The racism of chemistry at Barnard

August 30, 2021 • 1:15 pm

I can’t really think of any academic field of study, including math, sociology, physics, mathematics, English, history, music, medicine, art history, classics, biology (including evolutionary biology), and so on, that hasn’t been indicted for systemic racism. Remember, “systemic racism” is not individual racism, and nobody denies that there are bigots in every area of academia. The question, which is one that motivated this course, is “is there systemic racism”? That is, is there a pattern of practices, or a set of policies, that are designed to discriminate against minorities?

Actually, that question didn’t motivate this new course at Barnard’s chemistry department, for it’s taken for granted from the outset that the Barnard Chemistry Department is systemically racist, and the course was designed to get rid of it.

You can read about this course at the American Chemical Society publication website (click below), and obtain the full pdf on the course here (if that doesn’t work, try a judicious inquiry). This is a description of a course offered for half a credit, one hour a week, in the fall of last year. Beyond the summary, there’s also a list of student reactions (positive) and recommendations.

The pdf with all the info (click):

It’s assumed from the outset that chemistry in general, and Barnard’s department in particular, are systemically racist. That occurs in the first sentence of the abstract:

To explore the myriad ways in which systemic racism diminishes chemistry, and to recommend changes to our home department, a seminar-style course was created that provided a structured venue in which to collaborate with students.

And they had a dream:

The dream was to dismantle racism in chemistry. The goal was to participate in dismantling racism in chemistry at Barnard College.

To dismantle systemic racism in a field or department, you first have to establish that it exists. Sadly, the article fails to do that, and I suspect it’s because systemic racism doesn’t exist in chemistry at Barnard (or practically anywhere in the U.S, though surely racists and bigots do. Instead, assuming that there was this kind of racism, and that the purpose of the seminar was to dismantle it at Barnard, if not everywhere, the course included the usual material: personal anecdotes or “lived experiences”, documentation of inequities as evidence for ongoing racism, à la Kendi, and so on:

Secondary readings included a recent letter from the 2020 ACS President Luis Echegoyen on ACS commitments and actions to diversity, inclusion, and respect and a recent essay in the Journal of the American Chemical Society written by Professor Melanie Sanford about an “actions not words” approach to equity and inclusion in the chemical sciences. Students learned about career stages, academic ranks, tenure, and the process of receiving grants as well as the career implications associated with grant funding. This information provided an important context for the demographic information provided, where students observed the obvious discrepancies.

Now these students and the professor are well meaning, for who wants to perpetuate racism? But before you start accusing departments of being infested with racism (with the downside being that if they’re not, students of color will still be discouraged from applying there), try adducing some data. As I said, none are given. This thus appears to be a performative course, a course designed to show that the department was doing something about the problem. 

There is also the usual denigration of meritocracy, here in comments from students:

“In our past few meetings, a lot of people discussed their frustration at the fact that the sciences are known notoriously for being used to unfairly weed out those who are deemed less capable. Working to implement growth mindset practices everywhere could help dismantle this exclusive stereotype that looms over the field of science and deters prospective scientists from entering.”


“I thought our discussion about how STEM classes are often set up to ‘weed people out’ and how this creates even more exclusion in the field was interesting.”

These are tacit admissions that increasing inclusion and diversity will lower formal academic standards, and nobody who’s honest will deny that. The question is how much compromise with merit should be done to avoid “weeding people out”? And it is really bad to weed some people out if they have no talent for going on in a field? Remember, academic jobs are far scarcer than candidates. (See below.)

At any rate, this is what the course summary says it accomplished:

These three major takeaway ideas emerged from the class:

• We need to talk about racism and inclusion (a lot).

• Institutions need to truly prioritize inclusion and diversity, weave it into the core mission and budget.

• Structural racism exists, but can be dismantled

You can be the judge if the game is worth the candle here.

