippman's energies to confront the chilling of free speech has been directed at the left rather than what he himself has identified as the primary threat on the right.
MD: I think that it's pretty appalling that that's what he wrote in his Inside Higher Ed piece. I think giving more credibility to the concept of cancel culture is extremely dangerous and anti-intellectual. I can't have any insight into who David Wippman is or why he would say these things. But I'm just gonna point out that actually in February of 2021, earlier that year, I guess, I was targeted by an alumni of Hamilton. Where this person emailed me and David Wippman and specifically talked about a tweet that I put out, specifically, said, "I find the timing of Professor Durrani's statement both ironic and unfortunate, given the preparation and recent circulation of draft proposals to advance diversity, equity and inclusion at Hamilton. I regard the proposals in general as an effort to make society at Hamilton more civil. The tweet is uncivil." And then this person goes on to say "As a firm believer in free speech, I regard Professor Durrani as having every right to express her opinion, she should not be scolded, censured or canceled. Her statement, however, is disappointing." So this white man emailed a white man who is the president of Hamilton College, and discussed me and discussed my tweet as something to do with what he thinks my rights are, and then goes on to use exactly this language of cancel culture. As if this is kind of the normal you know, business as usual and Hamilton, that an alumni is doing this type of thing, and it's not. And that's exactly my point, is that like, if anybody has been canceled, at Hamilton it's been any efforts to address issues around justice by people like David Wippman, like other administrators who actually have the opportunity to do something else, but they always kind of take the status quo position. And I think, again, the status quo position at Hamilton is well known. And, you know, your research Saphire does a brilliant job of helping us understand the kind of like, historical legacy of suppressing any efforts to actually question how things are done. And that, you know, the administration seems to actually rely on not only, you know, student turnover, but also faculty turnover. There's a certain degree that faculty who have genuine kind of desire to address these things get exhausted, one way or another, and that is partially based on, you know, their circumstances, you know, but at the same time you see it across the board. I really do think that any conversation that I've had with senior faculty of color has, for the most part, made it very clear that this has been going on for a long time. That a lot of people have felt that their intellectual work is constantly questioned, undermined and diminished in multiple ways. That the particular pedagogical kind of richness that you have when you have Black professors and Muslim professors and Asian professors, and immigrant professors is lost. And I think that's, like another part of the educational kind of the miseducation at Hamilton, is the ways that this is not really discussed and understood, even by my colleagues. I think that's why I'm not really sure what to say, because I feel like there's one part where it's like, sure, the college administrators should have better responses to various challenges as they come up, especially around race. Especially after so many years of this being an issue, you think that they would have figured out something by now, but it really doesn't seem so. But on the other hand, you know, I don't understand what kind of institution of higher learning or you know, education we have, where the ways that so many important issues are constantly framed, is just wrong, inaccurate, and does not reflect any research that's been done, like in the last 10-20 years. And so people are able to sustain their ignorance. And it's so worrying, it's so dangerous, it really, it's very clear, it affects students. A lot of students who talk about also having chronic illnesses, and having those diagnoses while they're at the college. I mean, I'm 40, and feeling very stressed about the idea of having an illness for the rest of my days, but at the age of 19-20, to find out that this was happening. I mean, it's very scary. And I think like, again, it's not an individual kind of like thing, this is what we call an affect, the affect of Hamilton like is a structure, a feeling. And a lot of people understand exactly what it is, you see students who are experiencing the challenges and there's like a connection that you have on these issues. Because just even witnessing, and recognizing that each of you are going through something does so much. And that's what I mean, I think like the last month or so that's become a much wider phenomena. But generally, that's always been the case of Hamilton since the time that I arrived, talking to students about these issues and trying to help them kind of understand what's going on. Students from all backgrounds. I mean, that's the thing, I think Hamilton does a bit of a disservice to everyone by constantly reducing everything to an issue around students of color or like, various kinds of like categories rather than addressing the systemic problems that affect all students of all genders, and abilities and backgrounds. It reproduces ignorances amongst the elite, and it constantly disenfranchises and harms everyone else.
