Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Princeton Students Harrass Black Woman Prof, Bloggers Issue Call to Action

December 4th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

Many thanks to Hagar’s Daughter for calling my attention to this disturbing case of racial harrassment, and for referring all of her concerned readers to the action alert at Black Women, Blow the Trumpet! This blog describes the issues raised by this case, and suggests some immediate steps we can take to support the woman at the center of this unwarranted attack, Dr. Yolanda Pierce. Dr. Pierce is the Elmer G. Homrighausen Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is also a Princeton alum.

From Black Women, Blow the Trumpet!:

Yesterday, I was outraged to learn that a respected scholar and clergywoman, Dr. Yolanda Pierce, was targeted by unnamed students at Princeton Theological Seminary with vile, vicious and demeaning “satire” in a newsletter titled The Foreskin several days ago. This newsletter was circulated all over campus. The distributors and authors were operating under the cloak of anonymity.

From what I have learned (so far), only two of the students came forward and apologized. I suspect that those two did not act alone.

We will not permit black women to stand alone against racism, misogyny, sexism or classism in the Academy, while university officials coddle, protect and pat on the head the students (or faculty) who attempt to attack the credibility of black scholars who have spent decades earning national and international respect.

Hagar’s Daughter joins with Black Women, Blow the Trumpet! to ask that concerned and interested readers take the following action (excerpted from Hagar’s Daughter):

A call to action by Rev Lisa at Black Women, Blow The Trumpet! ask that we telephone and/or email these university administrators to demand that Princeton Theological Seminary follow its policy in dealing with this hate crime. It matters not if black students were involved, each of them must be held accountable. It matters not if we haven’t seen the flier personally. Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell discusses it with Dr. Yolanda Pierce on their blog.
Nancy Lammers Gross, Dean of Student Life
Princeton Theological Seminary
210 Templeton Hall
Princeton, NJ 08542
Phone: 609-497-7880

Iain R. Torrance, President
Princeton Theological Seminary
132 Administration Building
Princeton, NJ 08542
Phone: 609-497-7800
Finally, I would like to express my support for Dr. Pierce. Every faculty member had a right to a workplace that is free from harassment, either from other faculty members, from students, or from administration or staff. I hope that others will join me and the bloggers from Hagar’s Daughter and Black Women, Blow the Trumpet! to demand that Princeton Theological Seminary take decisive steps to create a workplace in which all community members can perform their expected duties without fear of harassment and ridicule.
Posted by Ajuan Mance

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Posted in Academia, African Americans, Current Events, Dr. Yoland Pierce, Higher Education, Princeton, race, Racism on Campus, Uncategorized

23 Responses

  1. BlackWomenBlowTheTrumpet

    Hello,

    Continue to blow the trumpet!

    As a minister, I have many situations to address that involve first-hand accounts from witnesses. The fact that I am not a first-hand witness to what is being reported has NEVER swayed me from responding appropriately.

    Let us remember that there were blacks who assisted white slave catchers. There will always be accomplices who will be recruited by whites (or who will volunteer) for the lynching.

    I noticed that someone from Princeton has been REPEATEDLY visiting blogs that have reported on this incident.

    One commeneter demanded the right to cross examine the accusers!

    Racists always want someone to explain why their hatred is offensive! I don’t waste my time with the mind games racists play.

    The Princeton troll has gone to blogs wanting to know:
    “Did you read it yourself or just relying on the word of the Princeton Seminary president by HIS USE of the terms malicious and racist?”

    Is this troll nuts? His seminary president said the newsletter content was “malicious and racist” and he’s googling blogs and demanding to know WHY it’s deemed racist?!

    Could this be one of the authors (or distributors) of the newsletter?

    Who ELSE at Princeton using the same IP address would be visiting my blog FIFTY TIMES and going to other blogs, clicking in the comment section…except one of the authors?

    It seems SOMEONE is very displeased that this incident is being widely discussed.

    The IP address of this troll is posted at my blog. Do not feed the trolls. Let’s focus on the goal.

