Prof: 'meritocracy' is a 'whiteness ideology'

Toni Airaksinen

  • A Pennsylvania State University-Brandywine professor thinks college faculty need to do more to undermine their students' belief in "meritocracy" and the value of "hard work."
  • The students are "are socialized to believe that we got to where we are…because of our own individual efforts," according to the prof, who wants colleagues to stop "perpetuating and reifying whiteness."
  • A Pennsylvania State University-Brandywine professor criticized her students’ belief in “meritocracy” and “hard work” in an academic article published Thursday.

    Angela Putman, who teaches public speaking at Penn State-Brandywine, designed a comprehensive three-day seminar on “white privilege” for her students, then interviewed 12 attendees on their belief in meritocracy and equal opportunity.

    "Whiteness ideologies may be reproduced through a general acceptance and unchallenging of norms."   

    [RELATED: Prof claims microaggressions disprove notion of 'meritocracy']

    To her dismay, Putman discovered that these “whiteness ideologies” were widely endorsed by students, many of whom agreed that “if I work hard, I can be successful” and that “everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve success.”

    Dismissing meritocracy as a mere social construct, Putman argues that students “are socialized to believe that we got to where we are… because of our own individual efforts,” especially in classroom settings.

    “Thus, whiteness ideologies may be reproduced through a general acceptance and unchallenging of norms, as well as through everyday discourse from a wide variety of racial positionalities,” she adds.

    [RELATED: 'Meritocracy' is a microaggression, university guidebook claims]

    While Putman believes that schools chiefly perpetuate these harmful ideologies, she also believes that college professors aren’t powerless, saying they can help undo students’ belief in meritocracy and equal opportunity through intensive re-education.

    Professors should teach students “how racism and whiteness function in various contexts, the powerful influence of systems and institutions, and the pervasiveness of whiteness ideologies within the United States,” she adds, recommending the use of “role-play activities” and “readings, discussions, films, and activities.”

    [RELATED: Prof wants to 'blow up meritocracy' with 'admissions lottery']

    Once students learn more about whiteness ideologies, Putman hopes that they will “resist perpetuating and reifying whiteness through their own discourse and interactions,” and learn to fight “manifestations of racism and whiteness within U.S. institutions and systems.”

    According to her school biography, Putman’s research focuses on “whiteness as ideology, the pervasiveness of white privilege, institutional/systemic racism, and critical pedagogy.” While she primarily teaches public speaking, she “hopes” to teach classes on gender studies and white privilege in the future, her biography notes.

    Campus Reform reached out to Putman for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter:@Toni_Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen is a New Jersey-based Campus Reform contributor, and previously served as a Senior Campus Correspondent. Her reporting focuses on campus First Amendment, Title IX, Equal Opportunity, and due process issues, and her stories have been profiled by numerous outlets including Fox News, The New York Post, PBS News, and The Washington Examiner.
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