ESS: Towards the end of your answer there, naturally touched on this next question about affect. So in preparation for this interview, you asked us to read some research by Mary Bucholtz. The research is called 'The Public Life of White Affects'. And in the piece she argues that all forms of white supremacy or uphold via "the feelings of white folks". She explains the four concepts of white affects, or dispositions and responses, primarily to discussions about race and racism: colormuteness, disavowal of racist intent, the discursive appropriation of "diversity" and the performance of white fragility. Could you explain how these terms work a little bit more? And also offer some examples of how that manifests at Hamilton? And in particular, what role does respectability politics and 'civility' play in these discourses?
MD: Yeah, thank you so much for looking at Mary Bucholtz's work because I think it's just very rich. The analytic kind of power of these concepts and kind of putting them together and seeing them as against a phenomena that needs to be kind of seen. And then also, it's connected to what we're talking about here. So one of the things that she says about white affects is that white affects enable all white people to materially perpetuate and benefit from racism, whether or not we individually align with overt white supremacist ideologies. And so this is kind of, again, an important frame in terms of all of these particular affects, all these particular kinds of ways of this being expressed. Because what she's really pointing to, is that it's not possible to just kind of like, not take part in this process. When we're talking about white supremacy and we're talking about the fact that Westmoreland, which is only like, you know, 10 minutes away from Hamilton had KKK flyers distributed to it three years ago. That you have, the kinds of racism that have been occurring within Clinton in the Clinton public school for years. And largely just kind of like does not get addressed does not get kind of any work done around that. You have all the racisms of the area. And then you have the way that the college has produced its own white supremacist think tank in the area. Right? So when we're talking about white supremacy, I've had a conversation with administrators where I say, 'Yes, this is actually, you know, an example of white supremacy' and their immediate response is to be like, 'No', you know. I think this is where this idea of civility is very important to keep, also, at the same time. That there is a disavowal, that there is, 'it's not that bad, you can't say that'. And then on the other hand, you have, you know, a clear case of the most kind of like civil white supremacist, maybe that we've, we see on a regular basis, right, like, on TV and the media, there are sometimes kind of like frothing at the mouth and don't really kind of like, have the ability to keep it together. But this is an example of what it looks like, when they are comfortable. They are in a safe space, the whole area is safe for them. Of course, they feel like, of course, they're not going to be acting that way. Like that's only when there is, you know, the possibility of actually being held accountable. That's when we start to see the kind of like extreme reactions or the white fragility. I mean, that's all so common and Hamilton where, like, anytime, I've had conversations, and this is particularly the case with white women and Hamilton, white women faculty, were when we start to actually get into the specifics of how they are complicit in white supremacy at Hamilton College, they get really uncomfortable. You know, they start to kind of like talk about how uncomfortable they are. They start talking about, like, you know, there was a case of like somebody a few months ago on the listserv, where, you know, she told us how she felt really scared to send email and she's never felt that way to share her thoughts on the listserv. And it's just appalling because it's kind of like, have you talked to anybody who isn't white at Hamilton because we do not share our opinions. Most of the time, I don't actually tell people what I'm thinking about what's going on. I try to both be very strategic about when I speak up, and also how much energy I'm going to put into it because I actually have a lot of other things that I actually need to do, and not just fix Hamilton. And Hamilton will not be fixed by any one person, any few groups of people or any marginalized groups, it's actually going to require the hegemonic group to do something, which includes white women. And I don't see them moving on any of these issues. I don't see white women actually being able at Hamilton, especially, to take a backseat and acknowledge all the ways that they need to do the homework and then go do the homework. Go actually do the readings, don't just show up for events when you know, somebody is going to put in like hours of preparation and labor into making sure that this event goes off well, and helps everyone kind of learn about race and gender and all of these issues. How about you do something on your own and talk about whiteness, because that's the other thing that we just don't talk about, like, people will talk about everything else in Hamilton, they'll talk about gender, they'll talk about sexuality, they'll talk about class, they will not be able to talk about race. For example, when we're talking when I'm teaching anthropology, a lot of students will do field notes, and they'll remark on all of these other features when they're doing ethnographic kind of like observations. But race very rarely will come up, it'll come up very frequently, when students of color are doing field notes, where they'll be noticing kind of like how these dynamics are playing out, for example, in the dining hall, but with the other ones, there's no mention of it. And I think these are the ways that students are just picking up the messages that they're receiving from the faculty, from the orientation, you know, from the way the administrators organize how they're talking about these issues. And the fact is, that when race is discussed, it's disgust in a way that is diminishing of individuals in this kind of manipulative talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, right? So like the fact that there's all these just kind of like hidden ways that racialization is constantly occurring. I don't want to go into every single type right now, because I think that would probably be too long. But I think that it's just really sad for me, when I constantly hear students tell me that they're experiencing these issues. And I know that faculty that I talked to, are also experiencing these issues. And for some reason, we're all enduring it, we're all just kind of like, trying to get through it when there has to be another way. It needs to just be very public, that this is what you're going to get into when you come to Hamilton. And people can then make a decision based on that. But you know, being prepared to get into all of this, rather than coming in expecting that things are going to be different and actually finding out that that's not the case.
