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Opinion: Professor's Statements Show Colleges Still Have a Long Way to go on Equality

Maxim Sorokopud Maxim Sorokopud
29th March 2021
Opinion: Professor's Statements Show Colleges Still Have a Long Way to go on Equality
(Getty Images).

Note: The views and opinions expressed in blog/editorial posts are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of Misbar.

On March 11, 2021, Georgetown University made an announcement that some have severely criticized. The Dean of the Law Center, William M. Treanor, stated that he had fired Professor Sandra Sellers. The reason for the abrupt firing of the faculty member was Professor Sellers’s allegedly racist comments about African American students. 

This announcement led to different reactions in the press. Some have tied it into cancel culture, calling it an “anti-white witch hunt.” Others have condemned the professor’s comments and indicated that the college was right to have fired her. 

But what did the professor say exactly, and what were the circumstances surrounding the statement? 

In late February 2021, Professor Sellers and Professor David Batson were giving a negotiations class via Zoom. After the class had ended and the students had left, Professors Sellers and Batson remained in the Zoom chat. Professor Sellers then made the following statement: 

“I hate to say this, I end up having this angst every semester that a lot of my lower ones are blacks. Happens almost every semester. And it’s like, ‘Oh, come on!’ You know, [you] get some really good ones, but there are also usually some that are just plain at the bottom. It drives me crazy.” 

Neither professor appeared to realize it at the time, but their conversation was being recorded as part of the class for the students to consult later. On March 10th, 2021, Georgetown Law Student Hassan Ahmad saw this discussion. He uploaded a clip of it to his Twitter account. The footage then gained over 1.1 million views.

This action led to Professor Sellers’s eventual firing. Professor Daivd Batson is currently on administrative leave. As has already been mentioned, some have criticized the college for firing Professor Sellers, claiming that she was merely stating facts. But how can this be an acceptable argument? 

Colleges are places of learning. Students attend them in the hope of finding careers and making the world a better place. And then students of color hear their professor calling them “blacks.” Not only that, but she uses that term while complaining about their poor academic performance, as if the color of their skin makes them less academically gifted than their white counterparts. 

In fact, is it too hard to make a comparison between this statement and the increase in pseudoscientific “race-intelligence” claims? 

It’s upsetting to think that the following statement is necessary in 2021, but apparently it is: skin pigmentation has no impact on a person’s brain function. What is making Professor Sellers’s students of color perform at lower grades than their white counterparts is societal inequality. 

Technically, Professor Sellers may be correct in stating that on an academic level, her students of color are getting lower grades than her white students. But that in no way means that white students are smarter. 

As the American Council on Education states, “the educational journeys of today’s students vary greatly by race and ethnicity.” That’s because students of color are more likely to be low-income. They’re also more likely to have gone to school in districts that spend less money per student on education. This means that many students of color have had to fight against a failing school system to get into college and have to manage college life on incredibly tight budgets. And when a student is having to catch up thanks to being given fewer learning opportunities earlier in life, and when a student is struggling to stay afloat financially, it’s no wonder that they will attain lower grades. 

Of course, some people will make the argument that Professor Sellers was ignorant. But surely someone who taught at Georgetown Law School should not be able to make this claim? Georgetown Law runs a range of racial justice projects, which include training people on the issue of racial bias. And in late February 2021, the same time as when Professor Sellers made her racist comments, Georgetown University launched the Racial Justice Institute.

Even if Professor Sellers was unaware of the Racial Justice Institute and the racial justice projects that her former department runs, surely she should have been aware of the core values of Georgetown University? These values are summarized on the college’s website as such: “Today we’re a forward-looking, diverse community devoted to social justice, restless inquiry and respect for each person’s individual needs and talents.” 

Despite this evidence some will still claim that Professor Sellers’s firing is a form of political correctness gone mad. They will cite the fact that she did not know that she was being recorded. But perhaps Hassan Ahmad, the student who brought Brought Sellers’s statement to light, puts it best: “How many are having these conversations unrecorded?” 

Georgetown University made the right decision in firing Professor Sellers. She undoubtedly knew what her college stood for. And yet she was blatantly making statements that disparaged people of color. Just imagine what a student of color would think when they heard that statement. College is a tough time for any student. For a low-income student of color, it must have been devastating to learn that their college, which supposedly prides itself on respecting everyone’s needs and talents, was employing an educator who was openly mocking their academic performance. 

Professor Sellers herself has even acknowledged that what she said was wrong. In a letter to the dean of the law center, she stated, “I have done irreparable harm and I am truly sorry for this.” She also made it clear that she wanted these sentiments shared with the college community. Even Professor Sellers knows that her comments were inexcusable, so it is this writer’s opinion that no other sources should defend her. 

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