IMPORTANT UPDATE: In the first comment below, reader Coel notes this:
Jodi Shaw has written this response to the letter from Smith’s President, specifically about the settlement demand/offer, and also her GoFundMe page now says that the “hold” has been removed.
Shaw’s letter, which you should read in full, says this in part:
After I went public in October with my complaints about the hostile working environment at Smith, the college made clear to me that they would like me to accept a severance and leave. I offered to accept a severance only if Smith would take meaningful steps to end the racially hostile environment by ending their mandatory race-based struggle sessions and their requirements that employees judge each other and the students in our care on the basis of their skin color. Smith quickly made clear to me that they would not consider such changes. The ideology would stay. Only a financial settlement with the college was possible.
Shaw then decided that she wouldn’t settle. President McCartney’s letter is thus misleading and my impression of Shaw as a brave and principled woman remains. I have just donated to her GoFundMe campaign.
Reader Melissa Johnson noted, in a comment on yesterday’s post about the suspension of Jodi Shaw’s GoFundMe account, that Smith President Kathleen McCartney has issued a message to the Smith College community about Shaw’s activities. In my view, McCartney should simply shut up about pending actions, but she can’t resist dissing Shaw as well as emphasizing once again that she’s proud of Smith’s antiracist programs.
Here’s the letter, dated yesterday:
Dear members of the Smith community:
A college staff member resigned last Friday in a letter that she made available to the public. Ordinarily, a personnel matter of this nature would not warrant a letter from the president to the college community; however, in this instance the former employee, in her letter, accuses the college of creating a racially hostile environment for white people, a baseless claim that the college flatly denies. In addition, her letter contains a number of misstatements about the college’s equity and inclusion initiatives, misstatements that are offensive to the members of our community who are working every day to create a campus where everyone, regardless of racial identity, can learn, work and thrive.
I write to emphasize that Smith College remains unyielding in its commitment to advancing racial justice, a commitment that includes and benefits every member of our community. Given the centrality of this work to Smith College’s mission, I want to take this opportunity to ensure that each of you has accurate information.
The employee suggests that Smith tried to buy her silence. But it was the employee herself who demanded payment of an exceptionally large sum in exchange for dropping a threatened legal claim and agreeing to standard confidentiality provisions. Further, while the employee aims her complaint at Smith, her public communications make clear that her grievances about equity and inclusion training run more broadly—as she puts it “to the medical field … the publishing field, the tech field, it’s in the schools, the legal field, public schools, private schools, colleges of course, government. It’s everywhere.”
At Smith College, our commitment to, and strategies for, advancing equity and inclusion are grounded in evidence. Research demonstrates the continued presence of systemic discrimination against people of color across all areas of society, from education to health care to employment. Redressing the reality of racism requires asking ourselves how we might, even inadvertently, reinforce existing inequalities or contribute to an exclusionary atmosphere. While it might be uncomfortable to accept that each of us, regardless of color or background, may have absorbed unconscious biases or at times acted in ways that are harmful to members of our community, such self-reflection is a prerequisite for making meaningful progress. The aim of our equity and inclusion training is never to shame or ostracize. Rather, the goal is to facilitate authentic conversations that help to overcome the barriers between us, and the college welcomes constructive criticism of our workshops and trainings.
As a college, we remain committed to continuous learning in support of the humanity, worth, and dignity of every member of our community.
First of all, if this matter is going to be litigated, McCartney should shut her yap, for what she says above could be used against Smith in several ways.
In fact, despite McCartney’s claim that she’s issuing the letter only because Shaw made false accusations about the “racially hostile environment for white people”, that is in fact what Shaw claimed was true for her (it was Shaw’s “lived experience”, as the CRT folk put it). And I suspect, given the level of support for Shaw and her claims that she’s received a lot of support from community members, that the divisiveness at Smith extends far deeper than her own personal experience. (It may be tough to find people to testify to that in court, however.)
In fact, McCartney’s penultimate paragraph brings up the discredited “unconscious bias” hypothesis, as well as the notion that these undocumented biases constitute “harm” to the members of the Smith community. And if McCartney claims that the aim of the college was never to shame or ostracize, which is what Jodi Shaw claimed happened to her, why didn’t she express sympathy for what Shaw experienced (they never responded to Shaw’s 100-page letter of complaint)? McCartney has never shown an iota of sympathy or solicitude for Shaw.
Finally, let us remember that the atmosphere of racial hysteria at Smith began in 2018, when a black student complained of racist treatment. One of our readers used that as “proof” that Smith indeed had an atmosphere of systemic racism. But an investigation by Smith College itself, Insider Higher Ed, and the Boston Globe found that there was no racism involved in this incident (see my post about this here). Nevertheless, McCartney and others are still using that incident as evidence that Smith is ridden with systemic racism. And if you can’t find tangible evidence of that racism, well, there’s always that “unconscious bias”. It’s telling that no real evidence for pervasive racism at Smith has been adduced, though Jodi Shaw has adduced evidence for pernicious antiracism.
Yes, Shaw made a general complaint in her “public communicatons” (probably her YouTube video), that “her grievances about equity and inclusion training run more broadly—as she puts it ‘to the medical field … the publishing field, the tech field, it’s in the schools, the legal field, public schools, private schools, colleges of course, government. It’s everywhere’.” So what? Shaw is free to speak on such issues in her YouTube video, and her observation about the generality of CRT has nothing to do with Shaw’s complaint about Smith College. It’s unseemly of President McCartney to criticize Shaw’s private communications, and seems like a tactic to discredit her.
The one piece of disturbing news from McCartney’s letter is the President’s claim that Shaw herself requested that she be paid off in return for her silence, with the implication that she threatened Smith with a lawsuit if they didn’t settle. That runs counter to at least the implication of Shaw’s claim, on her GoFundMe site, that:
Smith responded by placing me on a leave and under investigation. During this time I was offered a settlement in exchange for my silence. In the end it was a decision between comfort or freedom. I chose freedom.
“I was offered” is not the same as “I asked for”, and if McCartney is right, then Shaw disssimulated in her letter and her request for funds. I trust Shaw will clear up the matter. In the meantime, there’s still a hold on her GoFundMe account, but the amount raised is now $211,527.
So I’m disturbed about the conflicting claims about the “settlement offer,” but I have to say that President McCartney has done herself no favors by using this incident to affirm the commitment of Smith to the idea of systemic racism at the College (which, I’m convinced, does not exist), and of “unconscious bias” of Smith people that supposedly creates a harmful atmosphere. That is not inclusive at all, nor is it likely to appeal to older Smith donors, who are surely appalled at this publicity.