Distinguished Harvard Law Professor and former legal advisor of O.J. Simpson, Dr. Alan Dershowitz, had a conversation with me this week pertaining to the growing student movements spreading across the nation. Though he told Business Insider that the protesters were “tyrannical” and wanted a “superficial diversity”, one based on the numbers game; he provided me with encouraging words for a possible alternative moment at Emory. He believes that protesters are more concerned about securing “more” of their demographic on campus and receiving entitlements than creating an inclusive environment on campus.
He is obviously very conservative about this issue and does not see why it may be necessary for universities and colleges to specifically aid students of color, but Dr. Dershowitz and I did agree on something. I posed to Dr. Dershowitz: If these movements are superficial, how would movements targeting Eurocentricism in the curriculum sound to you as a scholar? “I want to lead a substantive movement against Eurocentricism here at Emory,” I told him.
“If the contributions of other cultures to science, literature and other academic subjects warrant inclusion they should certainly be studied,” he replied. This is a breath of fresh air coming from a world-renowned legal scholar given that he is a liberal professor, but totally against the current movements. This is evidence that even left-wing thinkers can be absolutely conservative about certain demands of the protesters, but a lot more accepting of other demands even though they get at the same point— inclusivity. I personally don’t think that movements calling for more ambitious measures should cease their activities by any means, but this does not mean that more moderate movements should not also get to action. That way, we can battle the same enemy on more than one front. In Alabama, we say it’s easier to kill a bee with honey than vinegar, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try both and avoid respectability politics at the same time.
Malcolm X often proclaimed, “As a man thinketh, so shall he do.” Education bares a significant weight on a person’s thought process and a vast majority of people do and say atrocious things because they[ are quite simply— ignorant. Students of color expect their peers to see every human being’s self-worth and value to society. It is obvious that they’re not learning that in our classrooms and neither are most students of color, especially in high school. History textbooks generally reduce Africans’ significance and role in the world to slavery, and our only contributions to modern science, as told by the modern academy, came in the form of Henrietta Lacks’ stolen cancer cells. Yet, college students of every ethnicity around the nation were shouting, “All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe,” in fall 2012. This is an American tragedy.
In a 1968, Emory’s Fraternity Study Committee cited a Yale professor and educational philosopher named Robert Hutchinson. According to Hutchinson, the liberal arts education “frees a man from the prisonhouse of his class, race, time, place, background, family, and even his nation, for the purpose of understanding and taking part in the great task of becoming human and forming a world community.” As of now at Emory, these are just empty words. But with discipline and consistency, we can give them meaning.