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
    Lisa

  2. Ajuan Mance

    Lisa, thank you for your response. First, I want to say that your blog is outstanding, and I greatly admire and appreciate the work that you do.

    Second, I want to thank you for sharing this information. The blogosphere is an ideal space in which to dialogue on complex issues with readers from a wide range of experiences. It is always troubling when people use this wonderful resource to derail conversation and silence others, rather than to engage in and perpetuate constructive dialogue.

    These efforts to shut down or derail conversation may well fall outside of the realm of protected speech because they seek to infringe on the free speech rights of others.

    For my part, I welcome disagreement and debate, and have already learned much from my readers. Still, I cannot tolerate comments that attack either other respondents or the blogger herself (me).

  3. hagar's daughter

    Thanks for sharing this information with your readers.

  4. Esquire

    Linked…

  5. Villager

    I’ve linked to BWBTT posting via a ‘badge’ on the left-hand sidebar of my blog.

    Please let us know how this issue is resolved…

    peace, Wayne

  6. Ajuan Mance

    Thanks to Hagar’s Daughter for brining this to my attention; and thanks to Esquire and Villager for spreading the word via your own blogs.

    I’ll post any follow-up information that comes my way.

  7. James

    Greetings!
    Since this is a blog that (as I gather) works hard to fight racism and promote greater racial identity for the black community, I feel this is the place for me!
    I, however, am a white male, and as thus can only do so much to support the cause…. If you would like to know the nature of this support, one must only look to Dr. James Cone’s discussions on the subject of white advocates. I wish I could do more, and am always dreaming of ways in which I can. I’ll leave it at that.

    The occasion for my writing is this debacle at Princeton Seminary. I have read the Foreskin in its entirety, and am friends with some of the victims as well as some of the perpetrators. In fact, some of the victims are still friends with the perpetrators. Herein lies the question for debate on this blog: how does a lifelong advocate for gender equality, racial reconciliation, racial identity, etc. read this newspaper (the foreskin) and find it just a mediocre/poor version of the Onion? As it is written, as obvious irony, sarcasm and satire, everything written about Yolanda Pierce (and most of the others in the article) should be interpreted to have a foundational meaning of greatness. The authors love her – she is a fantastic professor, one of the best on campus! The article is only funny insofar as it is widely known what a great professor, teacher, preacher, black rights advocate, etc that she is. Even though none of the articles actually warranted laughter from me, they were obviously meant to be funny. What makes satire funny? It overwhelmingly takes a viewpoint it most certainly does NOT believe in because it maintains the absolute unbelievability of that viewpoint. Given that description, the genuinely benevolent motives behind each writer’s pen, and the wonderful person that Yolanda Pierce is, this article should offend no one. Given the nature of satire, the only people who might have the right to be offended are people who actually dislike Dr. Pierce (if any such person exists, which I doubt), for the article expressly discounts their beliefs.

    No one as of yet has been able to directly explain what exactly they were hurt by, which leads me to believe that it is possible to read racism into something because it feels like it should qualify as racism. This in turn hurts the chances of racial reconciliation because it assumes too much.

    My comments are honestly one of searching, one of confusion, and one of concern – there should be no malevolence read into my comments. In my lifelong quest for racial reconciliation, events like these allow for learning opportunities for advocates of racial equality, reconciliation, and peaceful ethnic pride. Please comment, let’s move this along to actually learn something from it!
    Thanks a lot!
    James

  8. Katie Mulligan

    @James,

    I also am a white PTS student who has read the “newsletter.” It is offensive to me personally. I would be happy to meet with you in person to explain more fully my concerns. My concerns range from racism to sexism and heterosexism. Sex and sexuality were used as a weapon.

    The standard for evaluating this isn’t just the intent of the authors, but also how it was received by those named in the newsletter. Students keep defending the newsletter and the authors instead of listening to those who are hurt. Students are posting comments defending the newsletter on blogsites authored by African American individuals. We are not listening to what our black brothers and sisters are trying to tell us. This is a common tactic of blaming those who have been wounded for “overreacting” and it further compounds the damage.