SR: No, you're totally fine. I definitely resonate a lot with like the white womanhood, obviously, for like the student aspect of it and having to deal with white, female peers.
MD: Many white men have their own issues, there's all kinds of issues, there's ways that we should not reduce politics to any identity category. I think that's also really important, that we recognize that various people who represent, you know, other backgrounds, non white backgrounds actually reproduce these problems. I understand that there's a lot more going on when we start getting into those kinds of politics. And so I want to kind of like leave space to have more nuanced conversations about that. But at the same time, I think what we do also need to see is that all of these people are tacitly reproducing it, or people leave. And I think that this year's resignations, actually most clearly kind of like demonstrates that there's only so much that individuals feel like they can overcome. And at some point, people are choosing their health and future over kind of like being at an institution where they're not being taken care of.
SR: Definitely appreciate all that, especially the mention of like, it's not just like the people who are part of this oppressed class that perpetuate all of this, which I think is something that it's very difficult to have conversations about. At least in my experience, it's very difficult to have conversations about that at Hamilton. So I really appreciate that all. So the next question goes a little bit back to Wippman's piece that we mentioned earlier where he identifies a similar concept that you've talked about, in your research, the right wing outrage machine. You've spoken extensively about how you've been targeted by an internet outrage machine. Yet Hamilton, you know, even though Wippman is talking about a very similar thing, hasn't actually taken much action to address this problem. So what do you feel Hamilton as an institution should be doing to support professors in situations like yours?
MD: Thank you. Yeah, I really appreciate the mention of the right wing outrage machine, because the way that I use that is coming out of Carol Anderson's work on white outrage specifically, right, where she has, you know, masterfully kind of laid out the ways that there is a particular kind of response to the success of Black people, the achievement of Black people. Like, for example, the Tea Party, the entire movement began in response to Obama's election and celebration as the first black president. So that's the first thing. The person who David Whitman references wrote a piece in medium in February of 2020. Matthew McInnis, who is a professor of politics, and has a book on the rise of postmodern conservatism. So this person's way of framing the same concept, just because again, it's the same concept does not mean it has the same kind of analysis of it, is really kind of just referring to the media that's kind of like operating in various ways, but not really kind of like explaining what they mean by machine. But when I'm talking about machine, what I'm talking about is Isaac Kamola's work and other scholars who are looking at the ways that organizations like AHI, and organizations like Campus Reform are funded by the same kind of like dark money that's coming from conservative donors. And that this large kind of like financial apparatus that supports these various right wing outrage projects is a much older project that actually was birthed after the civil rights movement in the late 60s and in the 70s in an effort to undo the gains that were made by the Civil Rights Movement. And so, as an immigrant from Pakistan, I am very well aware of this history, not just as an immigrant, but as a scholar of migration, immigration and race. I mean, this is what I have had to understand and position my racialization within this particular apparatus, and to have a clear understanding of why it is that I have now come under the kind of like target of the white supremacist outrage machine that is attached informally to Hamilton College. And that's the other issue with this Inside Higher Ed piece is that he seems really insistent on saying that this is external, you know, and the internal is about the canceled culture thing, which again, is just not a thing. But it is a tactic of the right wing outrage machine, to basically through a kind of specific digital like strategy of putting it on all these platforms seeks to actually cancel faculties. And when I say cancel, I mean, to fire, to remove, to actually get them dismissed from their positions. Campus Reform, which is an organization that somebody at Hamilton forwarded the event that I organized on October 29, has in their headquarters, what they call their victory wall where they put up their, you know, wins of getting a faculty member disciplined or dismissed, or fired. So when he's talking about these issues, I just don't know what he's talking about because it just seems like a completely kind of like made up story that him and this other scholar, want to kind of like put out in, you know, a major publication, but does nothing for these issues at the college. Now what could do something is to actually have a digital harassment policy to actually have something in place to investigate and understand various cases of digital harassment, whether it's faculty harassment or student harassment, because there's different, you know, platforms where the harassment happens. And this also then requires that the college, you know, learn something about the internet and find out like, what, how it works and how these various platforms work. Because I think, you know, it's well and good to have digital studies professors. But there's more to what's going on here than all of this. And some of us actually have been doing this work. But unfortunately, it's still not really understood by our colleagues.
