“Segregated” events at the University of Chicago?

I’m a bit flummoxed by the following announcements of University-sponsored Zoom meetings emailed to us by our local Diversity and Inclusion Office.

Group Wellness Coaching for Students of Color
Monday, October 12: 6 – 8 p.m.
Zoom
Join the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) and UChicago Student Wellness for this opportunity to work through shared wellness concerns and experiences in an open and supportive environment. Students will design wellness action plans and set goals for enhancing well-being. The session will be led by health educator Cassidy Wade. It is open to students of color in the College, graduate divisions, and professional schools.

Virtual Community for Black Women: Group Wellness Coaching
Thursday, October 15: 6 – 8 p.m.
Zoom

Join OMSA and UChicago Student Wellness for an opportunity to work through shared wellness concerns and experiences in an open and supportive environment. Students will design wellness action plans and set goals for enhancing well-being. The session will be led by health educator Cassidy Wade. It is open to Black women, femmes, and gender non-conforming folx in the College, graduate divisions, and professional schools.

At first I thought these looked like “safe spaces”, but the idea of University-sponsored “safe spaces” was rejected by our administration in a letter sent by the Dean to incoming first-year students in 2016:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Yet these meetings aren’t clearly ones where individuals even have the possibility to “retreat from ideas and perspectives not their own”. That may be part of this, but it seems to be about health—or “wellness”, whatever that means in this context.  Are these “less safe” or “more safe” than intellectual safe spaces?

What bothers me about this are that first, I do recognize that students of color, or gays, or any other group that wants to talk amongst themselves, should be able to do so. After all, second-wave feminism was moved forward by the presence of many women’s support groups, with no men allowed, and I remember these well. But the groups above don’t seem to have much to do with social progress. Rather, they seem to be about the health of groups (mental, physical or both?). If that’s the case, what health concerns are unique to students of color?

And, in the second seminar, what health concerns are unique to the mix of students of color, femmes, and gender non-conforming “folkx”? (Is “folkx” a new woke word?)

Further, these seem to be opportunities for discussions of wellness that are limited to certain ethnic groups or groups with an atypical gender or sexuality profile. Are these opportunities denied to other people? Do, say, students from very poor backgrounds need such an opportunity as well, or perhaps older students? It seems to me that everyone could benefit from such a discussion—or at least the opportunity to be part of such a discussion.

Finally, it seems to me that university-sponsored segregated events—events that explicitly bar people of some races and genders—should be offered only under the most extreme circumstances, if at all. And I can’t see what about these events warrants such segregation. If a group of students wants to organize their own meeting, then that’s fine, but having this happen with University approval makes me unsettled. Yes, these are Zoom meetings, and I’m not sure if that means you can participate and hide your visage, sexuality, and the like—but that would be duplicitous. It’s ironic that exclusion is practiced by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Perhaps I’m timorous about criticizing something put on by my own university, and perhaps I don’t understand what these events are about, but as written they disturb me as not inclusive but divisive. Am I wrong to feel that way?

21 Comments

  1. A C Harper
    Posted October 12, 2020 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    The left wing (and others) struggled mightily against Apartheid in South Africa.

    Now it seems that the identity politicians want to deploy apartheid for their own purposes. It will end in tears.

  2. Posted October 12, 2020 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    It is open to Black women, femmes, and gender non-conforming folx

    What does “femmes” mean in this context? Is it trans women? Is “black” distributive over “women”, “femmes” and “gender non-conforming folx” or does it apply only to “women”.

    What the hell are “folx” anyway? What’s wrong with the English word “people”?

    • Robertcito
      Posted October 12, 2020 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      The problem with “people” is that some white guy may sneak in, and in 2020, unless your name is Joe Biden or Mark Zuckerberg you dont want that. They are untouchables,the XXI century “Dalits”.

  3. littleboybrew
    Posted October 12, 2020 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne you are right to be concerned, it is miserably tone deaf.

    It is a zoom meeting, let it be known it is open to everyone. If someone joins and becomes disruptive then disconnect them.

    • jezgrove
      Posted October 12, 2020 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      That sounds like the sensible thing to do.

  4. michael snell
    Posted October 12, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Looks like wellness services are available free to individuals and groups. In this case a group (OMSA) has organized a group coaching event.

    As the website states:
    Group wellness coaching sessions are available to student organizations, academic classes, and other UChicago affiliated student groups.

    https://wellness.uchicago.edu/healthy-living/wellness-programming/wellness-coaching/

    • Posted October 12, 2020 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      OMSA is not a student group, but a part of the University administration: the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. The University, in other words, created an event that was segregated by race and sexual orientation.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted October 12, 2020 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        If someone who did not meet those criteria decided to attend, would they be kicked out?