    To those of you who are blogging about this event, my thanks. You have been my sanity these last two weeks.

    And to my fellow PTS students, if you’re going to comment on these blogs, please use your full name. We’ve done enough behind anonymity.

    Katie Mulligan

  9. James

    Hi Katie and all readers,

    I understand that the newsletter was hurtful for you. There certainly are many who were offended by it, both in my community (Princeton U) but more so in yours (PTS). Students, faculty, administration have all felt hurt by this newsletter, and there’s no getting around that. And you’re certainly right in that the reception of the newsletter by those offended, regardless of how it was intended, is what counts. That’s just good pastoral care, from what I understand of it.

    I will give Katie the benefit of the doubt and assume that her comments about people defending the newsletter and harmful white racist tactics of blame did not refer to my message in particular but instead to general messages in the blogosphere surrounding this issue. I am not defending the Foreskin in the sense that I believe people are wrong to take offense. I am simply attempting to gain full understanding of its offenses and reactions to it so racism, sexism, and heterosexism (and the like) are minimized or eventually neutralized in society. I believe we are of the same mind on these issues.

    Here is my issue: systematic generalizations of a people, class, gender, etc. are indeed dangerous if they perpetuate stereotypes that misrepresent and injure OR if they have the effect of usurping power or rights. Where these do not occur, racism, sexism, class-ism does not occur. The Foreskin did attempt to make some lame jokes, but the fact that Yolanda Pierce is the only black female professor on campus is not a misrepresentation or injurious. Nor does it attempt to usurp any power from her or the African-American community. Simply going by definitions, the Foreskin is not racist; racism is about power. However, race is such a hot-button topic that it would be easy to mistakenly read racism into something where race is mentioned. I simply wish to end mistaken assumptions and focus on the real issue: assumption.

    Assumption, as the bloggers here will no doubt recognize, is the basis for all racism. It deals with not communicating well, generalizing something for the sake of ease, and not taking time to truly understand. Whites (Americans especially) have historically been terrible about assuming, overgeneralizing, and establishing a system of government around such dire mistakes. Ironically, it is assumption that has made this whole situation blow up to insane proportions. Intent was assumed to be malicious, racism was immediately assumed (and attributed) even by people who hadn’t read the text. Being offended is one thing, and bearing your hurt with another person is a wonderful thing to do, and is in fact a Christian ideal. Being sad or angry for a friend is good empathy, but reacting without full information is assumption of the most dangerous kind – the very assumption that hatred and racism is based on.

    As a response to Lisa, I believe I have just proven that one does indeed need to see the information for herself/himself before creating chaos. This incident could have been healed naturally from inside the community, but panic has instead ensued. I truly wish for constructive feedback, even if you just think my logic and ideas are devoid of anything good. Let’s heal this thing.
    James

  10. Katie Mulligan

    James: Feel free to e-mail me after this week (we’re in the middle of finals). If you would like to listen to my concerns, I would be happy to go through them with you in detail–since we are both in Princeton, let’s do it over coffee.

    I don’t think assumption is the real issue at stake, though. And I don’t think people are panicking–I think they are angry.

    Katie Mulligan
    kathryn.mulligan@ptsem.edu

  11. James

    Hi again Katie (and everyone else!),

    You are most definitely right, people are very angry about this issue, and some of them are completely justified in being so. Plus, one doesn’t necessarily need justification to be angry in the first place. Thank you for being willing to meet with me; I am interested in what you have to say, how you were affected, and what your take on things are overall. I fear I am not very articulate in person, as it sometimes takes me awhile to put the desired wording together, so I would prefer to chat via blog. It does tell me, however, that you are open to helping heal the situation, starting with personal pains and convictions…I can only hope there are more on your campus that feel the same way.

    Please let me know what you think the real issue at stake is, and anything else you’d like to share. I know in this time and situation that voicing concerns and feelings can be healing and therapeutic, so I encourage it.

