Jodi Shaw Vs. Smith Snotty-Tots
If you haven’t heard of Jodi Shaw yet, you will. She is waging a one-woman battle against one of America’s most elite liberal arts institutions, Smith College, located in one of the most left-wing towns in America, Northampton, Mass. She has been a liberal all her life, but she simply got sick and tired of being made to feel by the college that she is a bad and deficient person because she is white. And she said so.
She said so on a series of YouTube videos in which she says that Smith’s so-called “antiracism” campaigning is in fact racist against whites, and have created a hostile workplace environment. You can watch them all here; start with “Dear Smith College, I Have A Few Requests.” One of the more interesting aspects of her case is that she points out what she sees as the class hostility inherent in Smith’s antiracism campaign, namely that it is privileged white people dumping on working class white people to assuage their bourgeois guilt. That’s why I called her on Twitter “the Norma Rae of the Anti-Woke movement.”
Jodi Shaw agreed to do an e-mail interview with me about her case. It follows:
RD: For people who haven’t followed your YouTube messages, what is the controversy at Smith College about?JS: I am a staff member at Smith. I provide administrative support to the office or Residence Life and the division of Student Affairs. I recently created a series of videos to protest the ongoing environment of racial hostility staff endure at Smith.This hostility comes in two forms:
- Trainings, dialogues and discussions intended to achieve “racial justice” and “equity and inclusion.” These trainings and discussions frame racism not as an observable material act, but as an invisible force that permeates all structures and systems, and is unwittingly perpetuated by white people simply by virtue of being white. So we have moved from what you are doing is wrong to who you are (based on your skin color) is wrong. It is against this ideological backdrop that staff are expected to “discuss” race at these trainings and workshops. I would argue that the fact that these trainings and discussions are now directed toward staff (as opposed to only faculty and students) is largely a result of the incidents and aftermath of July 31, 2018. (That is a longer story that deserves to be told. I encourage any investigative journalist to tackle this one.) [Note from RD: The July 31, 2018 matter is an incident in which an employee of Smith College called campus police to report a suspicious person, who turned out to be a black Smith student eating lunch. Read about it here.]
- And then we have the plight of individual staff members (those involved in the July 31, 2018 incident, and those harmed in the aftermath) who find themselves on the receiving end of racial allegations by students. We have a campus dynamic akin to the Salem Witch Trials, in which students are emboldened by the college to accuse staff of racism. The college emboldens students both by the legacy of July 31, 2018, and by promoting the notion of “racial microaggressions” (entirely subjective interpretations which do not take into account intent). This is combined with the belief that all white people are inherently racist, which removes all individual agency and puts staff — who are majority white — on notice that the deck is already stacked against them. And lastly, without any due process procedure in place to handle these accusations, it is impossible for staff to receive a fair shake; anything you do could be contrived as an act of racism, and the price of being accused is very, very high.In these ways, Smith has managed to create an extremely hostile work environment, fraught with racial tension and is an absolutely terrifying place to work for many staff. The college continues to reinforce this atmosphere by taking administrative action such as the abrupt dismissal of chief of campus police Daniel Hect in April 2019, after students peppered the campus with hard copies of some of his tweets they found objectionable. By immediately capitulating to these and other student demands, the college empowers students to act as judge and jury, with the fate of staff (and in other cases, faculty) in their hands. In many cases these staff are not highly compensated and their paycheck from Smith is their only financial security. For these staff, seeing such things happen to others is beyond terrifying.It is against this backdrop that I myself was subjected to two individual, explicit acts of racial discrimination and racial harassment, committed by supervisors. I believe the existing backdrop of hostility enabled these behaviors to occur.One of these was a training session in which I was told by professional hired facilitators (in front of my colleagues) that I was committing a “power play” when I declined to discuss my race. In June 2020 I filed a complaint with the college’s internal EEO compliance officer of racial discrimination and hostility.While my complaint was pending, George Floyd was murdered, BLM became very active and a pandemic continued to rage across the country. Staff were put on notice that mass furloughs were a distinct possibility in the near future. It was during this period of time that the college president released a letter to the Smith community entitled “In Response to the Death of George Floyd, May 29, 2020, in which she told the community “It is our responsibility, especially those of us who are white, to do better.”Shortly thereafter, the college released a document entitled “Toward Racial Justice at Smith,” This is a four page document, outlining the college’s intent to increase programming, classes, trainings, etc. aimed at combating racism and achieving “racial justice” and “equity and inclusion.” For anyone familiar with what is happening beneath the surface at Smith, the document is eerie: it reads like something straight out of 1984. It specifies its expectations that staff involve themselves in these efforts, and will be mandated to do so in some cases. The document also announced the college’s intent to increase the “accountability of individual staff, faculty and students at performance reviews, merit calculations and advising sessions, by tying equity and inclusion more closely to incentive and compensation structures” and proposes examining whether or not “employees across different registers of identity (race, gender, age, etc.) compensated equitably.”The timing of the release of this document, issued in the middle of a pandemic, during a time in which most staff at the college are desperately trying to adjust to sudden, rapidly shifting policies imposed by the abrupt closing of the college (including for some the sudden switch to remote work, with children at home), combined with the legitimate fear of being furloughed, is an absolutely stunning example of a college administration that is incredibly out of touch with the