Tuesday, 7 December 2021

My Non-Woke “Solidarity Statement”

Mr Deavel explains his response to a demand from his university administration for a statement of solidarity with the 'woke' insanity sweeping academia.

From The Imaginative Conservative

By David Deavel

One of the administrators at my school recently asked faculty to contribute a “solidarity statement.” The email specified what was being sought:

For your statement, we’re asking you to share how you personally will engage in the work of creating an inclusive and equitable campus community that truly values all. What, specifically, will you do in your classroom, in your advising meetings, in your mentorship or research with students, or in other areas of your professional life? Our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students, as well as those who identify with other historically marginalized groups, need to know they have allies at St. Thomas who will actively stand and act in solidarity with them. And as teachers, we have the wonderful opportunity to not only serve as allies for some but to educate all.

You may have heard of this through Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative. Some colleague of mine leaked this to Mr. Dreher. I didn’t do it, nor do I know who did. But I fully approve of the leaking. As Mr. Dreher notes, this is the “woke version of a loyalty oath.” As he quotes my leaker colleague, this is “a clear violation of academic freedom,” putting untenured faculty in the position of either saying nothing and thus endangering the possibility of tenure (silence is violence, don’t you know?) or penning “some b.s. made up stuff and violat[ing] your conscience.” Would a statement that simply affirms the dignity of all human beings fit the request? Would a statement that supports positions contrary to Catholic teaching on sexual morality be acceptable as part of this project at a Catholic school? Would a statement that affirms Catholic teaching on sexual morality be deemed to show solidarity? Some colleagues wrote a joint letter asking that the project be shut down. Another colleague asked whether this was a requirement, and the answer was given that it is fully optional. Of course, it wasn’t shut down and these statements now are available on the interior-facing website. I read through a number of them. Some are fully woke statements, beginning with statements of identity such as “As a cisgender white male” before committing to looking at everything through a progressive political lens, always considering one’s own sinfulness in light of it, and acting on some specified course of action such as asking for “all-gender restrooms.” Others are rather formulaic and generic recitations of some of the phrases of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion hymnal. Still others are rather clever statements that fully comport with a Christian viewpoint and focus on the Jewish and Christian teaching about the image of God, the good of liberal education to help us understand each other, or pick out some element of the faculty member’s research or teaching that is getting at racial or sexual biases without committing the professor to the progressive worldview that animates the DEI office and much of the university administration. In short, they don’t sink to the level of “some b.s.” I applaud these colleagues for keeping their integrity, but I think the difficulty is that actual concrete speech on my campus as on many others keeps getting pushed away. One can get away with saying something general if it strays from the DEI-orthodoxy in these statements but rarely something particular.

I did not write a solidarity statement for the university at the time, but I’ve been thinking about what it might involve, as a believing Catholic Christian and political conservative, to write a real statement that is not limited to generalities. So here is my attempt. It represents my views alone.

First, for all students of any and every description.

  • I vow to treat you all with the dignity that is yours because you are made in the image of God, with free will, a rational mind, and an end that has been given by God himself. That end is to know, love, and serve God, so as to live as happily as you can in this life and in the fullest happiness forever with God.
  • Though we were made with these capacities and this destiny, the human situation is that we are a fallen race. Because of a catastrophe at the beginning of human history, in which humans rejected that call to follow God, we are all sinners. We sometimes refuse to God’s will for our lives, even when it is blazingly obvious that accepting it will make us happy. I will keep in mind that you—like me—are morally and spiritually frail and can make decisions that are wrong or even morally bad. I will not cancel you because God does not do so.
  • Instead of canceling humanity, God’s solution was to become one with all of us, uniting himself to human nature in the person of Jesus Christ, who followed God perfectly even to the point of death at the hands of the most powerful government in the world. Because of that perfect obedience, he rose again from the dead in his human body, ascended into heaven, and then sent his Holy Spirit to his Church. Every human being’s end can be achieved through being united to Jesus Christ and his Church. You may or may not be Catholic, but you have chosen to attend a Catholic university. I will do my best not merely to teach you about particular subjects, but about how to view the world through the lens of this wonderful belief that God not only created you in his image but came to make that tarnished image shine again and fill it with his life.
  • I will do my best not only to make you feel valued, but to know your value.

Second, for BIPOC students (Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color), I’d like to say first what I will not do in my solidarity.

  • First, apart from this little statement I will never think of you or talk about you as “BIPOC,” which seems to lump everybody into a category on the basis of whether you think of yourself or are categorized as “white.”
  • Because this category is completely arbitrary and does not take into account your own very diverse experiences and understandings from your own particular communities, nor your deepest held beliefs, I will not assume all or even most “BIPOC” people think alike on issues of politics, policy, and the deepest things.
  • Nor will I ever tell you, as so many do these days, that “you’re not black” or that “you are brown people speaking with a white voice,” or any of the other political pressure statements designed to keep people in a particular political stable by threatening them with excommunication from some ethnic or racial group.
  • I will not think of you as victims nor encourage you to think of yourselves as victims. You live in a great country in which, though white racism still exists (and will always exist, just as envy, hatred, lust, resentment, and every other sinful thought and attitude will exist until Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead), it is rare on the ground. You have endless opportunities in this great country of ours, and there are both countless individuals and institutional measures designed to help people of all backgrounds.
  • I will not grade you differently from white students. You have the same dignity, the same great possibilities, and the same need for critical and constructive feedback as white students. To expect less of you has been called “the soft bigotry of low expectations” and it is wrong.

