College bans ‘caste’ discrimination from campus

Colby College recently banned caste discrimination from campus.

The gender studies professor who led the effort likened South Asian caste discrimination to purported racial privilege in the United States.

A feminist professor has succeeded in banning discrimination based on “caste” at one Maine college.

According to an article from Bangor Daily News — to which Colby College media relations director George Sopko directed Campus Reform — the school added “caste” to a list of grounds for prohibited discrimination that includes race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, political beliefs, and other identity categories.

The same article acknowledges that Colby “doesn’t have a large South Asian population,” but reasons that “it does have international students who might have at some point in their lives been affected by caste discrimination.”

The caste system stratifies Hindu society into four categories: “Brahmins,” “Kshatriyas,” “Vaishyas,” and “Shudras.” Meanwhile, “Dalits” — also known as “untouchables” — are pariahs at the bottom of the strata.

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Colby College gender studies professor Sonja Thomas, who centered her dissertation on a feminist interpretation of caste discrimination in a minority Christian community in India, led the effort to implement the policy.

“Because policies didn’t recognize caste, there were no avenues to go forward,” Thomas told Bangor Daily News. “I’m very much aware that when there’s a type of discrimination, people can just say, ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do about it.’ You have to first name what [discrimination] it is to say: this exists, we name it, we stand against it for us to even start to have a structure.”

Thomas noted that other universities around the globe influenced by the caste system — often unwittingly — are engaged in similar forms of “privilege” allegedly observed in the United States.

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“When they do [study caste], they have a very weird way of talking about it,” she said. “Just like racial privilege, the example I give is white people might not need to have the same discussion with their children about what to do when you’re stopped by the police in the same way that Black people in this country do with their children. People who have caste privilege might have blinders on when they study caste.”

Colby College acknowledges that it is only the second American college to explicitly ban caste discrimination. In 2019, Brandeis University banned the practice to promote “an environment conducive to learning and working, where all people are treated with dignity and respect.”

Campus Reform reached out to Thomas for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft