and the Professoriate
and vision in Emory's intellectual community
was concerned that as in many other areas of politics on this campus,
things were going to get unnecessarily polarized.
Doner, Associate Professor of Political Science
don't want to say no, it's not a hostile environment or yes, it
absolutely is, but we don't come to Emory thinking we're coming
to Candy Land.
Stewart, Assistant Professor of Religion
tenure-track assistant professors hired between 1987 and 1996
and Managerial Positions
held by African Americans in 2001-02
and Managerial Positions
held by Whites in 2001-02
Freedom, Privilege, and Responsibility
the university ready to chart a new course beyond the status quo?
Eugene K. Emory, Professor of Psychology
Begins at Home
at Emory and Oxford
Mark Auslander, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Oxford
2001/January 2002 issue
Reflections on Contemporary Race Theory
Mark Sanders, Professor of English and African American Studies
2000/January 2001 issue
talk about primate social behavior in my department a few weeks
ago ended with one colleague feeling blind-sided and extremely upset.
The image of female monkeys (Japanese macaques) engaging in same-sex
behaviors without explanatory interpretation was viewed as an attack
on the colleague’s sexuality.
Why should an entirely innocent talk about primate behavior, given
in the context of a scholarly presentation, evoke such strong feelings?
Can we generalize something instructive from this incident? When
someone seems socially insensitive or is unaware of how another
may interpret a statement, are they by default racist, sexist, or
homophobic? I do not think so.
I have been asked to write for the Academic Exchange in part because
one of the editors heard a talk I gave in November 2002 that shed
light on Emory University’s socio-cultural history. That history
includes me in some rather circuitous ways, and it has led to a
number of opportunities for me, as an African American professor
here, to reflect publicly.
At some level I feel as many of my colleagues in the African American
community do. Emory University seems to be struggling with efforts
to make a quantum leap above the social status quo. Some argue that
the university has a climate of racial and cultural insensitivity
and lacks diversity where power resides, with privilege for some
and inequality and disparity for others. Our social history has
brought us to this place, and we should try to understand contemporary
events in a historical context.
An examination of the racial and gender homogeneity across senior
administrative and academic positions of privilege, power, and influence
within this institution reveals a striking imbalance along ethnic
and gender lines. This imbalance is heightened by ethnic and gender
homogeneity at the most menial and subordinate levels within this
university. These circumstances result from social injustice that
has persisted for decades; thus any impulse that blames the victim
should be scrupulously resisted.
A culture that has existed for more than a century and a half perpetuates
disparities within the university. This culture of inequality is
the fuel that was ignited by a racial remark made in the anthropology
department and later reported in the local media. Hopefully these
thoughts and insights will help heal the wounds exposed by the remark
made by anthropology professor Carol Worthman last fall. I have
spoken with her on several occasions, most recently inviting her
to speak to my undergraduate seminar on spds (Stereotypes, Prejudice,
and Discrimination). Her courage compares favorably with that of
Tracy Rone, the anthropology professor who spoke out against racial
insensitivity, and who also accepted the invitation to speak to
my class. Both professors are admired and trusted colleagues, and
both distinguished themselves in my class, dispelling stereotypes
that had been created by media reports devoid of relevant context.
Those visits were learning experiences for Emory undergraduates
at many levels, the kind we as faculty often aspire to but seldom
achieve. Moved by these experiences, the class has considered writing
an open letter to the Wheel and Emory Report, addressed to President
Wagner, sharing their thoughts and perceptions. Colleagues, please
take note: the power of this learning experience prompted undergraduate
students to propose and volunteer for a writing assignment!
I understand Dr. Worthman’s remorse and the pain both faculty
members experience. One cannot be a compassionate human being and
remain insensitive to these feelings. Following the hostile media
reaction to the remark Dr. Worthman made, and the sympathy some
faculty voiced for her, I was compelled to call attention to the
plight of Dr. Rone, who was appalled by the lack of civility when
no one in the room reacted. Unknowingly, Drs. Rone and Worthman
acted as a catalyst for a reaction that had been percolating for
years. Indexed by the fallout from this unfortunate event, there
are broader issues within the university structure that need addressing.
The recent appointment of Earl Lewis as Provost is encouraging.
It is difficult, however, to separate the timing of this appointment
from events that have taken place on this campus over the past six
months. Thus the university has not yet passed the diversity test
of proactive administrative action. We should welcome Dr. Lewis
and encourage the administration to continue in its attempts at
diversity but recognize that one highly publicized and visible appointment
does not make for a diverse university.