What will I do?

  • I will hold you to the same standards as everybody else, knowing that you can handle the truth about your work and you can improve it with solid effort and the help available to you.
  • To that end, I will engage you as I do every other student, offering you the same opportunities to get extra help by meeting me in my office, getting feedback on your work—including comments on drafts of papers—and helping you in thinking through the issues you are learning about in my class, other classes, or even just in life.
  • I will talk to you in the same way in class and out as I do every other student. Academically, this means that I will help you hone your ideas and challenge you. In class, I will occasionally banter with you, make jokes about you and your verbal mistakes that are funny, and in general make you feel as though you belong as I do every other student regardless of race.
  • When I say I will talk to you the same way, that also means I will not talk down to you. This is your bonus for choosing a political conservative as a professor. As social psychologists discovered several years ago, white liberals tend to use a “competence downshift”—also known as dumbing down their language—to many minorities, especially black people, whereas “if you’re a white conservative, your diction won’t depend on the presumed race of your interlocutor.”[i]
  • That further means I may express disagreement with your views, even on tough issues that sometimes have race as an element. I don’t believe in a great deal of what is said about racial issues from a progressive perspective, and you might not either. A college classroom is the place to hash out arguments in search of the truth. When many people in academic and public life say they want an “open and honest discussion” about issues, they really just want to hear their own views affirmed. We may agree on some issues and disagree on others—just as happens when everybody’s from the exact same racial, ethnic, or cultural background!—but we can argue about the merits of the positions and seek the truth together.
  • I will also work to oppose the very existence of the DEI office, which I do not believe actually helps students of color all that much, though it provides cushy jobs to people in higher education and further politicizes campuses.[ii]

Now, for the students identifying as “LGBTQIA+.”

  • For all of you, I will treat you with all the respect that is due to you as human beings and will treat you with the same respect indicated above. That means speaking honestly to you. If I get to know you in class or out and the subject comes up, I will encourage you not to locate your true identity in either your sexual desires or a perceived “gender” that is separate from your biological sex. I will encourage you to locate your true identity first and foremost as a child of God, made in his image and called to eternal life with him. Other aspects of you such as your desires and your ideas might be important to know in learning how to teach you or help you in various ways, but they are not who you are.
  • I accept the fact that one can love people of the same sex or love multiple people at the same time, but I will not give you approval for sexual behavior with these people any more than I will give approval for people who love someone married to someone else or even those who love somebody but are not married to that to person to engage in sexual behavior. I’m not going to probe into anybody’s personal affairs nor will I find the need to comment on them, but if I am asked to affirm such behavior, I cannot do so. I believe that “love is love” indeed, but not that any kind of love justifies sexual behavior—precisely because not every form of sexual behavior can help one in reaching that end in God I identified above.
  • I am happy to call you whatever you say your name or nickname is, but I will not use pronouns of you that are different from your biological sex and instead represent what you consider your gender. I will not go out of my way to use what I think your correct pronouns are, but I will not use other pronouns. Some people think this is hatred, saying that to do so means “denying your existence.” I do believe you exist, and I also believe that you were fearfully and wonderfully made by God either as a male or a female. Gender identity is a sense of one’s identity as either male or female. That sense might be wrong if it doesn’t match with your biology. I believe that it is accepting that gift and call of your nature that will ultimately bring you happiness. I stand in solidarity with you as a person and thus will not affirm anything that is untrue about you because I believe that such falsehoods will hurt you.
  • Similarly, if called upon to explain my positions to you, I will do so with care and love. If called upon to tell a friend the truth, it is wrong not to do so even if it upsets the friend.
  • I will work to protect you from unjust discrimination and hatred. That includes anybody who calls you vile names or refuses to serve you in getting the necessities of life. I will even help you get the use of a single-stall restroom if you feel uncomfortable using the restroom of your own sex. I cannot, however, support measures that allow you to use the restroom or locker room of the opposite sex. I believe that women and men deserve privacy from the other sex in these settings. I also cannot support measures that allow biological men to participate in sports against biological women. It is unfair to allow men, who enjoy a number of biological advantages in strength and speed, to compete with women.

A final word to each and every student.

  • I think the very idea that we ought to compose “solidarity statement” to individual groups is a bad idea because it seems to assume that you should mistrust people and assume the worst in them—that they discriminate against you on the basis of race or that they hate you because they disagree with you. I began by noting that my solidarity is with every person. I mean that. And I promise never to write another solidarity statement again. If you agree with me on this point, I ask that you stand in solidarity against such initiatives.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

[i] Isaac Stanley-Becker, “White liberals dumb themselves down when they speak to black people, a new study contends,” Washington Post, November 30, 2018. The article quotes one of the researchers as saying that this difference is due to the fact that “we know empirically that white conservatives are less likely to be interested in getting along with racial minorities,” making it sound as though conservatives are somehow hostile to minorities. But you should understand what this really means: conservatives are not interested in getting along with anybody on the basis of race. We’re interested in what you think, believe, and do.

[ii] A new study by the Heritage Foundation—a conservative think tank, to be sure—looks at the introduction of such diversity officers at the K-12 level and discovers that though they do a lot of political activism, their work does not close any racial achievement gaps. In fact, they sometimes exacerbate them. I’ll bet the same would be true at the university level. See Equity Elementary: “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” Staff in Public Schools.

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