stories from the frontlines of difference in the evangelical university

Month: August, 2014

Always Reforming Ressentiment at Calvin College

James K. A. Smith’s WSJ op-ed hits all the notes of a now well-worn right-wing genre: white male ressentiment (“you seem more intent on unmasking ‘micro-aggressions’ and detecting colonial prejudice in a canon that you increasingly disdain”); a warmed-over anti-intellectualism that charges his colleagues with corrupting the youth (“Teachers who delight in debunking ‘traditional’ values that your parents espouse, teachers for whom cultural criticism consists of scoffing at anything ‘conservative’”); and an authoritarian contempt for student agency, dismissing their social justice engagement as so much bad faith (“I know how it feels to be invited into this exclusive club. I understand the joy ride of liberal enlightenment”). As Anthony Paul Smith aptly inquires, “Who, teaching in a country where a black man is killed by police officers every 24-48 hours, declares concerns with racial justice to be a ‘cliche’?” Robert Minto, who says he attended a “sort of sister school to Smith’s own Calvin College,” adds that he experienced the micro-aggression that Smith displays toward his students from a number of his professors: “The professors I have in mind delighted in me and encouraged me when I was absorbing wholeheartedly the initial complexities of the disciplines they represented, literature, philosophy, history and (at the time) theology. But as soon as I began to turn the sophistication of reasoning they had fostered in me on the deep and pervasive exclusions, asymmetries, and injustices of those disciplines’ respective canons, suddenly my views were ‘clichéd,’ my interests were ‘moral outrage’ rather than ‘the complexity of problems,’ and I was just ‘parrot[ing] the platforms of progressives.'”(All quotations from the JKAS editorial linked above).

Meanwhile, in Calvin College, here is what actually existing micro-aggression looks like.


History, Complicity, and Westmont College’s Bloody Hands

Westmont gnostikoi have furiously disavowed this exposé, arguing that even if it describes “a few bad apples” that were part of the institution in the past, it fails to represent the institution as it is today. Perhaps that is true, but as is indicated by this blog post, the institution’s ties to The Fellowship are as strong as ever. But even granting the claim that the figures mentioned are all in Westmont’s past, a simple turnover in personnel does nothing to address a troubling legacy of patriarchy, racial exclusion, and religious fundamentalism. Rather than adopt evangelicalism’s patented defensive crouch, the institution will do well to come to terms with the structural rot symptomized by its worship of the powerful. Those who claim that this is no longer true today ought to look to the parade of warmongers and torture advocates that the institution has regularly feted at its annual President’s Breakfast Events.

1. Thomas Friedman, celebrated at Westmont College at the President’s Breakfast in 2007:

  • “I think it [the invasion of Iraq] was unquestionably worth doing, Charlie. We needed to go over there, basically, um, and um, uh, take out a very big stick right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble, and there was only one way to do it….What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, ‘Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?’ You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about. We could’ve hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.” (Thomas Friedman, “Charlie Rose,” 30 May 2003)


2. Condoleeza Rice, consigliere of the Bush administration’s torture regime, celebrated by Westmont College at the President’s Breakfast, 2011:

  • “The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.” (United States Senate Intelligence Report, 2009)


3. Henry Kissinger, orchestrator of the killing fields of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, celebrated by Westmont College at a presidential luncheon:

  • “ Kissinger immediately relayed the order: ‘A massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. Anything that flies on anything that moves.’” (transcript of Kissinger tapes).

Studying While Black At Westmont College

In this searing critique, posted on Dr. Christena Cleveland’s excellent weblog Joy Ubani — Westmont College, class of 2013 — narrates her experience of what it is like to be a black student at Westmont College. “I spent the majority of my four years [at Westmont College] answering the questions of my ill-informed peers, fighting stereotypes, and trying to ‘fit in’ although I so obviously stood out,” she says. Indeed, her education in Westmont inhospitality begins on “day one,” when a professor makes a racially-themed “joke” that alienates and humiliates Joy.

Joy goes on to detail specific examples of the racial stigmatization that she endured at Westmont. For example, she says, “faculty, staff and students often expect your academic performance to be inferior to that of Whites and speak to you in a condescending manner as though you cannot understand them.”

Go read the whole thing here.


An invitation to a robust conversation on power and justice

This blog invites critiques, stories, comments and musings from all persons with experiences at evangelical universities and colleges on lives lived at the intersections of race and racism, gender and sexism, class and exploitation, disability and exclusion, and other forms of subjectivity. The blog’s moderators work at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, but we welcome contributions from all, wherever you are. While we will fiercely protect the confidentiality of all contributors, and will post contributions from anonymous correspondents who live in fear of retaliation from those who abuse their power at evangelical colleges, we will be just as firm that this must be a space for responsible and respectful dialogue. This blog will not be a space for lobbing scurrilous or libelous attacks. Rather, it aims at creating a space for robust and engaged conversation. Welcome to that conversation.