    As for anyone else reading these blogs, could you answer one question for me?
    There are many blogs out there in which someone has asked the bloggers this question: “why was the newsletter offensive to you?” and “what part of the newsletter was racist?” The responses all seem to say that actually giving the person (whom they suspected was likely a writer or contributor to the Foreskin) an answer somehow encourages racism. Unfortunately the Foreskin was not written in any direct manner to be racist, according to those who wrote it. They truly do want to know what exactly offended people and what was racist about it. So that is my question: what exactly was racist about the newsletter, and/or in what ways were you offended?

    I pose the question because as part of true forgiveness and reconciliation, an apology must first be given. However, an apology without true repentance means nothing. For true repentance to occur, one must know what one did wrong. Only when that occurs is the offending party able to reflect upon the situation and admit wrongdoing. There is an amazing book out that discusses many aspects of forgiveness and reconciliation, and I believe there is a chapter/chapters about racially charged offenses…I’ll have to double check. In the meantime, the name of the book is “On Apology” by Aaron Lazare. Check it out!

    There are no ulterior motives behind my question, I guarantee it.
    I am very interested in true opinions and I only seek reconciliation. I would hope that this cause could unite anyone from any background, and pray it does so.
    James

  12. Katie Mulligan

    James,

    Here is a link to “The Bridge Poem” by Donna Kate Rushin.

    http://www.chicanas.com/lornabridge.html

    I think it expresses articulately why bloggers have not wanted to explain their outrage. It is a function of white privilege that we insist that everybody else explain why they think what they think in order to legitimate their thoughts.

    I am not at all willing to discuss the details of the newsletter on blogsites, because this simply continues the attack on people who never gave their permission to be used in that way in the first place. While others were mocked because of their beliefs or the work they do at the seminary, Dr. Pierce was mocked because she is black and a woman.

    I know many have defended this as poorly written satire–like The Onion gone wrong or an off night for Steven Colbert. I guess I would argue that the genre of satire lends itself to racist and sexist commentary. The history of black/white relations in this country is deep and painful; this newsletter displayed a profound lack of empathy for those who have suffered from racism, sexism and sexual violence.

    If you’re really curious, cross register or audit at the seminary for Dr. Taylor’s Empire/Capital class or Dr. Pierce’s African American religious history class in the spring semester. The offer to meet stands until I leave the seminary in May.

    Katie Mulligan

  13. James

    Hi Katie,
    I’ll make this fast since I must sleep. I am not looking to legitimate thoughts by insisting someone explain why they think what they think. It is legitimate in and of itself if someone is hurt by something. The end. I am asking so that I might know, for my own relationships, how to avoid offending someone. I typically am fairly good at spotting this, and as far as I know, I have not offended anyone recently, nor do I plan to. However, I obviously misread something in the Foreskin and only saw it as poorly written satire. Therefore I would like to know so something like this does not happen by any fault of my own.

    I feel this is quite altruistic, and if there is some fundamental problem with my request, then there is no hope for the racial boundary to be broken down. The wall will continue to build, brick by brick.
    James

  14. Katie Mulligan

    Apologies to everybody for hijacking the blogspace.

    James–let’s take it offline. Send me an e-mail.

    Katie Mulligan

  15. James

    Greetings all,

    Please feel free to dialogue with me about this – I had no intention of “hijacking” this blogspace, and hope it will encourage good discussions. If there is any hope of beating racism there must be dialogue, so feel free.
    James

  16. Ajuan Mance

    Katie, no need to apologize. Blogs are supposed to be spaces for discussion. Your dialogue with James have given us a lot to think about.

    James, the problem with this and many of the other attempts by student publications across the country to publish race-based satire is that, quite frankly, the satire is poorly executed — so poorly, in fact, that it reads less like a good-natured joke and more like an attack.

    In this case, students produced a magazine containing what some have described as satire or humor. Only problem was that their satire contained some of the same kinds of things that Black students hear and from people who are NOT being satirical at all.

    This designation as satire, though seems very arbitrary. I wonder if defenders of this publication understand that Black students and faculty hear/have heard these types of comments their entire academic careers, often by those who wish them ill and/or by those who are uncomfortable with their presence on campus.

