the time, the comment went unremarked. But soon afterward,
a black assistant professor filed a complaint with the Office
of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP), alleging discriminatory
harassment and claiming the anthropology department fosters
an environment in which racial hostility is tolerated. The
EOP, which looks into every formal complaint, launched an
investigation into the matter and made several recommendations,
all of which were implemented. The contrite faculty member
issued a verbal and written apology, as did the department
chair. The entire department was asked to undergo voluntary
diversity training, and the professor was reprimanded.
University issued a public statement acknowledging that
a highly inappropriate and offensive racial expression
had been used and explaining the action taken. The
University will continue to work to ensure all members
of our community respect and embrace the diversity Emory
values so highly, the statement read.
EOP did not find evidence of a pattern of workplace
hostility, however, and determined the racial epithet
to be an isolated incident. The faculty member, who has
let her written apology stand as her only public comment
since the event, is described by colleagues as highly
progressive and a knee-jerk liberal. In her
written statement she said that she used the phrase in
what she considered an academic context, and she deeply
regretted her words and their effect.
perhaps more importantly, the remark inadvertently broke
open the floodgates of an undercurrent of ambiguous race
relations that many at the University agree needs to be
dealt with more openly. The use of a racial slur in a
public setting may indeed be exceedingly rare, but black
students and faculty alike came forward and began to speak
of a campus climate that is tolerant of more subtle forms
of racism. Students, in particular, started to talk about
a sense of cultural apathy and social self-segregation,
wondering about the limiting effects of such separation
on their student experience. Faculty brought up the relative
shortage of African Americans in top Emory positions,
including tenured professorships. A series of articles
and editorials by various community members poured into
the Emory Wheel, Emory Report, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
unpleasant season should prompt not lingering acrimony,
but a renewed urgency to make Emory, already a national
treasure, a place where all feel welcome, valued and respected
as community members, read an AJC editorial.
December, a group of twenty-eight African American faculty
members and administrators wrote an open letter to President
James W. Wagner.
appreciate the administrations decision to impose
appropriate sanctions, they wrote. However,
we do not want to lose sight of the broader concern, which
is this: the presence of an institutional culture that
sustains a subtle (though occasionally overt) hostile
racial environment at Emory.
Sanders, director of the African American Studies program,
served on the committee that drafted the statement. The
facultys reaction, he says, stemmed not so much
from the comment itself as from a more generalized frustration
with the handling of incidents they deemed to be racially
the surface, its a direct response to statements
. . . stressing that the unfortunate incident was isolated,
Sanders says. Black faculty on the subcommittee
felt very strongly that this was yet another example in
a much longer history of expressions of racism.
a parallel effort, students including members of Emorys
Black Student Alliance organized the Concerned Students
Coalition in response to the comment and to another incident
that took place soon afterward on Halloween. Two non-Emory
students attended a campus Halloween party dressed in
blackface, commonly regarded as racially offensive because
of its historical connotations. Event organizers confronted
the visitors, who were not from the U.S., and asked them
to wash the blackface off, which they did. Still, the
appearance of blackface only served to feed the rising
tide of concern over the racial climate at Emory.
order for healthy reconciliation to emerge, we must recognize
that wounds have been opened and challenge the very framework
that has placed us in this vulnerable position,
the Concerned Students Coalition wrote. We dwell
in an environment that continuously wishes to forget but
never takes tangible measures to move forward.
the students and faculty included specific recommendations
for improving Emorys racial environment, such as
campuswide diversity training, a greater commitment and
increased funding to ethnic studies and programs, and
an objective review of the EOPs policies and procedures.
four months into his new role, President Wagner nonetheless
met the discourse openly, offering his own statement to
the University community and hosting a town hall meeting
and numerous other forums where he listened as much as
he talked. In a letter published in campus newspapers
the Wheel and Emory Report, he acknowledged that a
hurtful wound had been inflicted, though unintentionally.
deeper concern than the individual incidents, he
wrote, is how we must react to them as a wake-up
call that the business of building real community is not
a passive one. Rather, just like any would-be strong relationship,
the relationships within our community must be given deliberate
and ongoing attention. We must work now not just to heal
but to learn from these mistakes and go beyond healing
to work continuously to build strength as never before
in the fabric of our community.
the beginning, Wagner characterized the anthropology incident
and its aftermath as an opportunitya valuable chance
to take a hard, honest measure of the racial climate at
Emory and take tangible steps to strengthen the community.
