Will “Racial Healing” at GMU Foster More Racial Division?

by James A. Bacon

The progressives’ imposition of identity politics on Virginia’s public universities continues apace. Hans Bader has already called attention to a July announcement by George Mason University’s new president, Gregory Washington, of a “Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence.”

None of Virginia’s media outlets seem to have paid attention. Your humble correspondent decided to take a closer look at what is going on at GMU.

As Washington acknowledged in announcing the task force, GMU “enters this national conversation with an admirable track record as a pace-setter of action for racial justice and truth-telling about our own past.” He cited the establishment of the Trust, Racial Healing and Transformation campus center, the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution (“one of the nation’s very few schools dedicated to social justice and peace”) and the Enslaved People project to “fell the full truth of our university’s namesake.” He also noted that GMU hosts “Virginia’s largest and most diverse university student body.”

But that’s not enough. The new task force will dig deeper, addressing:

  • Faculty salary equity. The university will work to correct “any issues” over a three-year period.
  • Inclusive excellence planning. Each college and school will establish “inclusive excellence” plans that articulate a metric driven, anti-racism and inclusiveness agenda.
  • Implicit bias training. Mason will establish an Inclusive Excellence Certificate Program to certify that the necessary people have completed their bias training.
  • Implicit bias recognition in faculty promotion and tenure. Address implicit bias, discrimination, and other equity issues such as invisible and uncredited labor to support faculty of color and women in their professional work.
  • Equity advisors. Advisors in every department will participate in faculty recruiting and “address individual issues raised by women and faculty from underrepresented groups.”
  • Uncredited emotional labor. Recognize the “invisible and uncredited emotional labor” that people of color expend to learn, teach and work on campus.
  • Anti-racist syllabi. Require an anti-racism statement on all syllabi.
  • Names and memorials. Evaluate names of university buildings and memorials.

“My vision is nothing short of establishing George Mason University as a national exemplar of anti-racism and inclusive excellence in action,” said Washington. “Given the considerable head start we have on most of our sister institutions in the United States, this is a vision we can realize.”

Washington assures the GMU community that members of the task force will be diverse — as in, representing the full diversity of GMU racial, ethnic, gender, sexual identity and religious identity groups. He said nothing about representing a diversity of philosophical or political viewpoints.

While Washington acknowledges that GMU, like other universities, faces tremendous financial pressure as it copes with the COVID-19 virus, the university will make a $5 million commitment over three years to strengthen initiatives already underway.

Bacon’s bottom line: Bader addresses the GMU race initiatives from a legal perspective, and his post is worth reading if you missed it. I want to examine whether the initiatives will even accomplish their goal of making GMU a more hospitable place for African-Americans.

The choice of vocabulary in these initiatives is truly Orwellian. I question how much “racial healing” there will be. I expect the “truths” to emerge will tell only one side of the story — the side that fits the left-wing Oppression Narrative. And I expect that “anti-racism” will conform to the current academic understanding of that term that emphasizes white guilt, privilege and fragility.

Will a leftist obsession with racial identity do anything to make GMU more hospitable to minorities? Or will feeding the sense of grievance, victimhood, intrinsic white racism, and pervasive institutional injustice prompt African-Americans to “circle their wagons,” so to speak, and self-segregate as a psychological self-defense mechanism? As minorities tend to view every interaction through the prism of racial grievance, will they be more likely to perceive every slight or misunderstanding as a racially motivated micro-aggression? And if every slight or misunderstanding is perceived as racist, will white students be encouraged to reach out and establish friendships across races? Or will they decided it is safer just to disengage and not risk creating an incident? 

Will race relations get better, or will they get worse?

What is the real goal of all this? Do we want Americans to regard race as a meaningless characteristic that should have no influence in how we judge each other as individuals? That’s what the original Civil Rights revolution was all about. Or do we want to make race the fundamental determinant of our identity?

That’s the fundamental choice. We can be a nation of individuals who interact with one another as individuals, regardless of race, religion or ethnic heritage, or we can be a nation defined by animosities between races and ethnic groups. If you like the second choice, you’ll love what’s happening at GMU.

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14 responses to “Will “Racial Healing” at GMU Foster More Racial Division?

  1. You wrote, “their goal of making GMU a more hospitable place for African-Americans.’

    What about people of Asian decent? Native Americans [who enslaved their vanquished long before Westerners arrived on the shores]? Conservatives? Libertarians? Southern Whites? It’s telling that in today’s society redneck jokes are still acceptable in all company.

    • “who enslaved their vanquished long before Westerners arrived on the shores”

      Yes, and didn’t the white settlers call them “savages”?

      BTW, it’s not that I liked your comment, it’s just that there’s a new button to push.

  2. “Anti-racist syllabi. Require an anti-racism statement on all syllabi.”