Now not everything the course did is questionable. For example, they’ve recommending holding seminars in chemistry that “invite seminar speakers who are not academics in an effort to make clear that training in chemistry provides a strong foundation for work in many different fields.” In the sciences, where academic jobs are far scarcer than Ph.Ds, it’s good to let people know other areas in which you can profitably use a doctorate.

But in the end, it’s not the job of science departments to give credit to students to show how their disciplines are racist—even if they can establish, as they haven’t here, that their disciplines are racist. The solutions are all the same in every department: the three points above, which aren’t really solutions that eliminate racism. What about sending students out to inner-city schools to tutor or lecture kids in chemistry? And, of course, there is always the hard problems of ensuring equality of opportunity, which is the overweening factor at play in every accusation of racism in STEM. The solution to that certainly does not lie in courses like this one. The problem is that the entry to the pipeline is narrow for some minorities, not that departments deliberately narrow the terminus of the pipeline to prevent exit.

48 thoughts on “The racism of chemistry at Barnard

  1. Also, note that students actually gain credit for taking this course. It is part of turning STEM subjects into social-science subjects that merely talk about the science. (Presumably the Chinese will be doing the actual science.)

    Partly that is to make the subjects easier (and so more “inclusive”), and partly it is so that the social-science-educated woke can control them more easily.

  2. How do you “eradicate” structural racism when you cannot define what it is in a way that can be empirically tested, and you have no testable hypothesis regarding how it causally operates. Of course the Chemistry Department is “structurally racist” as the term is completely empty of any content.

    If structural racism is proved by racial disparities, and also causes racial disparities, but is otherwise odorless, colorless, and invisible, then it is not distinguishable from racial disparities. What does calling it “structural racism” add? We have no idea what causes racial disparities, so we have no idea about how we can eradicate them.

    Last, we know what “racism” is, but how do we know that “structural racism” has any connection to garden-variety racism? How do we know its not “structural witchcraft”, we know in Africa that whites are immune from witchcraft, but native Africans are not, so how do we know all this stuff isn’t caused by witches inflicting African Americans with bad ju-ju? Maybe its really the Cuban burjas throwing down some curse for not supporting the overthrow of Castro?

    1. To approach this another way, one that you’re probably aware of, let’s consider the terms “systemic racism” and “structural racism” to be a type of verbal legerdemain to divert attention from the fact that, in the course of the last several decades, individual racism has been on a steep decline. Though, as our host would say, I can’t be arsed to find a supporting citation right now, I’m confident in saying that as a society, Americans today are the least racist we’ve been in our history so far. Thus, for Kendi, DiAngelo, and their ilk to sell their wares, they have to exaggerate or even invent the situation of widespread systemic racism, which, as you state, has a blank enough meaning that those who are guilt-ridden or resentful can project their own dire meaning on it.

    2. If structural racism is proved by racial disparities, and also causes racial disparities, but is otherwise odorless, colorless, and invisible, then it is not distinguishable from racial disparities. What does calling it “structural racism” add?

      The phrase adds a moral necessity to do something about it, mandating that we eradicate any and all racial disparities.

    3. Something defined specifically can be measured. More importantly, one might well be able to prove it’s absence in some situations. Once one can demonstrate the absence of a problem, the people who depend on it for revenue streams need to find another grift. Or maybe it is more of a dodge.

      I would be willing to bet that conventional racism would be a very rare commodity at Barnard. My sisters went to Wellesley and Sarah Lawrence, which are in the same general orbit as Barnard. From their stories of those colleges, the students and faculty would gladly throw themselves down a well if it were considered an appropriate proof of superior virtue and empathy.

      Any student, excepting perhaps those whose scholarships require a specific course of study, can go down to admin first thing in the morning and change their major to chemistry or physics or fisheries management for that matter. As far as I know, as long as they have the will to put in the work, they should succeed. Once graduated, they will have a marketable skill.

      If there is a problem at Barnard, it is probably the students who enroll with the primary goal of obtaining an “mrs” degree. It would be more efficient to hire Yenta the Matchmaker than to spend 300K or more on a degree in economics, when your daughter wants to live in Manhattan and meet young men of good means.

