Professor Mariam Durrani Reflects on her Resignation Letter: "Whose Hamilton College is this?"
"Whose Hamilton College is this?"*
*For more, see Nas’ 1994 “The World is Yours”
From Gabriel Garcia Marquez “One Hundred Years of Solitude”:
"He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves."
Why did I make my letter public?
I made my letter public so that students received my unvarnished truth about their institution.
I wanted to be transparent about my decision to leave and to teach students that we ALL matter (not just white, cis-het, abled-bodied people). I especially wanted students to know that my resignation is not because I didn't try to address the challenges I faced OR that my pedagogical focus on studying structural inequality through the frameworks of racial capitalism and decolonial feminism is in name or on the syllabus only.
I hope that reading my resignation letter alongside a brief analysis of the differentiated responses I received from admin, faculty, and students coherently illustrates how young people are waaay better accomplices in today’s fight against white supremacy on college campuses.
A selected review of the last three weeks–
Feb 14: I sent my resignation letter to the Dean, President, and department colleagues. In response, I received two emails: a few sentences from the Dean acknowledging my letter, and another from a tenured professor, associate dean, and settler archaeologist that referred to the systemic forms of anti-Muslim racism I’ve endured as simply: “problematic inflection points.” I also spoke to some colleagues in person. And that’s it.
Feb 16: I told some of my students whose response was to cry and express grief for me and for themselves.
Feb. 17: I posted my letter on my office door and on my public instagram account.
Feb 23: My students had analyzed/annotated my letter, created an infographic to explain it, and organized a teach-in/protest, six days since I had shared my letter.
March 4: Nearly 300-400 students, faculty, and students showed up and affirmed my FULL humanity as well as situated my resignation as only one of seven QPOC faculty and staff who have resigned this academic year. [This larger context is quite notable given that Hamilton College has both a Chief Diversity Officer and recently had the President-appointed Diversity Advisory Council, appointed after the George Floyd protests in 2020.]
What have I learned?
1. After trying work “within the system” for five years (including organizing 3 DoF-sponsored reading groups, 2 Humanities Center-sponsored lecture series on race/racism with colleagues in history, multiple Levitt Center collaborations, endless hours of labor in emails, meetings, etc. with colleagues who remain comfortably ignorant), I realized that only a direct and total refusal to allow my lived experience and suffering slide could move me towards a healthy future–a truth that matters more than this or any other tenure-track job, at least to my family, friends, and students. I realized that only by leaving this toxic and dehumanizing workplace could I reclaim my power and get unstuck from the everyday traps laid for women of color faculty at institutions like Hamilton College. If I don’t defend myself, who will?
2. I have observed how most faculty colleagues are so disciplined into Whiteness that upon hearing about my experiences of digital targeted harassment due to my employment at Hamilton–repeatedly since 2017–they came up with little to no ideas about how to organize a clear condemnation of the harassment I have endured. They watched me suffer while offering personal "I'm so sorry"-type, “No one takes those guys seriously”-type, and other similarly insufficient responses. However I must recognize Professors Peter Cannavo, Nigel Westmaas, and two students Saphire Ruiz and Eric Santomauro-Stenzel, with whom I co-organized a panel on targeted harassment at Hamilton in October 2021. I also wish to thank the colleagues and students who came in good faith to the conversation. To them, I remain very grateful.
3. Contrastively two weeks after I posted my letter, so many students immediately understood what was at stake if people don't stand up for each other in the face of white supremacy, especially at such close proximity as we have at Hamilton College/Clinton. They FELT my pain and wanted to support me. Most importantly, they did NOT transfer the labor of this support back on to me. They did not expect me to fix the problem that was directly hurting me, my health, my family, and my work. Their work affirmed my full humanity and nourished my soul in ways that will stay with me all my life.
In Urdu, we have a saying that you need two hands to clap. Relatedly in a 2018 essay, I wrote about how the power of #MeToo came from it being an atypical response to a revelation of abuse or assault. Since sharing my letter with students, I’ve deeply felt how they did not hesitate (at all!) to see my humanity in ways that the majority of my colleagues did not, could not (and honestly who knows what they thought). On that note, I am not concerned with hearing about anyone’s intentions or excuses. As a public linguistic anthropologist, I am interested in the everyday practices of whiteness that tacitly allow white supremacy and racism to flourish in plain view. That's why I teach students what Robin Kelley meant when he said: Racism is for white people. The rest of us are well-aware that racism is wrong, unethical, immoral, hurtful/ableist, and (significantly for higher education) profoundly anti-intellectual ignorance.
Moreover, it is not my work to protect the feelings of white and white-aspiring colleagues. If anything, it is my job as an anti-colonial Muslim feminist scholar to reveal how their actions tacitly greenlight racism and white supremacy, especially when the rest of us feel the ableist logics of whiteness so deeply that it actually makes us sick.
