AAUP conference emphasizes flag burning, white fragility, social justice

Professors at a recent academic conference discussed burning the American flag and other methods of promoting social justice on campus.

Presentations at this year’s American Association of University Professors (AAUP) conference included “Burning the Flag: An Artistic Means for Promoting Social Justice,” a talk on “white fragility,” and a panel concerning campus divestment from fossil fuels.

According to Inside Higher Ed, University of Pennsylvania professor Shaun Harper also gave a keynote address Friday on how faculty members should address race and racism in the classroom.

Harper’s speech argued the existence of hurtful microaggressions. He gave the examples of asking an Asian-American “where she’s really from” after she says her home is Columbus, Ohio and asking a Native American student to speak for Native Americans as a whole.

The professor compared microaggressions to paper cuts, saying that while one may be inconsequential, a series of them could impact a student’s time at a university. To address the issue, he recommended the use of trigger warnings, comparing their helpfulness to that of food allergy warnings.

Inherent bias “necessarily demands that we do some really deep and honest reflective work right now,” he said, concerning “the ways in which you might have been inadvertently socialized by parents and family members and messages in the media—for example, ‘black dudes are dangerous’—and the other kinds of things we’ve been socialized to believe about the racial other.”

Harper also emphasized the need for “racial literacy,” telling his colleagues that “it’s not necessarily your fault [that] you don’t know how to have this kind of conversation, but it is your responsibility to amass the skills that are necessary for moving forward.”

During the question-and-answer period at a speech he gave at a small college several years ago, Harper recalled an undergraduate student asking him “why ‘coloreds’ do this and ‘coloreds’ do that,” and used that insensitive line of questioning as an example of racial illiteracy.

Recounting this question to an interviewer, Harper winked and said he used a “loving, educational stance” with the student and told him about the historical “baggage” connected to the term. When the student apologized for using “colored,” Harper conversed with him and discovered that he was a senior about to graduate.

Harper thought that this student’s ignorance highlighted the need for faculty members to educate themselves and their students on issues of race and interacting with people of diverse origins.

Harper made his comments during the AAUP's annual conference last week, which consisted of numerous social justice-themed sessions as part of this year's focus on "racial, social, and labor justice in higher education."

On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, attendees discussed the “racial battle fatigue” experienced by minority faculty members, “the corporatization of presidential contracts,” “unprecedented attacks from conservatives in state government,” and safe space training.

After lunch with like-minded peers, faculty returned to sessions addressing an 82/100 faculty gender pay gap, racial justice, academic librarians in favor of faculty unions, “white fragility,” and even a presentation entitled “Burning the Flag: An Artistic Means for Promoting Social Justice.”

Friday’s presentations and discussions revolved around racial diversity in nursing, “the silent symptom of pervasive minimization on the African American architecture student,” and “otherism” “in the belly of the racist university beast.”

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