Last week, Ron Jackson resigned as Dean of the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences at UC. His retirement comes after a period of transition for the college, which was also facing a budgetary crisis. Over the course of the last year, several faculty members resigned over apparent mismanagement at the school. But there’s more to this issue than simple budgetary measures.
Weeks ago, a cartoon was circulated among the faculty and staff of the depicting the dean and a high ranking faculty member as the king and queen of the college. We will not republish the cartoon here, but savvy readers should have no trouble finding it. This cartoon has turned into a new story, with public statements from the President of UC and the dean of McMicken, and has been reported on by every major media outlet in Cincinnati.
I should say before moving forward that I am an employee at UC and have publicly criticized what I believe to be racist policy in the past. Prior to this incident, I have spoken to close personal friends in the college about the status of the now year-old tensions at McMicken.
The talk of the internet, from reddit, to comments on local news networks is that it is not racist. But these comments only show the tone-deaf nature of citizens in our neoliberal society when it comes to racism. One frame in particular outs the comic’s anonymous illustrator as the racist that they are. It depicts the high ranking faculty member as the queen of the college saying that they will “fire anyone that does not look like US.” This cuts to the heart of the matter. While faculty members of color are being hired and promoted, the perception is that non-black faculty are left without a place in the college.
This perception is itself a manifestation of the racist claim of “reverse-racism,” neoliberalism’s go-to red-herring. It also tells us something about the illustrator: they are likely a white-person who feels wronged by any suggestion of racial equality (hint: Cincinnati (and the world) has a long way to go yet), because, for them, it means losing their place as the dominant ethnicity, a dynamic that the academy is not immune to (indeed, it has helped perpetuate it). Such feelings have no place in higher education, where critical thinking should be fostered, not shades of fascist demagoguery.
So when students in UC’s United Black Student Association (UBSA) staged a protest demanding UC address perceived issues with race, few of us were surprised. Whether it be the lack of a black representation in Faculty or student numbers, or the failure of the university to adequately serve the needs of black students, leading to high drop out rates, there is a sense that black students and the black population at large are being left behind in whatever direction our city is headed. And it’s not just at UC, our black communities are subject to increased policing. Gentrification is squeezing out residents of OTR and other poor neighborhoods. Where I live in Northside, my neighborhood newsletter warns of “young adults loitering”–it seems that whenever a group of black teens walk up the street somebody gets scared and posts on our local NextDoor social network warning others to lock the doors.
Many continue to pass the events of the last week off as black students and staff making something out of nothing. But even if that were the case, the students are barely being given the time of day to speak their minds. Maybe it’s time for us white people to listen for once.