ESS: Yeah, that's very consistent with everything that you can say. A lot of the time the direction is entirely the focus and attention of what administration is talking about, and thinking about is totally disconnected from actual discourse among people who know what they're talking about on that particular issue. And it's guided by other motives. So you also asked us to read a piece, entitled 'The Campus is Sick' by Arjun Shankar, which talks about mental health and college campuses writ large, through the experiences of Hamilton students, you've also written quite a lot about your own struggles with health and disability as a consequence of the targeting that you've experienced at Hamilton, and you've talked about it in this interview. The piece starts by discussing the difference between the reality that the mental health crises at colleges are caused by environmental and systemic landscapes, "that are established within higher education". In your own experiences, how have you seen Hamilton try and disconnect itself from the responsibilities that has to protect the health of students, faculty and staff? And where does the distribution of these burdens to protect students, faculty and staff, particularly marginalized communities, land as a result of the college administration taking that step back?
MD: I think I want to first say that I think that the people who are working on these issues like the director, I think there's a lot of work that's done to address these issues. But there are, again, these systemic realities that you can't kind of just put a bandaid on and expect that it's going to be enough for a wound that's been festering for years, and actually has gangrene on it. Like, I'll just put like a bandaid on it and just be like, but it's a really nice band aid and it's like really pretty. So it kind of feels like that's what's going on with the various kinds of things that are done. There's more that needs to be done, I know that there's people who have done research on what needs to be done. So I don't want to kind of, like speak for that. But at the same time, what I really liked about Arjun, you chapter is that it makes a direct connection between the forms of learning that are happening on campus or the forms of learning that are possible on campus, and what's encouraged on campus in terms of learning and what's discouraged and what's kind of like, not supported. You know, even something like for example, I know in the ALCC there's no computers there right, like that's what somebody recently was telling me that like, there's no computers in the study area over there. On the other hand, you have places in Hamilton like we have a rock climbing wall, for example, right? Like, we have this incredibly kind of like luxurious facility, which is much more in line with a country club or something like that. And then when it comes to having like, you know, adequate services for students. Not even comparable services, I mean adequate for their purposes. We owe people a certain level of support, especially when it's available everywhere else on campus. But it's actually this kind of marginalization that happens within the college that makes it impossible to really have any real conversation. Because we don't see that., we're not addressing those kinds of like marginalizations. So the way that for example, you know, SMART, which was the student organization that was led by survivors and supporting survivors on campus for years, I was their faculty advisor, and they were trying to bring about all these changes. They were trying to lead, you know, training with the Greek organizations on campus. They created these workshops and like contracts to kind of like create a system where they're providing support and education throughout the year, for free. They were doing all this work, and the college was taking it and the college was using it, but they weren't paying them. But then on the other hand, I know that certain centers on campus, certain offices on campus have so much money. It's just this very stark disparity that's visible in multiple ways in terms of how resources are distributed, in terms of what how much understanding there is around updating policies that are around discrimination versus kind of like other policies. You know it's just so glaring. And then when you bring it up, the response is so deafening in terms of its silence, that it's disheartening. And I think, that