    It seems like defenders of this publication are suggesting that when such comments find their way into a publication that calls itself humorous or satirical (usually after the fact), that these same comments are no longer racist.

    I’m not sure that creators of very poorly executed satire get to decide what is and isn’t offensive to Black people, even if the material was vetted by a few of their Black friends (and I do not know if this was the case).

    Here’s an analogy that might help: Say a Black student is walking down a path on campus and someone yells, “darkie go home.” Most would agree that this is a racist incident. Now imagine that a student humor magazine includes comic strip that the editors think is funny, and that the punchline has one of the characters in the strip saying, “darkie go home.” The editors and defenders of this so-called humor would say that Black people who experience this as racist are overreacting.

    For my part, a racist statement is still a racist statement, even if it’s printed up in a publication that non-Black people believe to be funny.

    For those who want to know how to write race-based satire that might actually not feel like an attack on people of color:

    1. Look at who’s laughing? If few or none of the racial groups you’ve written about are laughing, then your satire reads more like an attack.

    2. Are people of color underrepresented? Are there very few POCs on faculty and in the administration? Then consider that the students and faculty of color may already feel under disproportionate scrutiny. Unless it is well-executed, your clumsy “satire” will feel like just another affirmation that most white people on the campus believe that people of color don’t belong.

    3. Are you making any statements that a racist would make? Then you may wish to consider how and why a reader of color would understand that you somehow mean anything different than a racist would mean if they said these types of things.

    4. White people can write successful humor and satire about race. There are popular comedians who tell jokes about Black people to Black people, and those Black people laugh with them. Read and study those comedians and writers. De-center yourself and your whiteness and try to imagine the perspective of someone at the margins. What kinds of humor would have people of color laughing with you? What kinds of humor would make people of color feel like they were being laughed at.

    5. Read good satire, and read it a lot more often. The Onion will not suffice, but it may be a fairly good place to start. Satirical novels will immerse you in that literary mode.

  17. James

    Hi Ajuan,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. That was a fantastic response, very informative, and also respectful. It is the only one of its kind I have seen while this particular issue has been going on, so it is certainly a breath of fresh air.

    As for your comments particularly, I agree 100% that the vast majority of race-based satire tends to miss the mark of humorous and ventures into the racist. Humor is certainly a very precise and dangerous means of communication, especially intellectual humor like satire. When conceptual shifts are required to “get” the joke, it can be interpreted anywhere along the line and hurt people in many different ways. I do think the newsletter at hand was a poor attempt at satire, so it is no surprise that it offended many.

    The thing I think most white people that are, by all measures, not racist have a tougher time remembering is exactly what you said above: that unfortunately, many Black students have probably already experienced some form of racism from those who do wish them harm. Caution is therefore much needed when attempting the risky business of humor. It is truly hard to put one’s self in the body of someone from another race, simply because it’s such an essential part of someone’s identity, alongside things like culture, experience, history, etc. But it is something to recognize and look out for, especially for future pastors who are charged with caring for people’s souls.

    Your instructions for the race-based satire are good – you got a youtube instructional video out on that I can send to Princeton? Nah, but I do actually have a couple follow-up questions.

    What role do you think intent plays in any statement deemed racist, and to what extent?
    Also, one of the weapons historically used by whites to downplay racism is the “you’re overreacting” stance. Does such a thing exist as overreaction to something ambiguously racist, or is any reaction to any perceived racism valid?

    Thanks for dialoguing a bit – I appreciate your wisdom. let’s keep it up.
    Peace!
    James

  18. Khadija

    Hello there, Ajuan!

    {waving}

    Thank you for bringing further attention to this matter.

    I join Rev. Lisa’s call to NOT feed the trolls who are seeking to divert everyone’s attention away from justice and toward their feigned confusion. This is often a trick by those racists (and their enablers) who do not want to be held accountable for their actions.

    I discuss this at length in a “teachable moment” comment to my blog post about this matter. I hope you’ll take the time to check it out.

    http://muslimbushido.blogspot.com/2008/11/open-letter-to-princeton-theological.html

    Peace, blessings and solidarity.