Diversity is an integral part of Wagners vision
and an area where he means for Emory to prove itself a
like this dont occur if the community is fully healthy,
he said during an interview in his office one freezing
January morning. But I have real optimism that this
has come at a time whenperhaps more than in the
pastwe can use it to help us make a commitment to
Hauk 91PhD, Secretary of the University and the
author of a history of Emory, says the Universitys
shared response to the autumn events was perfectly
in keeping with the best of Emorys past.
first thing to note is that when everything hit the fan
the community came together to talk about it, he
says. It was clear that there could be no reconciliation
without accountability, but also that the ultimate aim
was the sort of community that can come only from reconciliation.
Those of us who have been at Emory a long time have seen
this phenomenon before. The cynical response is to say
that there is never anything but talk. But I believe talk
is indispensable to arriving at a shared story, which
undergirds our way of being together in a community. One
hopes that the story will be ennobling and not one that
leads to despair.
scant half-century after desegregation, scholars of race
relations say historical racism still shadows many campuses
even as they make deliberate efforts to diversify. The
Chronicle of Higher Education reported on five incidents
of a particular type of racial insensitivityblackfaceduring
a single month in 2001; similar incidents were noted at
a half dozen other respected institutions since 1991.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, two Georgia
State University fraternity members appeared in blackface
at an off-campus party in January 2004. The phenomenon
is not confined to the South; one of the episodes reported
by the Chronicle took place in Ohio, and Cornell University,
in Ithaca, New York, reported an incident of blackface
in February 2004.
the wake of a June 2003 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court
striking down a point-based affirmative-action policy
at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, universities
nationwide have been challenged to fine-tune their positions
on race-conscious admissions, most recently at the University
of Georgia. And the Ivy Leagues Brown and the University
of Alabama at Tuscaloosa are among those dealing with
the complicated question of reparations related to the
institutions connections to the slave trade in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
isnt the first institution to grapple with the equally
complex question of why all the black kids sit together
in the cafeteria. In fact, thats the title of a
book by Beverly D. Tatum, now president of Atlantas
historically black Spelman College. Tatum views minorities
tendency to stick together as part of the natural process
of finding and affirming their racial identity, and almost
no one, including Emory students, seems to think thats
Hunter, a lanky, easygoing junior from Tallahassee majoring
in sociology, says there is definitely a process of self-segregation
on campus, but it doesnt bother him much. I
have never felt unwelcome by white students; it just so
happens that I usually find myself in groups of black
students, Hunter says. I dont think
anybody feels excluded.
students do self-segregate, but it is not an inherently
bad thing, agrees Juno Lawrence, an African American
junior from Colorado majoring in international studies
and Spanish with a minor
community building and social change. Segregation
occurs naturally with large groups of people because individuals
tend to identify with people whose experiences and histories
are similar to their own. However, this can, and has,
become a problem when one never steps outside of that
safe comfort zone.
a freshman, adds junior Samuel Wakefield, like
most black students, I frequented what has been termed
the black hole because that is where most
of my friends sat and ate. The same can be said for other
ethnic groups who segregate themselves in the [Dobbs University
Center] and other places on campus. There is nothing wrong
with being comfortable with people like yourself; the
problem arises when our comfort keeps us from engaging
with people who are unlike ourselves.
its this high degree of voluntary separation that
worries President Wagner. To be a true scholarly
community, a university must be a safe place, but not
just for diverse groups and individuals to coexist,
Wagner says. That is not enough. A university must
be a safe place, of course, but it must also encourage
encounter and engagement among diverse groups.
Edwards, an African American College senior from Houston
who was a key leader in organizing the Concerned Students
Coalition, says the normally tepid student climate shifted
and heated up in the aftermath of the anthropology affair.
The vast majority of the 250 or so students who joined
the response effort were African American.
think black students felt like white students were uninterested,
like it was not their problem, Edwards says. They
wanted to treat it like an isolated incident. But our
point was, [racial] incidents have been happening very
regularly here. This is a climate that makes people comfortable
enough to say things like that. We were just hoping it
would not be swept under the rug, that there would be
an institutional reaction that demonstrates Emorys
Wheel editor-in-chief Andrew Ackerman, who is white, views
the recent and ongoing debate as a welcome chance for
some healthy activism and airing of opinions. The pages
of the Wheel have offered the words of blacks and whites,
students and faculty, alumni, Wagner, and the Wheel staff,
training a particularly bright spotlight on the EOP.