disheartening, kind of sadness, emotional overwhelm, of constantly being told that you don't matter, nothing that you're doing really matters, you're actually not supposed to be here. Which is communicated in all kinds of ways, including, you know, just a week ago, where somebody who I had been on a committee with for a year, a senior, white, tenured faculty did not remember my name and it's kind of like, right, you not only do not remember my name, you actually don't have any problem telling me that you don't remember my name. And these are the kinds of everyday microaggressions, and then there's these macro aggressions where you get targeted and you don't get any support. And it just kind of gets to the point that it makes you feel ill, and white people cannot understand that particular illness that comes as a result of white supremacy. There's all kinds of ways that we feel ill when we're made to feel this way. But at Hamilton, that particular thing is just so visceral, and it's because the area is white supremacists. The college has had a white supremacist organization in close proximity of it for the last like 12-13 years. That makes the particular kind of racisms that are encountered at Hamilton, even more painful. And that has has all kinds of effects on people's health.
SR: So our final question is about this concept of Hamilton or this understanding of Hamilton as an anti intellectual institution. So what do you mean when you refer to Hamilton as an anti-intellectual institution? And how does this anti-intellectualism tie in with Bucholtz's argument about wide effects?
MD: Yeah, I think it ties into a number of things that we've already discussed, so I'm going to just try to make the connections. I think that I see the most interesting, compelling intellectual work to be that which challenges us to understand our current realities in the world, in a way that actually moves us towards addressing those, especially for the next generation and the next generation. I think that the fact that you know, in my classes, for example, we recently read a letter that was exchanged between four Black students and Elihu Root from 1921. Where the four students were requesting Root's assistance in ensuring that a production that was happening on campus did not use the N word. And for those students at that time, in the 20s, they were very clear on what was the impact of having a college production where a slur was used, and that it would impact the ways that they were treated by other students on campus. And Root's response was to say, you know, basically, I'm not going to do that. And you're making a big deal out of nothing. That was kind of the end of that exchange. And I'm sure the production went on and people continued to frequently use the N word over those years. That students knew very well what that was doing and how dangerous it was. Even now you'll meet people who will say things like, "Oh, that was just how it was at that time". No, people knew at that time when they were being dehumanized, they knew when they were being disrespected, and they tried their very best to address those issues. And you see, again, in the 60s, that this was going on at Hamilton, there were various movements on campus to address racial inequities, and there's a paper a term paper that one of the trustees, you know, row Kennedy at the time, where he specifically talks about Hamilton College being a white supremacist institution, in those words. So it was a white supremacist institution in 1921, 50 years later in 1970, you have a trustee saying very same thing and many other interesting things. It's a really great report, people should read it. And then you have similar issues going on various groups on campus talking about this needs to be addressed. And you have the same kind of response from the administration, that affect, that particular kind of like disavowal of racism, that white fragility. Or the fact that 'things are civil on campus, and that's kind of like the priority, and we don't want to have any agitation, we don't want to have anyone actually get upset and very quickly, let's like, make things better' versus kind of like sitting with the discomfort, I think that's the issue is that people just don't have the capacity to do that. And I think until they do, we will continue to see many of the same issues. And I really hope that all this work that you all are doing to make sure that this conversation continues in various forms is such a service. For whoever is going to be listening or reading over the next few years, because we need to have records of all of these things. So that way, they can't at least lie to us that, 'oh we already took care of that'. No, you've never taken care of it. We have records, we have all the receipts, of all the ways that you haven't taken care of it. So don't do that. Like if you just admitted that you're not going to do anything. That's fine. That's what we already know. So sorry, that's a little depressing. I think I think we need to see white students and white faculty actually really make this something that they care about very, very sincerely and consistently over time. And that's the only way.
