Prof corrects minority students’ capitalization, is accused of racism
Racial tensions are inflamed at the University of California at Los Angeles following several incidents — most notably, one where a professor corrected the grammar, punctuation and capitalization in minority students’ assignments.
The act of correcting a black student was “micro-aggression,” according to the members of the student group “Call 2 Action: Graduate Students of Color,” which launched a sit-in during a subsequent meeting of the class.
“A hostile campus climate has been the norm for Students of Color in this class throughout the quarter as our epistemological and methodological commitments have been repeatedly questioned by our classmates and our instructor,” wrote the group in a statement to the college. “[The] barrage of questions by white colleagues and the grammar ‘lessons’ by the professor have contributed to a hostile class climate.”
Some 25 students participated in the sit-in, including five of the 10 members of the class.
Val Rust, a professor of education and information, was the official target of the sit-in, though the aggrieved minority students had problems with UCLA’s handling of racial issues that went far beyond just one classroom, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Rust is guest-lecturing in China this week, and did not respond to a request for comment. He sent a letter to his colleagues in the education department, however, in which he clarified that he meant no offense to minorities.
“I have attempted to be rather thorough on the papers and am particularly concerned that they do a good job with their bibliographies and citations, and these students apparently don’t feel that is appropriate,” he said in a statement, according to The Daily Bruin.
Some of the corrections were clarified by sit-in organizer Kenjus Watson. Rust told one student that she should not capitalize the word “indigenous” in her papers. This correction was ideologically-motivated, according to Watson.
Rust admitted that he likely made matters worse by not aggressively and proactively taking the side of a minority student who was engaged in an argument with a white female student. The minority student told the woman that she had no right to feel oppressed, and Rust did not express agreement either way.
“Two weeks ago a Student of Color and a white female student got into a big discussion,” said Rust. “She wants to use Standpoint Theory [a method of analysis coined by feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith, based on the idea that all knowledge is subjective and based on one’s position in society] in her dissertation, and the Student of Color told her she had no business claiming that she was a member of an oppressed group.”
“She came back saying there are all kinds of oppression. I likely did not handle the situation well, because I chose not to stop the discussion between them, so it went on for quite a while, and the Students of Color apparently interpreted my silence to mean I wasn’t supporting them.”
But the minority community at UCLA is upset about more than just Rust’s class. A recent report claimed that minority professors are the victims of discrimination and racial bias. The report urged the university to strengthen its bias incident response procedures and hire a Discrimination Officer.
“What we’re speaking to is part of a larger, institutionalized culture on campus,” said Watson in a statement.
The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.