are some perceptions, I think, among minority students
that there are deep-rooted problems, not just isolated
incidents, Ackerman says. And for white students
who dont have to grapple with these issues every
day, they are shocked. They really dont discuss
race because they dont have to. So for students,
its an issue a lot of people have begun talking
about and its a little tense. But I think its
the faculty who really have to deal with it the most.
their open letter to President Wagner, black faculty referenced
a series of well-documented insults to African Americansincluding
blackface ridicule and outright racial confrontationsdating
back at least twenty-five years. In addition to
a number of racially charged situations involving students,
there have been at least two formal charges of discriminatory
hiring practices and a high-profile lawsuit filed in 1988
by a black professor who was denied tenure, she claimed,
because of her race. (The professor lost the suit.) Faculty
have long criticized the relative lack of minorities in
the same time, at the topmost level, Emory administrators
including former presidents James T. Laney and William
M. Chace demonstrated a conscious commitment to making
Emory a more racially diverse, culturally sensitive environment.
Among other formal initiatives, the Presidents Commission
on the Status of Minorities, established by Laney in 1979,
has remained a vital force.
1980, Emory has shown the largest increase in black enrollment
of any of the nations top twenty-six universities
and ranks in the top three for highest percentage of black
faculty, with 6.9 percent, according to the Journal of
Blacks in Higher Education. Eighteen percent of Emorys
administrative positions are held by African Americans,
the EOP reports. The University recently augmented its
top-ranking black administrators with the appointment
of Earl Lewis as provost (see story, p. 2).
think that, with a few exceptions, the administration
has tended to act cautiously but progressively for the
past thirty-five years, says Hauk. Blessed
with the dubious crystal clarity of historical hindsight,
I would say that President Atwood made some misjudgments
in the spring of 1969 in responding to black students
protesting what they considered unfair treatment of employees.
Out of that confrontation, however, came the establishment
of the Black Student Alliance and the Employee Council,
and the appointment of the first African American administrator,
Marvin Arrington, whos now a member of the Board
Laneys administration bore the stamp of his career
as a minister. He was tough-minded but deeply caring.
As an ethicist he brought powerful analytical skills to
bear on the social injustices in America and in our institutions,
and he used his position to try to rectify some of those
injustices. . . . President Chace carried a long history
of commitment to civil rights, including getting arrested
during a peaceful civil rights protest [while teaching
at historically black Stillman College].
a stated top-down commitment to increasing diversity,
established equal opportunity policies, and minority numbers
climbing, one of the challenges for Emory has remained
dealing effectively with racial conflict when it does
arise. Much of the discussion last fall focused on the
Office of Equal Opportunity Programs. Headed for twenty-two
years by Vice President Robert Ethridge, the EOP is responsible
for ensuring that Emory complies with federal and state
antidiscrimination laws and investigating any complaints
of discrimination. While the office averages about six
complaints a month, cases of racially discriminatory harassment
are rare, says Ethridge, who is black.
to similar institutions, I think [the number of
complaints we receive] is about average, maybe on the
low side, Ethridge says. We watch these complaints
to see if they indicate areas where we need to do training.
the case of the complaint against the anthropology department,
the process moved efficiently, Ethridge says, because
the professor in question acknowledged her mistake and
the department agreed to the EOPs suggestions.
some faculty and students thought the matter was not handled
well enough and cited a handful of past cases in which
they felt the EOPs investigation into discrimination
complaints was less than thorough. The African American
faculty who wrote to President Wagner called for an external
review of the office, including an examination of the
has said an outside review of the EOP, with an eye to
best practices, is reasonable, and Ethridge
readily agrees, saying, If we have missed something,
I would just as soon correct it. A four-person review
panel headed by an independent consultant with three officials
from other universities has been assigned the task. An
internal committee also has been formed to review the
current antidiscriminatory harassment policy.
addition to general concerns about the EOPs investigation,
some faculty were unhappy with the offices specific
recommendations, namely the suggestion of diversity training
for the anthropology department. While a few objected
to the fact that the training session was conducted by
an internal expertassociate professor of religion
Thee Smith, who is black and has experience in conflict
resolutionrather than an outside professional, others
protested being required to undergo such training at all.
At a November townhall meeting where President Wagner
facilitated open discussion, a few faculty members characterized
the training as an entire group being punished
for the actions of one; others saw it as a benign opportunity
to learn about differences.