ESS: What did both of you think about how this interview has gone? The stuff we've touched on? Maybe some closing reflections before you close out?
SR: Yeah, I definitely resonated with a lot as a black Femme and disabled person and all these different things. And as someone who's faced my own level of targeting, from some of these external factors. And I think one thing that I've been thinking about a lot was reading what I was doing my research on. It was talking about, like this politics of refusal, and marginalized people just like outright refusing to take part in these processes as much as possible. And I think that I've definitely been, in a way, practicing that in the last couple of months, as I've separated myself from a lot of the work that I've done at Hamilton. And as I've really focused in on my research, which has allowed me to develop an even deeper understanding of Hamilton as I'm literally looking and analyzing the ways that Hamilton is a white supremacist institution via looking at these different histories of student rebellions. And I think that it's something that you know, you taught you mentioned earlier about, Hamilton as an institution isn't going to change without like, white people helping. But I also think that like, I hear that and I also kind of feel like well, Hamilton as an institution like will never change in the ways it needs to unless it like is abolished and like recreated outside of like settler colonialism, the white supremacist and white supremacy and all of these different things. I think, for me, it's deeply in relation with this politics of refusal. The act of like doing things like resigning and just stepping away and walking back and thinking about like, what does it mean, to take care of ourselves and and very often taking care of ourselves means implementing this politics of refusal and just refusing to actually take part in these processes. But also like, what does it mean, if we just like all step away and stop, like working within these institutions, and attending these institutions and doing those different things? And, you know, something that's also very difficult is like, it's so impossible. Like, what do we do after that? It's so impossible to then create something of our own because of how impossible it is. We cannot create our own institutions without somehow being involved, in capitalism, and white supremacy, and all these different things, because as you said, everything that we do, is part of these greater systems. You know, I think of like, HBCUs, and how these were institutions that were created to support Black students. And in reality, they perpetuate all these versions of harm, in all kinds of ways. I've been thinking a lot about this idea of like, what does it mean to step away? And what does it mean to create our own spaces? And what does it mean to stop giving our labor and I think that this interview, and your resignation and a bunch of other than all the other resignations happening, and myself stepping away from different things? Like it's just something that's like, really, really on my mind, and I think it's just incredibly difficult to navigate. And so this kind of also made me think about it more.
MD: I know, I said that white faculty, or students need to step up. And I say that, because I want to, I want to point out the group that is doing the least. But you're right. I mean, there are structural systemic ways that unless we talk about, for example, that majority of the board is made up of people in finance, and that is an industry. Again it's not about the individual, because I really hope that they can hold on to this fact, for a little bit while I go through this, which is not about the individual, it's about what they become a part of, by becoming a part of that world. And that applies to those folks, that applies to students who are graduating and going into those kinds of lines of work. It's not so much that you, as an individual, are guilty, but when you become a part of those systems, you will be doing things that will connect you to violences, to all kinds of projects that reproduce inequality and make things harder for those who have already been enduring the worst. And that is part of that system. And so I agree that, you know, how does one address that? I think that one way is to have a strike. We just don't take part in whether this is a whole system, or an extremely important part of the system, let's say, you know, Hamilton's communications, to completely refuse to participate in those systems, until those systems do what they need to do to take care of the people, right? Like there needs to be some very clear space to hold the system accountable and understand what are the levers that actually will actually motivate change. There needs to be, for example, faculty and students on the board of trustees. There needs to be multiple. If you want to have all these committees, let's stop hiring administrators and let's start creating systems with people who are part of the educational process. Not just coming from the outside and, and looking at it and being like, 'Oh, it's so nice. I feel so good working at a college’, but actually the people who do the work. Actually bring them into those conversations and compensate them for all this extra labor to not be like, 'Oh, you're just so privileged for getting all the opportunity to do this extra work while your white colleagues don't have to do any of it and continue to kind of like coast through'. I think we have to talk about all that stuff, right? So it's a lot, but I also want to leave space for people who are listening and want to kind of like, think of what they can do. I think the very first thing is to like, read, read a lot. Do your homework, do your readings, and not just what people tell you in class, but actually go outside and try to understand like, what are you not being assigned in class and why? And get into all of that.Thank you so much for creating this conversation. Eric, do you have any thoughts?
