Americans have endured months of health care fears, societal shutdowns, economic hardship and high-profile race protests. Emotions run high in public and private spheres, and so too have these concerns spilled into Bakersfield College. This year as the administration delivered the Opening Day meetings required for all faculty and staff, one term repeated over and over: “racial equity.”
What is “racial equity”? Despite demanding a greater portion of it at Bakersfield College, campus officials skirted any real definition of the term, insisting only that it demands our collective devotion. This ambiguity opens the gates to a variety of interpretations and actions, leading to policies that may not reflect our better angels.
In the final moments of the Opening Day meetings, one BC administrator traced the college’s vision of “racial equity” to an article written by USC scholar Estela Mara Bensimon, titled, “Reclaiming Racial Justice in Equity.” This work expressed overt hostility to “fair and race-neutral policies” and asserted that equity initiatives must begin with recognizing the fatal flaw of higher education: pervasive (but undefined) “values of whiteness.” She insisted, “Equity and equity-mindedness accept that it is whiteness — not the achievement gap — that produces and sustains racial inequality in higher education.”
What are these white norms from which people of color must be liberated? The National Museum of African American History recently made headlines when it posted a graphic which answered that question in detail. They hoped to free blacks from “aspects and assumptions of whiteness” which entailed such concepts as “self-reliance,” “the nuclear family,” “objective, rational linear thinking,” “hard work” and deferred gratification. Are these the oppressive ideas of whiteness from which Bakersfield College hopes to free students of color? If not, then what are the “values of whiteness” that the college administration is now dedicated to purging? Are we to abandon every proven determinant of success, along with any personal responsibility, by hurling unfounded accusations of institutional racism?
Bensimon’s article went on to explain that when students of color earn a lower grade, the blame lies with the “instructors’ racial expectations, classroom climate, or experiences of microaggressions” and that even “math performance is racialized.”
As an educator, I have long advocated for all my students, regardless of their race, class or gender. Consequently, I lament the college administration’s adoption of the USC model that emphasizes racial preferences, discredits proven metrics of success and exempts select students from accountability through speculative assumptions of racism. This new posture constitutes a gross departure from academic principles of evidence-based inquiry. Instead, it relies on anecdotal examples and emotional reasoning to reaffirm a preconceived conclusion of systemic racism, and then uses that unproven assumption to justify race-based advantages that may play out in priority registration, access to counselors, financial aid, and hiring practices. And according to the Bensimon article, any skepticism of this troubled ideology is to be castigated as “white supremacy.” In this Orwellian world those who disagree with racial preferences are definitionally racist. Not only is this a dangerous nostrum but placing it beyond question or debate is contrary to the principles of academic integrity.
We ought not turn our backs on the dream articulated by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He reflected on Jefferson’s aspirational declaration “that all men are created equal” and called on Americans to fully adopt that self-evident truth in public policy. King hoped that his “little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Sadly, this new trend of “racial equity” openly repudiates King and Jefferson’s plea for race-neutral policy.
Racial equity would ignore the plight of the poor white Oildale student raised by a single parent while investing ever more funds in programs to which upper-middle class students qualify based only upon their race. My heart breaks when I consider that colleges policies would privilege my Hispanic daughters at the expense of my white daughter. Even well-intended policies based on race remain blunt and inefficient tools to help those in need. All students deserve our advocacy. If this USC model of “racial equality” is indeed the new agenda at Bakersfield College, we should all be alarmed.
Matthew Garrett is a local educator and historian.