    I hope they are more explicit as to how to do this. Ya know, like “Please no examples.”

    There was a church website in the early 2000s where the minister was so distressed and incensed about pornography on the internet that he created a page full of the most disgusting photos he found with a comment on each one. Well worth the visit.

    • My syllabus statement: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” MLK

  3. I can comment but it won’t let me “like” a post

  4. Well… the colleges are going to promote racial healing among those that will attend and one presumes those who don’t agree won’t attend.

    I’m not sure how that plays out downstream if those in college now and graduate agree with that approach and carry that value with them into their post-college life.

    Are colleges saying that they don’t want you if you do not believe there is a need for racial healing – go somewhere else?

    Will some colleges not do this and become places where those that don’t agree with “racial healing” go?

    How widespread is this? I know we point out the bleeding edge but is this movement 10 out of 100 or 90 out of 100 or in between?

  5. Larry in re: “Well… the colleges are going to promote racial healing among those that will attend and one presumes those who don’t agree won’t attend.”

    I’d bet 99% wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if they could get accepted for enrollment … but they’d never admit it.

    n’est-ce pas?

    • John – but all these dramatic changes that will impact folks… no?

      Are you saying only some non-college folks on the right have their rump in a rumble over this but not most students? Sounds like they’d be perfect for indoctrination, no?

  6. Larry the G Asks: “How widespread is this? I know we point out the bleeding edge but is this movement 10 out of 100 or 90 out of 100 or in between?”

    This is only anecdotal, but I think it is quite widespread. I decided to participate in my Alma Mater’s (UMD) new programs in anti-racism, in this case books circles (segregated by race, I’m in the white group) – White Fragility (my wife participating) and Me and White Supremacy. While doing this, and in response to the current BLM movement, post George Floyd, I have been playing catch up on Larry’s question reading as much as I can from proponents of this teaching and to opponents – there are many of both and make up large segments of our current culture war and this is playing out in our polarized politics.

    The answer is this teaching is extensive and has captured most institutions of higher learning and is also imbedded in a lot of K-12.

    6 months ago, I would have read this post by JB and have said he is exaggerating or overreacting, but not now. I realize, like immediately after the 2016 election, I now realize how much of a bubble I have lived in (my wife and I did not have kids). I have been enjoying semi-retirement and living comfortably in my bubble.

    I believe the dialog is necessary – that much of what is being taught about the systemic nature of white supremacy and systemic racism is historically valid and has generational consequences today.

    My concern is the framing of these teachings and how in fact they do require specific racial identity and acknowledgement of the shortcomings of all white people and their (often unaware) complicity in this system of oppression by just being white.

    My view at this point is that this is not going to end well and that the approach being taken, based on Critical Race Theory component of postmodernist thinking ascendant the last 40 years, is going to possibly do more harm than good.

    Maybe once most boomers are dead or out of power the millenial and gen z and subsequent generations taught and trained in this thinking will have it figured out by then, but I am struggling to see my way through this development.

    • thanks for the straight forward answers! Do you think a majority of black people generally support this or they are split also?

    • “Maybe once most boomers are dead or out of power the millenial and gen z and subsequent generations taught and trained in this thinking will have it figured out by then, but I am struggling to see my way through this development.”

      The Hippies of the 1960s were, by and large, boomers. From 1964 – 1974 every person in America who turned 18 was a Boomer. And the Hippies were going to change the world. They were rebelling against their parents from the Greatest Generation. There were riots. There was violence. While today’s youth find racial and social justice as their catalyst for protest and, in many cases, violence … the Hippies had Civil Rights and the Vietnam War.

      Then a funny thing happened – the Hippies grew up and became Boomers.

      History is full of examples where the younger generation pledges to remain lifelong activists until nirvana is achieved. Then they get married, start having kids and turn into their parents.

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    A forgotten hero of Virginia’s colonial era. John Mercer of Stafford County. When George Mason’s father passed on it was John Mercer who adopted the young Mason and gave him the training to become the great father of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the US Bill of Rights. John Mercer died shortly before the Revolution but his children and adopted son George made a lasting mark on the period. I never liked Mason’s memorial in DC. I just can’t picture this wealthy and powerful Virginian hanging out on a park bench at the Tidal Basin waiting for the next game of hacky sack.

  8. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    I don’t think it even comes close to looking like Mason. The original John Hessilius oil portrait that was displayed by Mason’s son in Gunston Hall peeled apart in 1811. So a classically trained french painter named Boudet was hired to make 3 copies of what was left of the original Mason portrait, a wedding portrait from age 25. From what I have read on Mason he was blunt, uncompromising, cranky, sufferer of gout, and detested the art of political combat. Truth is we probably will never know what the true likeness of Mason.

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