Smith’s President writes a letter exculpating the College

February 23, 2021 • 9:00 am

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.

Sincerely,
Kathleen McCartney
President

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.

38 thoughts on “Smith’s President writes a letter exculpating the College

  1. I just finished reading John McWhorter’s third installment of his online book “The Elect”. All this sort of thing does make more sense when viewed as a religion.

    1. “ We can only move in full awareness that this is a religion. Not “like” one — but an actual one.”

      -John McWhorter, from that excerpt/preview.

  2. “As a college, we remain committed to continuous learning in support of the humanity, worth, and dignity of every member of our community.”

    Dear President McCarthy, what is “dignity”? How is “continuous learning” supposed to support it?

  3. “….. 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)……”

    THAT right there is the point. But her “lived experience “ is somehow unimportant.

    1. Her “lived experience” is unimportant because she is white, in the same way that the lived experience of blacks was considered unimportant in the Jim Crow era and before. “Antiracism” is racism but with the pecking order reversed.

  4. I personally think that the term “antiracism”, at least when referring to matters such as this, should always be used in scare quotes, since it ends up being just another form of racism in practice much of the time. Just a thought.

  5. Unconscious bias: your actions demonstrated no bias and caused no harm, but your thoughts maybe, possibly, conceivably, potentially, could cause harm.

    1. What you’re describing is conscious bias that wasn’t acted on. Nobody that I’m aware of considers that to cause harm. Unconscious bias would be biases that you’re not aware of, i.e. that are not in your conscious thoughts, but are acted on.

  6. “Redressing the reality of racism requires asking ourselves how we might, even inadvertently, reinforce existing inequalities or contribute to an exclusionary atmosphere.”

    I wonder if Pres. McCartney has ever asked herself how CRT and the policies that flow from it reproduce the very attitudes she’s trying to eliminate?

  7. ‘… 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.’ I just googled “unconscious bias” to be sure I understood what you are saying and don’t understand how it can be a discredited hypothesis.
    I myself am AJA (Amer. of Japanese Ancestry), Sansei (second generation born in America) and recognized in my parents and in myself biases that we acted on without obvious intention, just for convenience, as a shortcut to actual research and analysis (e.g., not knowing anything about any of the candidates, we voted for the candidate with the Japanese name because it seemed the “safest” option; leaning toward the “pretty” applicant; choosing the older or younger man, depending on the kind of job required – even hiring the “brown” applicant on the assumption that s/he would work harder than the “white” one). Other than this, I agree that McCartney should not have published her letter.

  8. Consider the episode which started this dispute. As I understand it, in order to get a job as librarian, for which she was well qualified and seemingly on track for, Shaw had to give a big presentation. When the administrators found out it was going to be given in the form of rap poetry, she was told she couldn’t use it, and was therefore no longer eligible for the job.

    Black students would have been harmed by such an aggressive act, because rap is forever theirs. White people are forbidden to rap. It’s hate.

    Tells me all I need to know, really. This is not going to lead to mutual respect and friendships between the races. It’s going to encourage increasing divisions.

    1. Hindsight is 20/20, but you should always tell your boss your plans and expected product early. That won’t necessarily turn a failure into a success, but it tends to limit the scapegoating. (“I never agreed to that!”)

      Personally I don’t think a rap is a great media for a presentation. Seems a bit ‘trying to hard.’ But (a) the end of the project is not the time to decide that, and (b) if, as a manger, you give your expert the lead to design the presentation, you’d better be willing to back them up rather than firing them when they do what you asked them to do.

  9. 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.

    Well this is clearly not true. Ms. Shaw gave Smith constructive criticism about why the courses made her feel shame and you ignored it. She agreed to settle if you ended the “struggle sessions” at Smith, and you said no.

    So I’m disturbed about the conflicting claims about the “settlement offer,”

    I’m inclined to believe Ms. Shaw’s response letter, as that seems to follow a reasonable and predictable path about how these things go: Shaw initially requested training changes with no teal talk of anyone leaving or money or anything. Smith refused, and as a counter they offered a monetary severance in return for an NDA. Shaw said no to this, but said she’d agree to the severance and NDA if the money was higher. They said no to that larger request, and here we are. There’s nothing I see that’s at all unusual about that sequence. If the President wants to imply that the first agent to suggest a payoff was her and not them, well…let’s just say I hope she demanded everything in writing and not just in discussion, and I hope she kept a record of all her emails and correspondences.

  10. Look, as between Jodi Shaw and Smith college, I’m on Jodi Shaw’s side. I hope she succeeds in suing their pants off.

    But I can’t help but get the vague feeling that Ms. Shaw has developed a certain sense of self-grandeur. Maybe this is simply her reaction to being thrust suddenly into the national spotlight.

    Or maybe it’s inherent to her personality. I note in this regard that, according to her resignation letter, her problems at Smith began with the grief she got over her plan to deliver a library orientation presentation in the form of a rap song. Now, I know that many people unfamiliar with rap find it simple-minded and easy. It’s not. (I’m not a huge rap fan myself, but my sons are, and, when they were teenagers, I ended up listening to quite a bit of it through them. At its best, it is intricate, complex, and difficult to pull off.)

