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"Dealing with Discrimination" - Laughably Bad Advice from a Student Guide from UCLA

Earlier this month, Dr. Christian Head at UCLA's Medical School decided to sue the university for racial discrimination.  Dr. Head, the only tenured African American professor in his department, reported that he was repeatedly mocked as an "affirmative action hire" and was depicted in a slideshow at a student roast as a gorilla being sodomized by a white man (meant to depict his immediate supervisor.)

UCLA has since released a statement in response to the nationalized publicity.  It says all of the usual stuff--discrimination bad, UCLA good, etc--and also notes that Dr. Head did not go through the "formal grievance and disciplinary procedures."  (Even though Head raised the issue with higher-uppers... after they blew him off he opted to file this lawsuit instead of going through the Academic Senate.  So in a sense, the school is criticizing the way he chose to respond as a victim of racism.  Cool.)

In honor of this ignoble lawsuit and *facepalm* statement, I thought I'd type up an excerpt from the UCLA Graduate Students Association Underrepresented Student Resource Guide.   This guide was distributed to incoming graduate students who are "underrepresented" on campus or in their departments.   

It attempts to helpfully list resources like local radio stations (except it only lists local radio stations that are conspicuously jazz, hip hop, and in Spanish.  HMMMMMMMM) and "Neighborhoods to check out"  (eg."Pico Union is regarded as one of the toughest barrios in the city."  or  how in Highland Park, "tension between the historic pizza places and marisco stands are slowly being negotiated with indy art studios, ethnic galleries, and hip lounges"  "Leimert Park is home to...tasty jerk chicken spots and local jam sessions"  *awkwards*)

I believe this guide embodies UCLA's failed attitude towards racial discrimination. My favorite part of this pamphlet  (other than the picture of clearly miserable looking students of color on the cover--does UCLA not have any photos of happy smiling PoC students that it can use?)  is the "Dealing with Discrimination" chapter.  

It laughably attempts to educate people who have likely dealt with discrimination their entire frakking lives on how to deal with discrimination at UCLA.  (By encouraging them to doubt their own judgement and reenact hurtful experiences?)

Excerpts and comments as follows:

DEALING WITH DISCRIMINATION

Underrepresented students may experience both overt and subtle forms of discrimination.  There is often the experience of others making generalizations about you.

Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way.  In case underrepresented students didn't think this would happen to them after coming out of four years of being an underrepresented undergrad.

Some people may assume that because you are an ethnic minority, you are automatically interested in issues of diversity.  You may find that your peers or professors turn to you to get the "Hispanic" or "Native American" or "gay" perspective.  Such requests have their foundation on the generalization that you are an expert in your own culture, simply based upon you being a member of that culture.

"Instead of training our highly-educated, supposedly high-quality and highly intelligent professors on how not to do this basic ass bullshit, we are instead publishing a guide for underrepresented students on how to tolerate being treated in this way."

 Although this generalization may place you in an uncomfortable position of having to correct others, it is not always based on negative discrimination.

I have no idea what the fucking point of this sentence is.   Of course "positive discrimination" (assuming someone is good at math, articulate at speaking English,  talented athletically, fabulous, a credit to their people, etc. ) happens, too.  While I appreciate that UCLA acknowledges that this scenario is uncomfortable, what is the point of this sentence?  To try to explain that positive discrimination mitigates the impact of fucked up stereotypes and statements?  

On the other hand, there may be some in your department who might devalue diversity.  Because discrimination is so pervasive, it is essential that you prepare yourself to cope with any that you may experience.  Below are some suggestions for you to consider:
1.  Test Reality

Find ways to confirm or test your conclusion that you are facing discrimination directed at you.  Consider what you are noticing and the circumstances leading you to this conclusion.

How incredibly naive and insulting is this first piece of advice?  "When you feel you have been discriminated against, the first thing you should do is "test reality."   This is essentially gaslighting.  This is telling someone who just went through a great deal "well, are you sure that actually happened" instead of empathizing with their experience.  Maybe you are just...making it up!  Overreacting!  Not thinking rationally!   What about exploring why the environment may be triggering feelings of being discriminated against for that student?

Ask someone you trust to take an objective look at your analysis.  Is there any other possible interpretation?  If what is happening to you is not because of discrimination, determine what the source is and take steps to resolve the issue.  If it is indeed discrimination, then consider the steps below.

I don't think UCLA understands that when it comes to interpersonal interactions and issues of discrimination, it is impossible for anyone to be "objective."  Everyone approaches this issue with their own perspective.  Many people instinctively try and diminish the impact of discrimination as a form of defensive protection.  Who would want to think, for example, that the medical school that purports to be the best in the Western United States, (a) depicted a black faculty member as a gorilla as part of an end-of-the-year celebration (b) ignored his objections and told him he was taking it too "personally."    I'm sure Dr. Head would feel so much better if he just "tested his reality" and asked UCLA to take an "objective look."

I think it is helpful to understand where someone who said something mind-numbingly racist/sexist/heterosexist/ableist, etc. is coming from. ("Is there any other possible interpretation?"  Yeah,  UCLA, the other interpretation is that you don't have to wear a pointy white hood or deliberately intend to do so in order to do something that perpetuates discrimination!)  

I also don't think UCLA realizes how condescendingly insulting this message is.  It suggests that underrepresented students are incapable of identifying discrimination and must seek consultation in order to be "objective."  

(It later becomes painfully clear in this pamphlet who exactly UCLA considers to be "trusted" and "objective" when it comes to racism.)

Be Prepared

If you are faced with discrimination, it is helpful to be prepared to deal with possible specific situations before they arise, such as preparing for what to do if you hear a racist remark.  

Oh, okay.  Underrepresented students should prepare in case they are discriminated against.  How would one do this?

The strategy of stress inoculation may be particularly useful.  This strategy suggests several steps.:  preparing for encountering a stressful situation, confronting and coping with the situation, and evaluating your performance afterwards.  Consult with others about what they did, about how they dealt with their feelings, about how they determine the results of their actions.  If you are comfortable with some friends, you may want to practice various strategies of how you yourself might interact with someone who acts in a racist manner.

You are just going to have to get used to racism at UCLA by inoculating yourself through repeat exposure to more racism.  Make sure to take time to prepare for racism to jump out of the bushes at you and also then to Monday morning quarterback how you reacted when it did.  When in doubt, consult.

Because in between coursework, working to cover rent and pay the bills, and encountering discrimination that you should always be prepared to encounter at UCLA, underrepresented students should, in their free time, practice how to get better at working with people who act racist.

Get Social Support

When you experience discrimination, it is critical that you have an opportunity to discuss your reactions and feelings about the situation.  Talk to trusted friends, colleagues, and family can be extremely helpful.  

Agreed.   

While you may feel more comfortable talking to other ethnic minorities, particularly those of your own ethnic background, it is important to recognize that many non-ethnic minorities can empathize with your experience, and provide you with the support you may need.  Such a staff person is there to help students confirm their conclusions and determine possible courses of action.  Sometimes this staff person has been aware of prior similar situations, and can be helpful in suggesting how to deal with your situation.


"While you may feel more comfortable talking to people of color who have experiences of discrimination similar to your own, it is important (but we will not explain why it is important) for you to acknowledge that "non-ethnic minorities" can empathize with your experience.   You do not get to decide who can empathize and who cannot, you must let non-ethnic minorities in.   Furthermore, this helpful non-ethnic person who is a part of the institution where you are a minority will help you confirm whether or not you were discriminated against."

(What the hell is a "non-ethnic minority"?  Is that a delicate way of saying "white people"?  Or are they saying people who are white but have experienced other intersectional oppression?)

Confront Transgressors

This suggestion can be particularly stressful to you, especially when the transgressor is a person in power over you.  We recognize that not everyone may want to challenge someone in these types of situations.

"...and it would certainly save UCLA time and money if you didn't."

 However, if you feel prepared, it can be empowering to confront the person acting in a racist manner.  Practicing with trusted colleagues may be very helpful, so you can learn how to respond in an appropriately assertive manner.  

You may be the only one of your colleagues who is a woman, or a person of color, or gay, or a person with a disability, etc. It may not always be possible to find someone at UCLA who can relate, but you should still practice with them.  Reenacting racism with people who do not treat you in a racist manner will help you get twice as much of your annual dose of racism learn to respond in a way that is "appropriately assertive" to racism.  (I thought this was a handout for all underrepresented students?)   The underlying assumption being that...people of color need to practice how toappropriately respond to racism?

Someone help me out with a .gif to illustrate the epic facepalm that is accompanying this post.

Comments

Good grief.
So in a sense, the school is criticizing the way he chose to respond as a victim of racism. Cool.

I don't know if it's cool or not, but they gave him good advice to make use of the formal procedures for this very problem and he chose to ignore it. That'll be question #1 at the lawsuit. Meanwhile, UCLA lawyers are probably telling everyone, as a matter of legal advice, not to investigate the incident(s) -- that's their job and his lawyer's job now.


The Resource Guide does leave a lot to be desired; it reads like a first draft written by some GSA flunky who got stuck with the job.

Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way. In case underrepresented students didn't think this would happen to them after coming out of four years of being an underrepresented undergrad.

Many grad students will be coming from undergrad schools (say, in foreign countries) where they weren't underrepresented. Or heck, some may be coming from schools in the US that aren't as understanding as (even?) UCLA. It was only in 2000 that Bob Jones University removed the ban on interracial dating.

it is impossible for anyone to be "objective."

'Independent' would have been a much better word.

What the hell is a "non-ethnic minority"?

My take on it is that they meant someone who is a minority due to something other than ethnicity. A woman, a disabled person, a Satanist. I think the 'important to recognize' thing is that there are many people other than just people of your (or some other minority) ethnicity that could be sources of support.
Ah, I didn't think of students from foreign countries who were the majority in their home country. That makes a bit more sense. Although telling them to practice simulating racism is probably not all that helpful.

For Dr. Head, it sounds like he waited for quite some time before filing the suit and did try to speak to people about it before doing so. The Academic Senate process sounds a lot like arbitration clauses trap options. At an environment like UCLA (remember the school's initiate reaction to his complaint was that the gorilla photoshop wasn't "illegal" or breaking any laws) I can see why he might opt for a jury trial lawsuit instead.