        1. I have to agree with you. I am quite perturbed by the insinuation that most women go to college, particularly the elite ones, for the purpose of getting married. It is quite insulting to the women that go to college and excel academically there for the purpose of embarking on a professional career, just as any man would. Apparently, there are those who don’t realize that it is no longer 1950.

        2. To my knowledge, five of the traditional “Seven Sisters” schools, including Barnard (and all but Vassar and Radcliffe), remain all-women’s schools, so I should think don’t make optimal hunting grounds for spouses, especially given that the paired Ivies are now coeducational.

          1. I suggest, if you are ever in the area, stand outside the front gate at Barnard, and look across Broadway. You will see buildings just full of thousands of privileged young ivy-league men.

            1. And Columbia has been fully coeducational since the 1980s, so if the primary goal of a substantial number of women at Bernard is to troll for a husband (a proposition I find dubious), enrolling there would appear to provide more fertile fishing grounds.

        3. Well, I heard it from my sisters, and from my wife as well. It was a frequent topic of discussion with them, and was at least common enough for a slang term to have come into use to describe the phenomenon. OED has the phrase originating in the 1940s, and it was still in use at least 50 years later.
          I was careful to not say “most”, or claim any specific percentage, because I have no idea exactly how widespread it is.

          “A Barnard College brochure boasts that graduates of women’s colleges are more likely to marry and have children than women at coed schools.” Chicago Tribune 12-8-98

          College Magazine in 2017 argued against this, when it published a list of “top 10 schools that’ll make you feel like a boss and double major with that MRS degree”, as they listed only coed schools, and omitted the seven sisters.

          I had no idea this would be controversial at all, but I suppose these are different times. I will not concede that such attitudes are a relic of the past, because my peers are now of the age that we are sending our kids to university, and it is a topic that comes up regularly. People might not be as open about it as they used to be, but it is a consideration.
          People used to send their girls to finishing schools, but most of those are gone now, or at least rebranded somewhat.

    4. The beauty of “structural racism” is that it is impossible to measure. It means that the “struggle” against it will be endless, providing good living for kendis, diangelos and other conmen.

  3. It is striking how much of the energy for rituals of this sort comes from white individuals. Some of the motivation is obviously financial, as the rewards (consider Judith H. Katz’s consulting company, Robin DiAngelo’s fees, etc. etc.) make clear. But I suspect there is another motivation involved as well. Maybe there is a group who have been filled with resentment against STEM ever since they felt themselves “weeded out”, not “Included”, because of their difficulty understanding fractions in the 4th grade. Resentment of all kinds of symbolic and mathematical logic would explain both the incessant pressure to “decolonize” any given STEM field, and the incessant pressure to do away with meritocratic standards of any sort.

  4. For a self-declared old school Leftist and anti-war activist, Jerry can be quite naive. Proving that the present, so-called Left is full of it is the easy part. We have to consider that all the studies coming out of “studies” programs (Women, African American, etc) are really proto-Fascist. They’re all about grievances and settling the score, about their rights above anyone else’s. Intersectionality guarantees that the they all support each other’s theorizing, and all hide behind anti-racism at the helm. Right now, they’re unassailable; the charge of racism is one that kills.

      1. At least you’re not cancelling me! I assume you took offense at “naive,” or the suggestion that refuting these cries and whispers of racism are “the easy part.” I did not think of any of this as being rude, nor was that my intent. It is always instructive to see how one is perceived by others, so I will take this as a welcome learning experience. The failed argument “the Left” (I put it in quotes because I don’t think any of these people are authentic) is entirely based on proportionality. Outcomes are disproportionately poor for the protected classes, hence it must be proof of some form or oppression or discrimination. That’s a dangerous and ultimately self-defeating argument; I do trust that most followers of your blog can see through the argument. Thanks.

        1. The failed argument “the Left” (I put it in quotes because I don’t think any of these people are authentic) is entirely based on proportionality.