    The idea of a 40-ish white woman working as a mid-level administrative bureaucrat at one of the old Seven Sisters schools rapping about library orientation — well, bless her heart, maybe Ms. Shaw would have pulled it off with aplomb. I hope so. But it strikes me as rife with the potential for cringe-inducing embarrassment (although in no way would it constitute any type of an affront to black students, who have no ownership claim over it). The notion is, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson in another context, rather like finding a dog’s walking on its hind legs. It is rarely done well; but one is surprised to find it being being attempted at all.

    1. I haven’t seen any signs of grandeur or narcissism, just her being extremely heartened at having found so much support. She may have grandiose and unattainable ambitions of changing Smith (not likely to happen), but I don’t see that as a manifestation of “self-grandeur.” And surely her attempt to do rap was well meaning, if misguided–but how does that fit in with the complaint about “self-grandeur”?

      1. Really? I think you only have to look at the length of her letters and videos to get that sense. Her resignation letter was longer than Esper’s resignation letter to Trump, and I’m pretty sure raking Trump over the coals for his atrocious defense positions and requests was more important than Smith’s problems in their sensitivity training.

        Now, this doesn’t make her wrong. Like Ken and you, I’m cheering for her. But it does mean she sees her issues as being important enough that people should spend a lot of time thinking about them.

    2. “The idea of a 40-ish white woman working as a mid-level administrative bureaucrat at one of the old Seven Sisters schools rapping about library orientation . . . strikes me as rife with the potential for cringe-inducing embarrassment . . . .”

      Would the “cringe-inducing embarrassment” be on account of her being older, in her forties (not to mention being a white bureaucrat librarian). If so, how much younger would one (a white bureaucrat librarian female) have to be that one would not likely risk causing others cringe-inducing embarrassment? (I’ve occasionally read/heard that rock music is for the young below a certain age. I gather that it’s the same with rap.)

      I don’t know what if any interest in or enthusiasm for rap Shaw has. It’s possible that she herself was embarrassed to rap but thought it necessary to curry favor with students and the administration so as to improve her chances for promotion.

      Contrariwise, what if such a person, otherwise not considered guilty of “cultural appropriation,” was ordered by the anointed to include rap in her presentation? What if she did not like rap and was herself embarrassed at the prospect of having to rap and therefore refused to do so, even if it might make the difference in getting that promotion? Would that be sufficient grounds for declining to promote her? I trust that it would not (yet) be grounds for firing.

      To continue to “wear it out,” I contemplate someone in their 80’s who, having reached an age where they don’t care what others think and therefore, while disliking rap, nevertheless publicly indulges in it for the pleasure they get out of the cringe-inducing embarrassment it causes others. 😉

      1. I wonder if she decided to do the presentation as a ballet if she would be seen as non inclusive because it was “too white” or “too fancy”.

        1. What’s the old saying, “writing about music is like dancing about library orientation,” or somethin’ along those lines? 🙂

        2. Or if it was something else, then it would have been too something else.

          Meanwhile, all other presentations being ignored are fine because those presenters aren’t under the racism microscope of The Electish Inquisition.

  11. Perhaps “unconscious bias” wreaks its invisible evils in the same way that the casting of spells once did during an earlier period in Massachusetts history. In his classic work “Wonders of the Invisible World”, Cotton Mather went into some length on the ins and outs of “spectral evidence” of witchcraft. Perhaps the systemic discrimination at Smith College which so concerns its president is also demonstrated by spectral evidence.

  12. I think it’s an overstatement to say “an investigation by Smith College itself, Insider Higher Ed, and the Boston Globe found that there was no racism involved in this incident.” The incident being a student eating lunch in a “closed” (it wasn’t, exactly) dormitory while black. Here’s the actual finding, as reported in the Inside Higher Ed piece (which reiterates the Smith College finding):

    Investigators concluded that the caller provided “legitimate, non-discriminatory” reason for calling campus police on a black student who was eating her lunch in a residence hall living room.

    For comparison, (approximately) every police officer has a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for giving tickets to black drivers: they were speeding. But to judge racial bias, you need to look at the statistics, and see if speeding white drivers get ticketed at equal rates. No, they don’t.

    That said, one incident certainly doesn’t prove a pattern, and Smith College’s “fix” has not, to my knowledge, ever been shown to help reduce racism where it has been tried.

  13. On the matter of Shaw’s negotiation with Smith, I can well believe that the matter of non-disclosure was not initially front and center. Highlighting it wouldn’t have been a good starting position for Smith. Nor would it have been for Shaw, whose sole reason for negotiating would have been in getting the best monetary package she could get. Nothing wrong with that.

    The President’s statement suggests that Shaw would have been willing to settle with a non-disclosure clause if only she could have got the monetary deal she wanted. If that was the case it would make me think less of her. However, what seems more likely is that at some point in the negotiation Smith raised non-disclosure (it would have been their issue, not hers) and that that was the coup de grace to the negotiation. Shaw may well have walked away from it both because Smith was unwilling to meet her monetary demands AND was insisting on non-disclosure.

    1. I think NDAs are pretty common in such settlements. The interesting question is whether she’d’ve been willing to sign one if the price were right. She says no, since her whole reason for wanting a pile of dough was so she could continue her crusade against woke reverse-racism, and I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt to believe her. But the proof would’ve come had a big, rich bowl of pudding been put on the table before her.

      1. I suppose this shows how the educational system is a genuine “dot com” business as well, despite the “dot e-d-u”. Individuals manipulated by misaligned incentives.

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