Black prof thinks white privilege overshadows classroom discussions

One professor at Ohio State thinks that colleagues who change their materials for fear of offending students are “cowards.”

Koritha Mitchell, an associate professor of English at Ohio State University, argued on Vox that her presence as a black, female faculty member, combined with the white privilege her students are bombarded with on a daily basis, causes the classroom community to fear controversial discussions.

In her article titled, “I'm a professor. My colleagues who let their students dictate what they teach are cowards,” Mitchell says that her very presence makes students uncomfortable because she does “not fit any picture society has given them of an expert.”

“My students, after all, have grown up bombarded with the message that people who belong in authority—especially authority based on intellectual accomplishments and expertise—are men, usually white men,” she elaborates. “I challenge my students simply by existing.”

According to Mitchell, students also grow up learning that real literature is only written by white authors. However, she claims this learning trend isn’t limited to a certain “identity category.” She alleges that students are made uncomfortable by the presence of even a couple of required readings by authors who are not white. Mitchell said she doesn’t have the luxury of changing her curriculum to make her students more comfortable.

Universities, Mitchell said, treat students as consumers and therefore: “The customer is always right.” That is why she “read[s] about professors being afraid of their own students and changing what they teach in response to that fear.”

Edward Schlosser, the pseudonym of a college professor writing in Vox, said that he had “intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. In this type of environment, boat-rocking isn't just dangerous, it's suicidal, and so teachers limit their lessons to things they know won't upset anybody.”

“Who can most afford to teach in ways that are least likely to inspire controversy?” Mitchell asks. The answer is anyone who is not hurt by dominant ideas: the white heterosexual male perspective dominates all others despite claiming to be neutral, the professor writes.

"Have you ever noticed how, even if standards are changed to accommodate someone, Americans never worry about standards being lowered unless the person getting the opportunity isn't white?" she continues.

Later in her article, Mitchell claims that everyone is taught that a dead black person is not a true societal loss.

“If whiteness inspires sympathy, then those who are not white will most often become targets,” she writes.

“The most influential positions are held primarily by those who are white and male not only because of this country's long history of directing affirmative action toward whites but also because white men continue to insist that their whiteness and maleness has little bearing on their actions,” Mitchell concludes her article. “The more that Americans allow this lie to hold sway, the more the culture of fear will expand.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BethanySalgado