          I dispute this as empirically shown to be wrong.
          We look at resume studies, musical audition studies and the like, and it seems to me that the left has a pretty compelling argument that some of the disproportionality in outcomes is due to bias. This is sufficient, IMO, for us to want to institute change and improvement. If you object to the label ‘systemic racism,’ don’t use it. But recognize that when we institute things like blinding in auditions and scrubbing non-merit-related data from resumes, what we are doing is changing the system in order to reduce the bias and discrimination that we know empirically otherwise occurs. Which sounds like a pretty systemic problem, eh?

          The best analogy I’ve been able to come up with is ‘a crappy GUI’ (graphic user interface). A crappy GUI doesn’t prevent a program from working as intended, but it can result in a lot of unnecessary and unwanted user errors. Designers are going to see a crappy GUI as a system problem: some programmer didn’t design the system very well if it has a crappy GUI that results in a lot of user errors. A well designed system takes into account common user errors and is intentionally designed to prevent or reduce them. Well, we have lots of evaluation systems with internally decent logic, but which observably, empirically result in biased outcomes. Sex and race bias is a common user error of our evaluation systems. A well designed evaluation system – be it for job, school, award, what have you – should acknowledge that yes, these user errors do actually occur, and it should include designed-in systemic features to prevent and reduce them.

          1. Sure, that sounds like a plan. However previous empirical experiments do not bear this out. Stripping names from resumes did not eliminate disparities, blind musical auditions did not eliminate disparities, bodycams on police did not eliminate disparities – in fact many replicate studies seems to show no improvement or increased disparities. You are essentially accepting a priori that there is race and sex bias in evaluation systems. No dissent allowed. Experiments designed to prove this are rarely successful. I don’t know why people are interested in something rather than something else – but disparities exist for virtually everything. The only time it becomes an issue is if the disparity in NOT favorable to women of People Of Color. We simply do not talk about any disparities which favor women or POCs. Nobody really cares about basketball racial disparities in the US – which kind of shows what the goals really are.

    1. For what it’s worth, I think Mr. Coyne is trying to give them the benefit of the doubt even if he knows they don’t deserve it.

  5. Just what is systemic racism? Or structural racism? I certainly don’t have a full understanding of the consensus around these terms, but I did see that the terms are at nearly if not completely synonymous. In any case the phenomenon exists, and it is pervasive. But I don’t think we can singularly indict a particular field of science like chemistry for it. That does seem highly performative.

    Systemic racism (my preferred term) is the entire milieu of current and historical forces that continue to divide people based on their perceived race. Structural racism effects ones likely socioeconomic status, health, life span, and chances for criminal incarceration. Probably all countries have structural racism that extends to minority races or minority cultures (which get treated similarly. So think of Uyghur Chinese, or the Australian Aborigines). In the U.S., for example, we’ve had a long history of red-lining, white flight, differences in prosecution over drug use (for example heavy prosecution over crack cocaine use versus lighter prosecution over powdered cocaine use), and these have resulted in significant disparities of African American income , quality of education, exposure to crime and violence, job opportunities, health care, and everything else. These disparities become generational so that past racial divides persist to this day even as things like red-lining policies have been relaxed long ago. Structural racism stays, generation after generation, and is proven highly resistant to efforts to eliminate it.

    A while ago I listened to an excellent documentary about the hurricane that struck the New Jersey area several years ago. Thousands of homes and cars were lost. So how did people fare after one year? Overwhelmingly, white households were well on their way to recovery since their more valuable homes were well insured, and the primary breadwinner could continue working. They had savings to tap into, and their car insurance allowed them to use a rental car until they could replace their car(s) thru their insurance. They had the where-withal to navigate through the complex bureaucracy of FEMA. Meanwhile, African American families had barely any recovery. The breadwinner had lost their job (not being able to drive to it), b/c their car could not be replaced. What insurance and savings they had could hardly replace their losses, and they could scarcely get any headway with FEMA and were still waiting to get some money from them after many hold-ups b/c of this or that mistake in the forms.