        I’m white, and I’ve attended events that were targeted toward black people (as an ally – not as a troll). Nobody had a problem with it.

    • Mike
      Posted October 12, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      A few years ago on this site we discussed one mechanism by which these kinds of programs come about. University faculties or colleges of education developed “Educational Leadership” degree programs and offer them to students who then go on to non-academic careers in higher education administration and run OMSA-like offices. These “Leadership” programs emphasize woke imperatives. Students who come out of this indoctrination themselves as “educators” although they are not faculty members, and they aspire to “teach” antiracism and other forms of woke practice to college students via wellness centres, new student orientation, and other processes run by wellness centres, student life offices, and other non-teaching units of the college. The template for these “Leadership” programs was written and promoted at professional development conferences by one of the New England universities (sorry I haven’t had enough coffee yet to remember the details).

      • Mike
        Posted October 12, 2020 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

        er, “…style themselves as ‘educators'”

  5. rickflick
    Posted October 12, 2020 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    “It’s ironic that exclusion is practiced by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.”
    You could say it’s a means to an end I suppose. I don’t know much about what might go on in these groups, but if we assume it will be helpful to many, the school should allow students to suggest other categories for the broadest utility.

  6. ladyatheist
    Posted October 12, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    There’s a difference between an affinity group and a segregated meeting. Affinity groups are for people in a minority so they can support each other in ways that people in the majority can’t or won’t. There are probably a lot of people who are the only one of their “kind” in a (perhaps unfriendly) department who could use a friend.

    I don’t see a problem with this.

    • Posted October 12, 2020 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      This is not an affinity group, but a meeting organized by the University, and it is segregated. The impetus came from the University, as far as I can see.

      And why do you suppose that people of color are in an “affinity group” with femmes and gender atypical people? It makes no sense.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted October 12, 2020 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        The gender thing is an attempt to be inclusive of all kinds of black women (cis- and otherwise), though I think if someone identifies as female they wouldn’t need a special shout-out.

        These seem to be similar to affinity groups, though, in that they will be working together on common issues. Black women do have different experiences with medicine than white men do. A lot of medical “knowledge” comes from studies that were limited to white males.

        There is also solid evidence that the medical profession underestimates complaints of people of color & of women, while taking white & male complaints more seriously. Presumably the people who will be drawn to this discussion will have come from various parts of the country, so learning about how things are for black women in Chicago could be a good thing.

        I’ve been groped in an emergency room and had numerous dentists use my breasts as arm rests before I finally went to a female dentist and realized that it was indeed possible for a dentist to do what they need to do without an armrest.

        Now imagine a whole room full of men talking about how respectful all the doctors and dentists of the world are when your own memories consist of things like that. Would you want to speak up?

        • Adam M.
          Posted October 12, 2020 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

          So what are the medical experiences shared by black women and by black men who identify as women or “gender-nonconforming” that are not also shared by white women or normal black men?

          • ladyatheist
            Posted October 12, 2020 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

            It doesn’t really matter (and since I’m white, I wouldn’t know). If people who are in a minority within an organization feel more comfortable speaking with someone who shares that quality, what’s it to anyone else?

            BTW, Jerry is posting that these events were announced — not that they were well attended!

    • Sastra
      Posted October 12, 2020 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      If a few more sentences had been added to the description— perhaps something to the effect that “ways of coping with minority status will be stressed” — then an affinity group makes more sense. But if it’s ways to avoid catching COVID or advice on nutrition, this is odd.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted October 12, 2020 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Statistics seem to lean toward men being slightly more vulnerable to Covid, so perhaps there needs to be some discussion about that. I don’t know if they’ve sussed out why there seems to be a disparity, though.

  7. jezgrove
    Posted October 12, 2020 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Yup, “folkz” indeed appears to be a new Woke word: https://www.dictionary.com/e/gender-sexuality/folx/

  8. ladyatheist
    Posted October 12, 2020 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    “what health concerns are unique to students of color?”

    Just curious — have you contacted the organizer(s) to ask them about this? I’d be interested to know what they say.

  9. Posted October 12, 2020 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    You know, professor, the U. of C. USED – at one time (LATELY!) which is no longer now it seems – used to be a place which didn’t abide this kind of nonsense and was a standard bearer of freedom of expression. They TRADED on it! Boasted about it. WTF happened?

    Putting “x” in everything is the new Thing. Just throw in some “X” where-ever the fxck you want. Because everything is bonkers now.

    bxst rxgards,

    Dxvid Andxrsxn
    Nxw York Xity

    ps – my gender pronoun is “click click” like in the Kalahari san language. Any attempt to misgender me will be met with great outrage.


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