  19. James

    Hi again Ajuan,

    I must say, I do understand that many are very angry about this, and today all I can do is empathize because I’ve never been through anything of that nature. I also must say that I am saddened every time I see something like the previous post on a blog because it doesn’t leave room for dialogue. The key to peace, reconciliation, and justice is dialogue. I respect free speech, but Khadija’s post simply makes negative progress in the fight against racism. I feel as if all anyone has to do to get an idea of my stances is read my posts and decide for themselves. Refusing to discuss only leads to wars, miscommunication, hurt, disrespect, anger, etc.
    There probably are (and I imagine always will be) white people who feign confusion to “trick” some, but to assume that any white person constructively dialoguing about race is malicious is simply…well, racist.
    I assure everyone who reads this blog that I am not interested in defending racist writing, thoughts, acts, or people. In fact it’s despicable. So, with that in mind, I hope to continue dialogue and keep seeking the truth in all things.
    James

  20. BlackWomenBlowTheTrumpet

    Ajuan,

    I fully support the teaching moment that Khadija has presented. It is a positive contribution for all who want to learn how to be astute activists.

    Any one who reads Khadija’s “teaching moment” can clearly understand that she IS NOT making generalizations about all white persons. There is NOT ONE statement in her remarks that alludes to this.

    Someone mentioned “it’s not racist since others were being ridiculed”. Oh really now.

    This means as long as white people are being insulted then I can be called a N—- and it’s not racist since whites were being insulted at the same time I was? That argument is ridiculous.

    Khadija mentions at her blog that she has accepted the first-hand witness account of a credible and identified source. I agree with her.

    Reporters rely on facts from credible sources ALL the time and report on those facts.

    I also agree with Khadija that:

    - No one has to explain their outrage or justify their actions for protesting racism.

    Princeton Seminary is getting calls EVERY day about this matter.

    These calls are making an impression on the administration because they are coming from all over the nation.

    - No one has to justify why the newsletter was “malicious and racist”.

    The assessment of the seminary president who read the newsletter is NOT off-base by making that official statement.

    Princeton Seminary has a legal team. I do not doubt that the legal team reviewed the newsletter and determined the TYPE of statement about it that could be made. I believe the president made the right decision to call it what it is.

    I have counseled women who have been raped. The rapists usually claim that the person raped is exaggerating the facts or lying about everything. The rapists usually demand to cross-examine their accusers.

    There are those who know the identity of the rapists who refuse to give the information….all the while coddling the person who was raped.

    I have seen this quite often.

    It is hypocritical for any persons to “claim” to be outraged by this racist incident while protecting the identities of those involved.

    There are many tactics being used by false allies. Khadija is a seasoned attorney and online activist and I commend her for sharing all of the lessons she has learned in the trenches!

    KUDOS to Khadija for speaking truth to power!

  21. BlackWomenBlowTheTrumpet

    Here is just a snippet from The Foreskin newsletter that a national news outlet now has a copy of!

    “We here at The Foreskin love that the seminary hired a black female professor…we love it so much that we thought, for a whole second, that maybe the seminary should hire more…”

    Oh sure…this content is just soooo hilarious that it confuses sooo many about why no one is laughing!

    This is material produced by persons who are studying to become ministers and theologians??

  22. Ajuan Mance

    Thank you to all of the respondents to this post. The dialogue here has been fascinating, exhausting, and though-provoking.

    Rather than write another lengthy response here, I have chosen to respond in a new blogpost. I welcome you to continue this discussion on my blog and others, and I thank you — once again — for your sincere and provocative words.

  23. mark

    Anyone who has published this “satire” should be asking themselves what the greater community thinks about what they have written. I was doing a Google search for Princeton Seminary but noticed the Princeton “foreskin” appear in the suggestions list. Was this the hope of the writer…that others like me would stumble across it and wonder and read? If so, then congratulations! But being a teacher of literature and composition, as well as a hopeful seminarian in the fall, I cannot help but feel a little embarrassment as I read this. Even if the writing is good, is the intent what the good Lord would have us do? I wonder…

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