What can Emory University do to get back on course? Our date with
destiny as a premier university has been postponed while we address
the social and political issues that surfaced again last fall. These
issues appear to divert attention and resources away from our central
mission. Have we met our destiny by following a course of racial,
ethnic, and gender disparity, along with insensitivity to disability
and sexual orientation? Are we uncomfortable with where destiny
has led us?
Perhaps we should chart a new course. Emory University would profit
from a vision that extends beyond reactionary efforts that typically
follow social upheaval. Our vision must include a social agenda,
and its mission must include some diversion of attention and resources
to issues that threaten our purpose. That purpose embraces teaching,
discovery, and helping to shape an uncertain future that includes
Can all social unrest on campus be anticipated and avoided? Any
attempt to do so would seem short-sighted and antithetical to the
purpose of social and intellectual discourse within the academy.
But it is possible to instill trust through sensitivity to human
suffering at all levels within the university. Aggrieved parties
should feel comfortable seeking redress for injustice from within
and only as a last resort seek outside intervention. The administration
and faculty must become more proactive. Fortunately some efforts
are already underway in the form of faculty- and staff-led discussion
groups that focus upon racial concerns and other forms of discrimination.
A committee has been formed to review and offer recommendations
for changes in the university’s Discriminatory Harassment
Policy. A challenge to protect Dr. Worthman’s freedom of speech,
in which she uttered a word many interpreted as a racial epithet,
prompted this action. For the record, Dr. Worthman does not think
her comments should be protected by academic freedom. This complex
issue requires a synthesis of reasoned and civil discourse that
encourages diverse views. The major challenge is to find a common
understanding among the faculty and staff that urges the university’s
good will and intentions. I think “responsibility” for
one’s behavior, including speech, is the common ground upon
which a consensus can be reached. What is the rationale for this
Most Americans are taught that they have “rights,” many
of which are encompassed and protected in the ideal conveyed by
the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some believe that
no matter how offensive someone’s expression may seem, if
it does not violate the civil rights of anyone else, then the offender
is protected by our Constitution. As difficult as this
concept can be to accept in practice, especially when exercised
by those whose actions amount to little more than creating ill will,
it speaks volumes about what constitutes civil liberty. Do we enjoy
civil liberty at no cost?
Are civil liberties reserved for those who have the power to enforce
their will, or is it to be enjoyed by all Americans? What individual
and communal debt does each person owe in a society where we accrue
privileges based in part on our right to freedom of expression?
I think that debt requires us to be responsible in the exercise
of that right.
In the academy, the most diverse views and opinions are accorded
respect and tolerance. Universities are part of the larger society,
not places where one retreats from the realities of everyday life.
Thus our actions within the academy must be viewed in the context
of the larger society. If anyone attempts to avoid confronting real
social disparities by seeking shelter in the academy, then they
are misguided. It is perhaps in the academy that we have the greatest
social responsibility, because it is here that we enjoy the greatest
privilege afforded by our freedom of expression.
Privilege within the academic community entails rights and freedoms
that are limited only by our collective intelligence and creativity.
These rights and freedoms range far beyond the narrow frameworks
of other institutions, such as corporations and governmental bodies,
and rightly so. In the academy our charge is to extend the boundaries
of current knowledge and thought to include civil discourse on topics
that often engender uncivil behavior. Within a democratic society,
we should not accord privilege, freedom, and civil rights the luxury
of expression without accountability. Within the academy, and in
the context of open discourse and the pursuit of knowledge, should
we not consider the issue of academic and scholarly responsibility?
Responsibility is no less elusive a concept than freedom, and yet
we all have an intuitive sense of what freedom and responsibility
mean. Fundamentally, freedom cannot be disconnected from responsibility.
The very foundations of democratic freedom entail a responsibility
to ensure those freedoms are exercised without bias. Herein lies
Since we cannot anticipate the infinite ways in which professors
might attempt to construct and articulate reality, it may be impossible
to write a discriminatory harassment policy invulnerable to challenge.
It is possible, however, to write a discriminatory harassment code
incorporating the idea that privileged opportunities for freedom
of expression carry a requirement for social responsibility.
Was my colleague who gave the talk about Japanese macaques being
responsible in freely expressing his views of animal behavior that
could offend some in the audience? Could he and should he have done
more to be sensitive to subtle forms of bias? Does the offended
colleague have any responsibility to be objective in assessing the
speaker’s motives and intent? It seems to me that both speaker
and listener have some responsibility that comes with freedom of
I think it is possible to fashion language in a discriminatory harassment
policy that adequately defines social responsibility within the
context of academic life, and at the same time protects our freedom
of expression. For me, freedom of expression does not mean, nor
does it imply, freedom from social responsibility.