    1. So how to we measure the amount of systemic racism at Brown University versus in the Uyghur Province of China? Is it a log scale?

      What is the impact of systemic racism on human health? For example, we can predict the effects of lead exposure based on dosage in children, what are the measurable impacts of systemic racism on children?

      “entire milieu of current and historical forces that continue to divide people based on their perceived race”

      Would this include CRT, which seems pretty racial divisive? How about “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter”?

      “Structural racism effects ones likely socioeconomic status, health, life span, and chances for criminal incarceration.”

      How does that work? For example, lets say we put in place social discrimination against Jews, escalate to concentration camps, and ultimately death camps from the early 30s to 1945. Pretty divisive based on perceived race, obviously, does that mean that German Jews (the few that survived) are more likely to be poor, unhealthy, uneducated, and criminal inclined in Germany? The Irish were shafted by the English for 400 years, does that mean they are poor, unhealthy, ignorant criminals too?

      Also, if we are talking about African populations, African Americans have been subjected to much more systemic racism I imagine than Africans (some African nations weren’t even colonized) as they were slaves and subjected to more white rule, but have a higher standard of living and better education than most Sub-Saharan Africans.

      “In the U.S., for example, we’ve had a long history of red-lining, white flight, differences in prosecution over drug use (for example heavy prosecution over crack cocaine use versus lighter prosecution over powdered cocaine use), and these have resulted in significant disparities of African American income , quality of education, exposure to crime and violence, job opportunities, health care, and everything else.”

      Not a problem in Ethiopia though (and never a Euro Colony), and yet African Americans have higher income, better education, better jobs and health care, and probably less crime than Ethiopians. It would actually appear that for Sub-Saharan Africans, proximity to systematic racism is ticket to better living conditions (and hence the immigration patterns from South to North).

      Not to mention all the anti-Chinese laws, I presume the Chinese-Americans have poor education, high crime, and low wealth due to centuries of explicit racial discrimination. Certainly no doctorates in Mathematics, right?

      1. On the same thread, why do we see these development patterns in the world, on one hand you have Singapore, on another Zimbabwe. Are the differences between these societies the result of systematic racism or are other factors at play? If there are other factors, what are those factors and how to they fit into disparities within a nation-state?

        1. Okay, 11 years occupied in the mid-20th Century. So 11 years of Fascist Rule means Ethiopians earn $850 per year on average, and African Americans despite 300 years of slavery, Jim Crow, red-lining and drug sentencing disparities earn about $63,000 per household and live about 10 years longer.

      2. These include some reasonable challenges, in particular the bit about how African immigrants tend to do quite well over here. What seems to be the effector of different outcomes is not race inherently, but other factors like poverty, crime, job and education opportunities. What really casts the mold are the expectations and study and work ethics of parents. As a sweeping rule, African immigrants can do well bc they were instilled by their parents to have the work and study ethic to get ahead. And they were taught by their parents and so on.
        If you want to see poverty, poor education, high crime rates in the U.S., one place to go is into predominantly black urban communities, where those conditions emerged b.c of historic racism (red-lining, white flight, and so on). For them, it was pure racism first, resulting in poverty, resulting in generational poverty since parents do not know how to teach their kids better.
        If you want to see the same outcome in white community, go to rural Appalachian areas. There you will find white people just as generationally impoverished as urban black people. But they did not get there by racism, as far as I’m aware.

    2. Just what is systemic racism? Or structural racism? I certainly don’t have a full understanding of the consensus around these terms

      There’s probably a few ways you can define it.

      Example restrictive definition: system rules that are racist. Like old real estate red-lining. This largely doesn’t exist any more, but some conservatives like to use this definition because it allows them to say there exists no such thing as systemic racism.