There's a very good reason why so many white cishet men (and women) love working at Hamilton College and living in Clinton. Their easily constructed over-representation compared to the purposeful under-representation of minoritized students, faculty and students should, of course, be of concern to everyone who believes in racial and gender justice. However as I've told my students, while I do not believe anyone is a lost cause, neither is everyone my cause.
Lastly, I want readers to understand that studying race, gender, or class-based systems of inequality is not simply some intellectual exercise, project, or paper. There are real stakes to this work; for some, it is an existential crisis. Ask yourself where have you been in this conversation and where do you want to be from this moment forward.
Professor Durrani’s resignation letter:
February 14, 2022
Dear Dean Suzanne Keen,
Since 2017, I have given Hamilton students, the anthropology department, the curriculum, and the College community the best of my abilities and knowledge. Unfortunately, this exchange has not been equitable. As a tenure-track woman of color faculty member, my employment at the College has been profoundly shaped by: 1) a pattern of targeted harassment by right-wing elements in and around the College, and 2) a pattern of institutional inaction and gaslighting when I raise these concerns. Given the patterns of targeted harassment and institutional inaction, I have concluded that my health is at risk the longer I work at the College. For this reason, I believe that I have no choice, but to resign from my employment as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the College. Accordingly, please accept this as my formal resignation from Hamilton College effective at the end of academic year 2021-2022.
As an employee and as an established scholar of racialization and anti-Muslim racism, I have documented my experiences of discriminatory harassment as a result of my position at the College extensively: in email correspondence, in-person and zoom meetings with College officials, and in my scholarship, specifically my essay in American Anthropologist “Digital Infrastructures of the Outrage Machine: An Autoethnography of Targeted Faculty Harassment.” Throughout my tenure, I raised my concerns about dealing with discriminatory harassment with my department, the administration, and faculty colleagues. These concerns have not been adequately addressed nor have I been adequately supported by the College. This lack of support and protection from a pattern of discriminatory harassment, especially as a tenure-track woman of color faculty, has caused chronic stress and resulted in two diagnosed chronic illnesses.
When, in October 2019, I was targeted by an as-yet unidentified College listserv member when someone (either this person or their affiliate) forwarded my college-sponsored event announcement from the College events listserv to Campus Reform. After this incident, I provided very specific information regarding my experience of targeted harassment. I was very disappointed when I was informed that such harassment was deemed “episodic and not pervasive” and thus my experience did not fall within the legal definition of discriminatory harassment. During these months, I experienced severe arthritic flare-ups which led to my first diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disorder.
Although I was on sabbatical leave during the 2020-21 academic year, I was still the target of right-wing targeted harassment based on a post from my personal social media account. As I have detailed for the College, I was targeted by two emails, including one from an alumnus to the college president that my tweet was “uncivil” and “disappointing.” Itself, this email may not be remarkable, but given the progressive buildup over four years—from May 2018 when I was first targeted by a woman working at the Alexander Hamilton Institute, a right-wing Clinton-based organization, to a search bot on my name’s mention on the Hamilton College news bulletin from January to June 2019 with right-wing faculty surveillance website Campus Watch, to the Oct 2019 Campus Reform targeting, to the Feb 2020 article and emails—represents a pattern of an organized campaign, possibly by someone affiliated with the AHI, to target my employment based on my race, ethnicity, religion, and gender identity. I have noted in my complaints with the College that there is a well-known student group affiliated with AHI and several current and former faculty behind the organization who have access to the campus listserv. By not taking any substantive action on my multiple requests for support, the College tacitly allowed this pattern to continue.
In early 2021, I retained legal counsel on this issue who educated me that, effective October 2019, the State of New York amended the Human Rights Law to specifically exclude the “severe and pervasive standard.” Instead, the standard is as follows: “Such harassment is an unlawful discriminatory practice when it subjects individuals to inferior terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of the individual’s membership in one or more of these protected categories.” When Dean Suzanne Keen and Chief Diversity Officer Terry Martinez told me that the College’s lawyers told them that my experience did not fit the legal definition of discriminatory harassment in Nov. 2019, I was not aware of the October 2019 amendment. As of today’s date, the current Hamilton College policy does not reflect this change and continues to state: “Discriminatory Harassment, including any action, language or visual representation, based on any characteristic protected by law other than gender, including race, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, veteran status, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive that it has the effect of unreasonably interfering with that person's work or academic performance, or that creates a hostile working, educational, or living environment is prohibited by this Policy, and is referenced herein as Discriminatory Harassment.”
In September 2021, I initiated a formal complaint with the Title IX office. At the same time, I organized a panel to educate the campus about targeted harassment at Hamilton College with faculty colleagues and students, which helped the Title IX office better understand the severe and pervasive issue of targeted discriminatory harassment at the College. Subsequently, the Title IX office acknowledged my official complaint and began an investigation process. However, before the process could be completed, I learned that I have fibromyalgia in December 2021.
I expect that my current Title IX complaint will be thoroughly investigated. I ask that I receive notice when it is completed as well as a copy of the report.
Thank you for your attention.
Corrections: Additional citation added (3/7/2022).