Students demand Pomona rescind offer to prof because she's white

Students at Pomona College have published a demand letter urging administrators to rescind their offer to hire Sociology Professor Alice Goffman because she’s white.

The “Letter to the Pomona College Sociology Department,” published last Friday argues that by hiring Goffman, the administration has neglected their commitment to promoting diversity and supporting women of color.

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The collective of “Sociology students, alumni, and allies” open their letter by expressing their “anger” and “concern” regarding Goffman’s hire, calling it a “failure” to address the lack of professors of color on campus.

Further, they argue that because the majority (56.7 percent) of students in the Sociology department are now people of color, it is problematic for the department to continue hiring white people.

“The Sociology Department at Pomona College has not consistently had enough full-time faculty members of color to support its marginalized students,” they argue. “The vast majority of Sociology majors are students of color (and most are women of color), but the faculty are not at all representative of their students’ diversity.”

They even call Pomona’s decision to hire Goffman an “egregious” instance of “anti-blackness” that is antithetical to “holding institutions of higher education accountable for the violence they enact on marginalized groups.”

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The letter also raises some concern over her research methods and her book.

Goffman is the author of the noted ethnography On The Run—a book about the impact of the drug war on inner-city communities in Philadelphia. The book draws from her PhD thesis, which won an award for best dissertation from the American Sociological Association.

Despite the praise it has received, the book has also come under scrutiny from dozens of academics and journalists who have argued that the book has ethical and factual problems.

An essay by Colorado University law professor Paul Campos in The Chronicle of Higher Education, for instance, asserts that the book is “implausible,” invoking the “possibility that Goffman embellished or conflated some of the most compelling material in her book.”

Goffman stands by her book, as do many of her mentors, but the students at Pomona have picked up on this controversy to portray her research methods as flawed or otherwise invalid.

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“Her methods have endangered her research participants, encouraged the hyper-policing of Black communities, and continue to perpetuate anti-Blackness,” the letter asserts, citing a critical book review and an “unsigned” list of critiques sent anonymously to hundreds of sociologists.

“Additionally, hiring white faculty who engage in voyeuristic, unethical research and who are not mindful of their positionality as outsiders to the communities they study reinforces harmful narratives about people of color,” the letter argues. “This practice is detrimental to Pomona’s goal of supporting students of color; we condemn the harm Goffman’s research has caused Black communities.”

The students demand that the school not only rescind its offer to hire Goffman, but also explain the rationale for extending the offer originally, additionally insisting on the creation of “influential student positions on the hiring committee” to prevent this type of situation from happening again.

“The hiring of Alice Goffman has already, and will continue to discourage students of color, and especially women of color, from entering the Sociology Department and academia for years to come,” say the 128 signatories, who are keeping their names redacted for fear of “the violence inflicted on communities of color by various publications, namely the Claremont Independent.”

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Pomona College News Director Mark Kendall told Campus Reform in a statement that the school remains happy about Alice Goffman coming to teach at Pomona, suggesting that there are no plans to accede to the students’ demands that the offer be withdrawn.

“We follow a rigorous process when hiring faculty,” Kendall asserted. “We are pleased that this process resulted in an offer and an acceptance, and we look forward to her joining our vibrant academic community in the fall as a visiting professor.”

Goffman did not respond to a request for comment.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen