On Thursday November 30, 2017, in Peck Hall on our own SIUE campus, a message was written on the chalkboard during a several hour gap between classes. That message read as follows:
“NO PERSON OF AFRICAN Descent Shall be Citizen of The U.S…. NOR were they ever Intended to be”
Dred Scott Decision <— GOOGLE IT
What’s YOUR NATIONALITY? <—Million Dollar Q
For context on the SIUE administration’s quick response, see this article. For some background on the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, which held that two former slaves were not citizens according to the U.S. constitution because of its original form and was long ago overturned by constitutional amendment, see this short article or this longer one.
This is but one of many messages on campus over the years that seem intended to mark non-white students, faculty, and staff out as not belonging here, in this case Black students, faculty, and staff in particular. The SIUE Women’s Studies Program Statement on White Supremacy and Racism on Campus was our reply to an incident in September of this year. There have been others. Many faculty have spent the day offering comfort and a listening ear to each other and to our students. For this incident, we compiled several Women’s Studies Faculty responses to give a few different perspectives.
Connie Frey Spurlock, Associate Professor, Sociology and Criminal Justice Studies, Faculty Director SIUE Successful Communities Collaborative: “Ecosystems thrive and flourish because they are rich with diversity. The same is true for human communities. Universities offer us opportunities to learn about and engage in authentic diversity and to realize the value of it in our work, our play, our art, and our struggles. White supremacy has no home at SIUE.”
Saba Fatima, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Religious Studies Advisor: “This is not just about one particular interest, but about the larger patterns of anti-black racism, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, hatred …. we must resist this hatred! For the vulnerable and marginalized amongst us who are at the frontlines of receiving hate in virtue of our identities and are burnt out, I say: engage in self-care. And for the rest, especially those who carry any mount of privilege, I say: use your privilege wisely and resist!”
Anushiya Ramaswamy, Professor, English Language and Literature: “We need to remember that the presidency of Obama was plagued by similar sentiments about his citizenship, and in the months leading to the 2012 election, the so-called Birther movement promoted the fake news that he had been born a Kenyan Muslim.”
Linda Markowitz, Professor, Chair of the Sociology Department: “Universities are places to shed our prejudices, not places to dive into them more. We are failing at SIUE if students are confused about our mission.”
Darci Schmidgall, Lecturer, Sociology: “We the people have long since decided that the original intent of the Constitution, which defined slaves as 3/5 of a person, should be amended, and that all persons born in the United States, regardless of what socially constructed racial category those persons are defined as being a part of, are citizens of the United States. The nationality of African Americans is American; we the people now rightfully includes people of diverse global descent, and we the people are stronger because of this beautiful diversity. When will white supremacy cease to vex the American spirit? That’s the million dollar question.”
Alison Reiheld, Associate Professor, Philosophy, Director of Women’s Studies: “When I saw this, I had three thoughts. First, this idea is common in American white nationalism which currently goes by the name ‘alt-right’ and is on the rise. The whiteness of this nationalism is part and parcel of the rhetorical question this message asks: ‘what is your nationality?’ It is unlikely to have been innocently left; whoever left it must have known–or ought to have known–how it would make members of our community feel yet they deliberately left it where it would be seen. They should have known that this would intimidate, and likely did since this rhetoric is such a key part of American white supremacist propaganda. Second, we must be able to talk about the history of racism in our nation, a history that is nowhere more explicit than in historical judgments like Dred Scott v. Sandford. Universities talk about ideas. But to discuss that history is not to advance it. Advancing it would cut out members of our community of learning. That’s not how universities work. That’s not how any of this works. Third, how do those of us who disagree profoundly with this kind of claim show our solidarity with those who are, and for generations have been, targeted by it? How best do we counter it?”