Hartle, professor of philosophy and president of the Georgia
chapter of the National Association of Scholars, has taken
a public stand against required diversity training on
the grounds that it threatens individual liberty. Hartle
also has defended the use of racial expressions under
certain circumstances as protected by the principles of
professor] used the expression as a metaphor for the way
her own field is regarded by some anthropologists,
Hartle wrote in a letter to President Wagner which was
signed by three other professors. [Her] remark is
clearly protected under the principle of academic freedom.
The imposition of sanctions for her protected speech is
not only a violation of academic freedom, it is a grave
threat to academic freedom on this campus. In this regard,
it must be said that the universitys policy statement
on discriminatory harassment is inconsistent with academic
freedom and with an atmosphere of free and open exchange
of ideas. Hartle also called mandatory diversity
training a violation of academic freedom and the
rights of individuals. (In fact, the diversity training
for the anthropology department was ultimately declared
voluntary, although all department members attended except
the one who had filed the complaint and objected to an
students also objected to the suggestion that academic
requirements include diversity education. A white College
senior wrote a piece for the Wheel claiming those who
advocated the training were merely capitalizing on the
situation to advance an existing political agenda. At
least two other white students wrote pieces saying that
the remark was not meant to be racist; an Asian student
suggested the comment should be accepted because Free
thought trumps all.
academic freedom defense of the remark, coupled with some
facultys stated unwillingness to undergo diversity
training, galvanized members of the Concerned Students
Coalition. That response was very alarming,
Edwards says. It is antithetical that people at
a University would not embrace opportunities to learn
about what we dont know. It was not a punishment.
suggestion that racial epithets are protected by academic
freedom also angered professors, among them Nathan McCall,
a visiting lecturer in Emorys journalism program.
In an editorial in the Emory Wheel, McCall criticized
his colleagues who, he suggested, failed to set a positive
example of openness and reconciliation for their students
because they were more concerned with protecting their
own autonomy. Because of some professors insistence
on clinging to their privileges, he wrote, many
students will leave Emory unprepared to cope in a diverse
he has unswervingly urged forgiveness and tolerance, President
Wagner does not support the notion that the use of a racial
expression is acceptable in any context.
must have open dialogue and debate, Wagner says.
We need to be able to talk and even to argue; thats
consistent with academic freedomit means we dont
have to hold back. But all this needs to be governed by
a code of conduct that guards and keeps us from excluding
anybody from that exchange. Academic freedom comes with
a certain responsibility for inclusiveness, and it is
damaged if it is falsely understood to be unfettered in
terms of language.
the outpouring of public statements, letters, and debate,
Wagner has kept his tone hopeful and tried to get at the
heart of the matter.
think what all this proves is that numbers alone do not
necessarily make us a diverse community, he says.
Community implies interaction, communication, even
passionate angerthats all okay as long as
there is a genuine commitment to being a community. Emorys
vision is for a diverse community that exhibits courageous
leadership, and we might now begin to embark on a path
through which we are a leadership example for other institutions.
Emory has run out of excuses, and we know we can do more.
those students and faculty in the thick of the debate
have indicated they can feel the potential for genuine,
lasting progress. If he were still alive, Martin
Luther King would only be seventy-five, black student
Henry Hunter mused during King Week in January. We
cant expect it to be an ethnic utopia yet. Emory
is normal, if not more tolerant than other places. A degree
of racism is inevitable and I dont think Emory exceeds
that. I just think we should be leaders in wiping out
that end, President Wagner has developed a central concept
that he hopes will help Emory navigate the troubled waters
of race relations in the weeks and months to come
an aim he calls the practice of community.
This idea is based on the notion that a community made
up of countless organic, changeable relationships among
diverse people cannot ever be successfully and completely
achieved, any more than, say, a perfect marriage can be
achieved. Community can only be practiced.
part of the larger social context of the United States,
Emory and other complex social institutions can hardly
be considered immune to the forces of prejudice and poor
habits that vex our social fabric, Wagner wrote
in the first of a series of pieces on the practice
of community in Emory Report. Rather than
attempt (once again) to resolve racial issues
episodically, we must not only seek to move beyond these
confining forces and habits but also develop a practice
of community that transcends our current situation. .
am heartened by the commitment shown to civil discourse
and academic freedom on this campus, Wagner wrote.
Students, staff, and faculty want to effect full
consonance between the Universitys language and
its practice, and between the ingredients for a truly
diverse community and the still elusive reality.