Antiracist scholar to deliver UR address

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As Rochester reckons with racial injustice and inequality alongside communities nationwide, antiracist scholar Ibram Kendi will step in to offer his insight. 

Tomorrow, Kendi is slated to deliver the University of Rochester’s 20th Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address. More than 3,000 people have registered to attend the free online event from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Ibram Kendi

Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and the founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. A best-selling author, antiracist activist, and historian of race and discriminatory policy in America, he is widely known for his books “How to be an Antiracist” and “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” which won the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

“Our students and staff felt that Dr. Kendi’s work was important and timely, especially after the death of Daniel Prude and other race-related issues that have impacted the country, campus and local communities,” says Thomas Crews, assistant director of the Higher Education Opportunity Program and senior counselor of UR’s Office of Minority Student Affairs. 

UR’s MLK address was instituted in 2001 to promote issues of diversity, freedom, civil rights, and social justice in order to commemorate King’s legacy. The event is hosted by the Office of the Minority Student Affairs and the Office of the President.

Historically, the MLK address has attracted influential speakers like civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, former Atlanta mayor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, and Symone Sanders, who recently was named senior adviser and chief spokesperson for Vice President Kamala Harris. It’s goal: to celebrate King’s legacy.

“We look to bring in speakers who bring with them various takes on social justice, race, equity and inclusion as it relates to Dr. King’s life’s work,” Crews says.

The Rochester Beacon posed a few questions to Crews. His responses are below.

ROCHESTER BEACON: This is the 20th year for the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address. What has contributed to its success and longevity?

Thomas Crews

THOMAS CREWS: Beginning with the President Thomas H. Jackson administration, university leadership received a request from the Minority Student Advisory Board (underrepresented student leaders on the River Campus) to create a university-wide event celebrating Dr. King’s legacy. This student effort resulted in the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Address. From 2001 on, each of president Jackson’s successors have continued in their dedication and support of this annual event, which now includes President Sarah Mangelsdorf. 

The longevity and success of the commemorative address can be directly (attributed) to the ongoing commitment of the Office of the President and the logistical work of the Office of Minority Student Affairs. Annually, OMSA pulls together members of the university community (students and staff) to form the MLK planning committee, who pull potential speakers from a list of university-wide recommended candidates. Speakers are then selected based on what is happening nationally, locally, and on campus. We look to bring in speakers who bring with them various takes on social justice, race, equity and inclusion as it relates to Dr. King’s life’s work.

ROCHESTER BEACON: The annual address has always attracted influential speakers. Why did you think of approaching Ibram Kendi this year?

CREWS: Two years ago, the Office of Minority Student Affairs developed a link on our departmental website requesting submissions of possible speakers for future commemorative address events. Dr. Kendi’s name was one of a number of speakers recommended by students, faculty and staff university-wide. This year the MLK Jr. Commemorative Address committee (which is made up of underrepresented student leaders as well as staff from various departments) selected Dr. Kendi based on the timeliness of his book, “How to Be an Antiracist.” Our students and staff felt that Dr. Kendi’s work was important and timely, especially after the death of Daniel Prude and other race-related issues that have impacted the country, campus and local communities.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Several organizations have had to transition to online events. What was the process like for this event? How will you measure success?

CREWS: We have the fortune of having an excellent event support team who have experience moving university-wide events from in-person to online platforms. For example, the event support team used their talents to support the “Difficult Conversations” series sponsored by Dean Donald Hall, as well as many other virtual programs. In short, the transition from in-person to virtual programming has been pretty smooth.

As for how we will measure success for the commemorative address, it’s always been our goal to fill Strong Auditorium, which seats well over 1,000 people. Due to the virtual nature of this year’s commemorative address, our current online registration numbers have exceeded 3,000. If our actual audience is half of those who are currently registered, we’ll consider it a highly successful event. Of course, we are extremely confident that Dr. Kendi will be engaging and informative in his presentation. This year, our Rochester weather will not hinder anyone from attending.

ROCHESTER BEACON: During the last year our community has been reckoning with racial injustice and inequality. What do you hope talks like these will do for our community?