      Example medium definition: system rules that ignore or do not take into account non-system factors which can reasonably be predicted to lead to racist or unfair outcomes. So for example, resumes include names, which are not merit-related, but reviewers read them, reviewers have biases, and we know this results in biased results. This is a systemic problem, even though the formal rules of the system include no bias. Another example might be a system that ignores turns a blind eye to bullying or racist peer pressure within a cohort of competitors because hey, that’s not the system’s problem.

      Example loose definition: the Kendi definition, any system that leads to racial disparity of outcome.

      I don’t think it’s necessary to come to any ‘consensus’ on what the terms mean. We shouldn’t get wrapped around the axle about definitions. Rather, we should try to decide or agree on what problems we’re trying to fix and then we can go from there. The type of things we should do are very different depending on whether we’re trying to fix the problem of the first example definition vs. the second vs. the third.

      I’m a chemist by training. My own personal experience with Chemistry programs was that the first type of racism didn’t exist. The second type certainly did – women, especially, faced harassment from some of the professors and other students. The third type…well minorities were definitely underrepresented in both my undergrad and grad programs, but I’m not sure whether they did any worse than anyone else in terms of percent entering the program vs. percent achieving a degree.

  6. I used to be a chemist. I greatly enjoyed being a chemist, but I wasn’t a very good one, so I eventually ended up doing something else. If I was the grievous sort, and the excuse had occurred to me 45 years ago, I might have complained that I had been ‘weeded out’. But that’s one of the ways that science works: you have to be capable of making a contribution in order to stay part of the team.

    Thing is, chemistry is actually quite hard. Not everyone can be good at it. To get really good chemists, we need to find a way of telling them from those who aren’t so good. Welcome to the real world, Barnard.

  7. My youngest son is about to enter 1st year university for poli-sci and the course descriptions are riven with social justice/intersectionality red flags and tropes. It mortifies me to think of him being indoctrinated in to that mode of thinking. I’m trying my best to send him equipped to think critically about what he hears.

  8. Are systemic racism and structural racism inexorable societal forces against which individuals are relatively helpless and therefore require wholesale changes to society, or are they made up of a series of individual racist behaviors, whether intentional or habitual? I believe that systemic or structural racism came about because of a pattern of racist decisions made by individuals, and that the way to dismantle racist systems or structures is for individuals to stop behaving as racists. Indeed, I submit that this is what has been happening in civilized society, and it is why we’ve made such progress in lessening racism since the 1960s. In order to continue mopping up the remaining stains of racism in society, let us renew our commitment to this course of action, that is, changing individual behavior, and not be gaslighted into adopting any overarching authoritarian structure à la Kendi.

  9. Question for skeptics:

    Say you have a product, call it snake oil.

    First, you refuse to state clearly what medical benefits it has, and you refuse to state clearly what exactly the disease it is that you are using it to cure, except that it is very serious and can cause people to die.

    You set things up so it is impossible to determine, empirically, whether it is actually beneficial because you haven’t specified what, exactly, the problem is, and what, exactly, snake oil does to cure it.

    Then you sell the snake oil by having authoritative people give testimonials in support of the health properties of snake oil. Further, you accuse anyone who opposes you of being Neo-Nazi/KKK types, and of being politically motivated in their critique, further that America will descend into Nazi Germany if everyone doesn’t keep buying snake oil. Buying snake oil then becomes of sign of public virtue, as well as providing the inchoate medical benefits, and those who eschew snake oil see their reputations burnished.

    What kind of operation do you call that?

  10. As a metaphor, denying systemic racism is the same as saying that the river has no current, or the Earth has no magnetic field surrounding it.

    1. Why is it a metaphor? If you were describing a real phenomenon operating in the real world, it would be literally the same. You could measure it and make predictions based on those measurements.

  11. I dispute the whole ‘weed people out’ concept. That perception comes from (IMO) the fact that in practically every field, the beginner classes tend to be compressed (i.e. more content fit into less time). This is because the discipline wants prospective majors to learn the fundamentals quickly, so that they can get on to teaching the really interesting stuff – and, in the sciences, possibly participate in research as juniors and seniors.

