Over the past year, the culture wars have been raging and one of the places where they have been fought most fiercely is on American college campuses. Efforts to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ and censor professors and students found to be deviating from progressive orthodoxy on identity issues have intensified, particularly on liberal college campuses.
Last week, another target was found, this time at the University of Vermont. After claiming to see ‘anti-whiteness’ spreading around campus, Professor Aaron Kindsvatter published a video denouncing the anti-racist agenda that reduced and discriminated against people on account of their skin colour. As a professor of counselling, Kindsvatter was especially concerned about the implementation of policy based on the work of Ibram X. Kendi, the author of ‘How to be an Antiracist’, into the counselling programme. Given that these students were training to be psycho-therapists, Kindsvatter notes, this “rigid” ideology would inform the basis of their work:
I’m really afraid that the next generations of students, who will be mental health practitioners, are going to be taught that [Ibram X.] Kendi’s version of anti-racism is something that they should take into their psychotherapy sessions with them. Then they will take this teaching into the school as school counsellors to teach the children and that is what is particularly frightening.Because the habits of mind that inform works like Kendi’s and the D’Angelo’s are based on a rigidity and a set of distortions that are likely to lead to a great deal of unhappiness, both in interpersonal relationships and on happiness with one’s sense of self worth.
Shortly after the publication of the video, a familiar pattern emerged: a petition demanding the resignation of Kindsvatter started and a mealy-mouthed apology from the university to the students followed. Kindsvatter is still at the university, but for how long is anyone’s guess. Though he is tenured, he still feels insecure about his position at the school:
'I don’t think one can ever feel too secure in an environment where people are monitoring one so carefully… When the administration is sort of giving the okay to students and faculty to start a change.org petition to get me fired? That does not leave me feeling particularly secure.'
On the parallels between anti-racism and an abusive relationship:
'One thing that happens in abusive relationships is one person will try to control another by suggesting that there’s something deeply wrong with the first, but will never be specific about what that is. So I might say to you, ‘I really feel like I could love you if you would just try to change some things about yourself, and I accept you and I appreciate you and yet I feel like you’ve got some work to do’. But you’re never told precisely what that work is. And then I’ll say something like ‘the work is is never done and don’t expect concrete results’.Because the work is never done, it places this person in a state of uncertainty and anxiety, where they are now encouraged to give their moral compass to somebody else and to check in on somebody else as to whether they are doing the right thing or not. They’re doing what the other person wants them to do. And that’s that is what happens almost word for word in abusive relationships.'
'This is kind of a secular religion, what I would call fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a thought system that does not allow examination of or reflection on the suppositions that inform it. It’s just good in the eyes of the fundamentalist thinkers. And there is fundamentalism, that has broken out in the College of Education, and in the graduate counselling programme, and these ideas are taken to be almost sacred. And their suppositions cannot be critiqued. Because that is almost considered to be a moral violation to critique those suppositions.'
'The whiteness dialogue more generally has morphed into an idea where all of society’s social ills are based on the dominance of a particular race of people. White people. Which is an incredibly scary way of thinking… When you start attributing either good or bad traits to a person’s race, you have now started an incredibly contagious dialogue that is deeply racist.'
On dissenting students:
'If you don’t buy into this ideology, you tend to be on the outgroup. So those forces are sort of working against the wellness of students who are not buying into this.'
On those fighting the anti-racist agenda:
'They feel dehumanised because they, because they’re not, if they don’t go along with the, with the proper narrative, that they’re told that they’re the wrong and evil. And by the way, you don’t have to be white to feel this.'
On being the ‘racist professor’:
'As other people become the racist professor in the College of Education, people will slowly begin to see that the College of Education is going out of its way to hire people who share this [anti-racist] ideology. But what’s happening is they’re becoming increasingly ideologically isolated. So they have no diversity of thought, and there’s no one in the room to stand up and say maybe a teaching… about negative attributes to persons of a particular race is not a good idea.'