CREWS: It is our hope that events like this will lead to eye-opening discourse regarding racial injustice and inequalities that continue to plague our community. We’d like this discourse to move beyond rhetoric and move to changes in policies and attitudes that have caused division among us as a nation, community and university.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

One thought on “Antiracist scholar to deliver UR address

  1. Many organizations are using “Anti-Racist” and Critical Race Theory in their training to help dispel racism. I’ve studied these and here is my summary if you are interested. The belief system being espoused is called ‘Critical Race Theory’ and I found the following benefits & concerns from the training. (Businesses have a unique opportunity to help foster civil discourse for their employees & the communities they support.) However, I also wanted to highlight some risks I see to an organization that uses this training. Fundamentally, if organizations continue to focus on group identity they will end up with a less cohesive organization as employees become more unified by their group rather than by the common goal or purpose; less productive as employees see the path to advancement less on merit and more on arbitrary HR policies; more litigious as it increases the potential for employee lawsuits based on libel, slander, & discrimination related to HR policies & practices; and finally there is no evidence that this is an effective approach to addressing racial disparities. There is a better way. Organizations can maintain our focus on unfair treatment of any group without “tearing down the system” as Diversity Equity & Inclusion leaders promulgate. I’m not sure people fully understand what’s being taught & promoted and the implications thereof. Many dissenting employees will hide from what appears to be a politically correct orthodoxy. And, again, I fear organizations will suffer consequences if they don’t mediate & balance out what they are asking employees to do & believe, e.g. do they know what Diversity Equity & Inclusion leaders mean when they say “take down the system” or “some need help seeing over the fence and others don’t”?

    1. Increases Sensitivity to racial disparities
    2. Makes clear our commitment to fairness
    1. It’s not training it’s indoctrination – “Anti-Racist” training provides only one perspective on how to address racial disparities; it does not offer Debate, Discussion or Deliberative Dialogue needed for effective decision making. ‘Indoctrination’ is teaching a person to accept a set of beliefs uncritically
    2. Overly focused on Group Identity – fundamentally, it moves us away from MLK’s vision of seeing each other based upon the content of our character towards seeing each other in group identity
    3. Divides us by Race – it advocates that the credibility of your view is based upon your group identity, i.e. some groups are oppressed others are oppressors regardless of an individual’s experience or beliefs; actually leads to more racism as whites become resentful of being the focus of the problem and blacks get angry over beliefs that whites ARE the problem. Examples:
    a. Seattle libraries implement racial segregation in the name of social justice
    b. Black NBA player calls a white player “(expletive) white boy”
    c. University Of Kentucky Segregated Residential Assistance Training By Race, Sent White People To ‘White Accountability Space’
    d. Used to justify recent violence & looting
    e. Creates an unjustified fear of police & other civic institutions
    4. Erodes fundamental Good Work Habits – advocates for replacing ‘whiteness’ traits like individualism, hard work, making a schedule, e.g. African American Museum poster
    5. Advocates that colorblindness IS racist – claims that colorblindness is one of the most racist things possible because it hides the real racism from view.
    6. Flawed definition of Racism – it’s not using the traditional definition which means a belief that one race is superior to another.
    7. Assumes Unequal Outcomes = Racism – racism is assumed to be the cause of any disparity between races, i.e. racism is why blacks are incarcerated 6x more than whites, social science shows that there are other reasons for disparities between races
    a. How is it possible to presume an employee has had more advantages than another employee simply because of race or gender?
    8. Inappropriately indicts all white people as racist – all white people are racist by virtue of skin color; places stress & guilt on whites and victimhood on blacks regardless of individual experience
    9. Implicit bias is not accepted in Court of Law -the connection between unconscious bias and biased behavior is unproven, e.g. people may have an unconscious bias but they can stop themselves from acting it out. Everyone of us have thoughts every day that don’t manifest into our behaviors.
    10. Intolerant of Disagreement – it rejects anyone the disagrees even black people (dissenters are “not really black”), white dissenters are only countering to retain their privilege (this is called White Fragility). This, of course, goes counter to the goals of diversity which is to accept all differences in people even opinions.
    a. What about the rights of employees who disagree?
    11. Creates at Blackhole of Demands – puts the organizational culture at risk “activists will start to make demands and will threaten to make trouble if they do not get their way. (They usually do not ask.) If you give into them, you will not satisfy them, however, because Critical Race Theory cannot be satisfied. It is guaranteed, before you do anything at all, that you will do it wrong because of your racism. You did it out of “interest convergence,” to make yourself look good because of your racism. You did it in a way that just created new problems that amount to racism. You didn’t do it sooner, faster, or better because of your racism. No matter what you do, the resulting situation must contain racism, and the activist’s job is to find it and hold you to account.”
    a. Example case Evergreen University
    b. Can lead to discriminatory hiring & promotion practices that demotivate employees that don’t get the special preferences
    12. Preys upon our Good Nature – people sign on to these programs because they believe in the traditional definitions of Diversity Equity & Inclusion but the real meaning is very different.
    a. Using the Equity analogy they show taking a box away from non-wheel chair bound person to give to someone in a wheelchair to ‘see’ the game
    i. Who wouldn’t do this?? But extending the analogy by race is another question entirely
    1. CRT Is a wolf in sheeps clothing

    However, all viewpoints should be heard so I appreciate him coming to speak.

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