    A contributing factor may be class size, and the fact that larger class sizes for first years means the prof probably can’t give them as much personal attention as a prof can their upper class students. But the department can’t really control that without either getting more funding or preventing people from signing up for intro classes.

    In truth, this ‘stuffing lots of concepts into the first year’ strategy isn’t to weed people out. Every department wants to increase the number of majors they get, and the sciences are no exception. It’s just a pragmatic necessity given the breadth of material a discipline needs to ensure their degree candidates get within a roughly 30 credit-hour period major…and have time for some really fun, advanced classes at the end.

  12. This is kind of an aside here but on sentence says “In our past few meetings, a lot of people discussed their frustration at the fact that the sciences are known notoriously for being used to unfairly “ weed out” those who are deemed less capable.”

    It is indeed the experience I had in (pure) math. The teachers’ goals were to find out the less capable (not hard) and get rid of them. Getting rid of students was very important to them. We would not go through a training process but through a sieve. Of course some people are incapable of learning math, but that is not what I am talking about here, I’m talking about professors being overly cryptic, meticulously drowning students and never reaching out to them.

    There is a class element to that behaviour of theirs.

    1. I can speak from both sides of the fence, from being a student and now being a teacher, that a lot of what looks like “weeding out” is more about the professor either not knowing or not caring about covering the basics. Weeding out is not so much done deliberately. Its done bc of obliviousness.
      I can’t count the number of times where I’ve had fairly senior students really thank me for finally explaining what an ‘allele’ of a gene was, or why some alleles are recessive or dominant. Its as if they had a succession of teachers who always assumed that they knew basic genetics.

  13. I’ve never heard of a half-credit course, but I hope they find time to learn who Percy Lavon Julian was and what he accomplished, and also that he wasn’t sitting in a tree outside his Oak Park mansion with a shotgun defending it against other chemists.

  14. I instruct STEM (SwE and application development). Grading is fully automated and totally color blind (i.e., the color or race of students have no effect on the grading). A much higher percent of “white” students successfully negotiate the curriculum that “non-white” students. Ipso facto, we have “systemic” racism. It strikes me that the solution would be to double down on mentoring individual students to bring them to an acceptable level of competency, rather than waste everyone’s time hand-wringing about something beyond our control (e.g., “systemic” racism).

    1. You have a system, but the mere fact that outcomes differ by race or ethnicity does not prove the system is racist, by any rational definition of that term. (Unless per Kendi, different outcomes are always racist? Is that the basis of your conclusion?)

      1. This is a semantic problem: the answer depends on how you define “racism.” For those who define “racism” in terms of group differences, the mere fact that we have groups results in systemic racism. But how can you have groups if no differences exist? Actually, the anti-racist position results in the destruction of racism. If Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi are equivalent to Bull Conner and Lester Maddox, we no longer have a working conception of “racism.”

  15. I might suggest there is something else going on at these high end liberal educational institutions. It is a fairly disingenuous effort to do their part in a somewhat racist America. From the beginning the country has been and is currently racist to a degree and continues to be a large problem. White supremacy and white nationalist is the number one domestic terror in the country. It is easy to point out where this problem exist in the country but it’s not in the Chemistry classes, at least not in any systematic way. The thinking must be, if it is all around us, it must be here as well. But they cannot find it so we will just pretend. So why not get out there and join the protest for voter rights or run against the current republican party. Protest all the recent history at the Supreme Court. In other words go where there is systematic racism.

  16. I don’t know of any less blunt way to say it. The hard sciences are perceived and labeled as racist because the schools have been lowering academic and intellectual standards in order to admit more blacks, and the people they have been getting do not have the capacity to excel in these disciplines. Chemistry cannot be dumbed down that much because it is self-verifying and too much departure from its historical canon will cause it to break down.

    There is no other reason. No one is a chemistry department is racist and there would be no way to include racist doctrines and still be teaching chemistry.

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