ESS: Yeah, I think specifically on that last thing about creating this conversation: You know I applied to Hamilton early decision, I came from a very white town that was very overtly explicitly all of the things that we are critiquing about Hamilton. Very in your face, lots of very explicit, like threats of violence and things like that. And in looking at all of Hamilton's marketing, and this DEI stuff that they have across the website, all of these images that they have of students that are so diverse, and all of these students talking about how great here it is, I was very naive at the time, and I bought it, I ate it all up. I was like, "I'm going to go to Hamilton, and I'm going to be in a genuinely progressive, enriching, vibrant community where everybody cares about these issues, and everybody is committed to working on them together, including, and especially the college administration". And I learned very quickly within the first year of me being here, how untrue that is, and I'm still learning how untrue that is, as I see all of these experiences that are had by so many students and faculty, and just people in general affiliated with the institution. I think, you know, there are so few spaces on this campus at the moment, where that message of what those experiences are, and how they're shaping the institution are actually put out there. Right? Like, it's only really been this year, that these issues are really like being put like front and center in a way that is attracting a lot of attention. And students are putting together protests and stuff. and there's an ongoing conversation about these things in a way that transcends these singular moments. I think Hamilton's activism history has really been characterized by situations where, something happens, people react, and then like, that's that. And to the point of the trustees and the governance of the institution, we were doing some research on this over the course of this year. It is literally impossible in the bylaws and charter of Hamilton College, for the alumni to, by their own volition, enact democratic control over the college. Because of the way the Board of Trustees is composed, it is like a three quarters majority, charter trustees, which are selected by the Board of Trustees themselves, and the other quarter are elected who for the past, numerous decades have just been selected by the Alumni Council. They have uncontested elections, where they just get the seat. There is no way that alumni could just come together and say, 'We're gonna vote in a bunch of new trustees to change this', because you can't get a majority. Like, it's not possible to get that majority. So when I think about those things, I think both of what you had to say about refusal, and withholding labor, and withholding image, and withholding all of these things that we offer. The college is so powerful, because that is ultimately what the institution runs off of. And if we withhold that the whole model comes collapsing down. And I think that's what's so inspiring about a lot of what these unions are doing on campus.
MD: I think it's really, really important that work continues and at the same time, I think for those who are not part of those conversations, there needs to be a very clear way that they're also part of the work. Because otherwise it becomes like 'Oh, those are those students who do that', right? Like it's always like a group, I think the framing of Our Hamilton, of making it our and kind of really creating politics around what that means and kind of being really clear in helping. That's what needs to happen. But I think that's also very lofty and finals are coming up. So I also you know, we're kind of cognizant of that.
SR: Thank you. So much always a pleasure. This is going to be posted tomorrow. Thank you for all of your work, especially in the last few months, since you've like officially resigned, I think that you've definitely helped to inspire a growing understanding of how Hamilton actually operates. Thank you.
MD: Thank you. I mean, I think I've been inspired by students who have been doing the research on these issues for years now. And I feel like we've been collaborating on this work, you know, with different students and different student leaders who've shared with me what they've been going through. So I see it as, before I leave, I just want to make sure that I just give all of it before I leave, because when I leave, I'm leaving, that's for sure. I'm out, I'm really sick of it. But until then, the last few weeks, I just want to make sure that whatever I have to give is going to students. And I think that's what I love about teaching. And what I've always loved about teaching is just kind of like hearing from students over the years and hearing kind of like, 'oh, yeah, there's one thing we did actually, like connects with this thing that I'm doing now'. And I I hope that what we've been talking about connects really clearly with something else, because this is across the board. We're all going to be dealing with this for a while. We all know that. Thank you.