every-day realities of the human beings it employs.The trainings and initiatives outlined in this new document are similar in nature to the ones highlighted in my own internal complaint, so naturally, I was concerned. With my complaint pending, I had expected that the college might engage in at least some self-examination of these practices, which I made clear in my complaint I believe are both legally and ethically questionable.I sent an email to some of the deans and members of the president’s cabinet expressing my concern. Of the five recipients, none responded.Knowing that the college, with its billion+ dollar endowment, is more concerned with optics than legal action, I decided the best course of action would be to create a video. In my first video I highlighted my requests, followed by other videos outlining specific things that have occurred at the college. That first video obviously struck a nerve, a few people have responded negatively to it, but by far most (I would say over 95%) of the response has been positive. Either way, I now have the college’s attention.RD: You seem to believe that there is as much a class element to this conflict as there is a racial element. Could you elaborate?JS: The rhetoric that would have us (or force us rather) to believe across that white people have power and privilege and people of color have none, is an interesting notion to promote at a place like Smith. The group with the largest demographic of whites is staff, who are also the lowest paid group of employees on campus (and as we have seen, at least publicly, the ones most likely to find themselves the object of student racist allegations) and a student body that is 45 percent white, and therefore does not possess a racial majority. For Kathy McCartney to stress in her letter on May 29 that “white people are especially responsible for working to end racial injustice” is a fascinating example of an administration that is completely out of touch with the racial and class dynamics of its own institution.The dining staff for example, one of the lowest paid groups of employees on campus, have arguably the most contact with students and as such, are most likely to be the object of racial allegations. They serve the students three meals per day inside student residences. These staff work hard to ensure the material well being of students who are receiving a $70k+ per year education, which for most, is double their annual salary. Whether a student is “full pay” or not, it is difficult to argue that a student at Smith is not in a highly privileged position relative to staff. The power dynamics already in place between staff and students are exacerbated by the college telling students that all white people are racist and immediately enacts disciplinary measures against staff whom students report for racially motivated or other behaviors related to offense around immutable characteristics. There is no due process procedure for staff, no transparent policy through which these staff can go through. The disciplinary procedures are all very opaque, which only serves to increase the fear and “walking on eggshells” environment for staff.It is a special kind of fear to be afraid that if anybody finds out you might be having the wrong thoughts you will lose your livelihood and reputation to boot. In this sense, the college’s behavior in regards to these trainings and dialogues and discussions constitutes an abuse of power. There is psychic damage that accompanies this constant fear. The fear that 1) you will be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time (student accusation) or 2) be found out that you are not on board with the content of the trainings. The natural response to this is to try to save your own skin by enthusiastically agreeing and diving in to signal to everyone that you are fully on board. This requires one to lie. It is impossible to lie, day in and day out without suffering some form of psychic damage. Personally, I could see that continuing to go on that way would cause more psychic and spiritual damage to me than losing my job ever would.RD: What has the reaction been on campus to your videos?Because of Covid, we only have around 100 students on campus and I am working remotely. It is in this context that I attend Zoom meetings with people just like before the video, except now there is this huge elephant in the room. It could just be me being paranoid, but it feels palpable.The college responded to the video in an official Message to the Community to let people know that I do not “speak for any part of the college.” This language is very telling. The college has positioned itself as a single ideological unit from which I have clearly been ousted. In reality the college is comprised of thousands of individuals, each of whom (hopefully) are in possession of their own thoughts and opinions. In other words, a diverse community of individuals. As such, by linguistically lumping everyone together into a single unit, the college is very much in conflict with the traditional liberal arts college value of pluralism. I would hope the college would support and promote pluralism and tolerance of diversity of ideas and thoughts rather than discourage them by making statements like this. However, the college insists on what I see as increasingly totalitarian-like behavior.Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Provost issued an email to all faculty stressing the importance of presenting a “unified college response” at this time. The college is clearly having a tough time with this, and to me appears only to be digging itself deeper into the hole in which it now finds itself. You may have noticed the title of my YouTube channel is Smith College Big Dig. This is a nod to the notorious Big Dig project in Boston. It would appear that the college has indeed pulled out its shovels and is already at work digging.On an individual level, staff and faculty have reached out to connect with me, many of whom I did not know before. This is good! We are using this new back channel to find each other. From here is where we can somehow begin to build a coalition of some sort to stand together in opposition to the college’s ideological stranglehold and commitment to legally and ethically questionable behavior toward staff, faculty and students.There are others at the college who have made clear (through the use of social media and direct emails) that they disagree with me. There are alums who have reached out to me to tell me I should be fired. I believe there is a letter circulating now, for me to be fired. So it’s a mixed bag at Smith, but for the most part I am very hopeful about the very positive connections I am making amongst staff and faculty (and even students) inside the college. Aside from preserving my one last thread of integrity, that was the whole point of the video. So in this sense, you could say the video is a success.I have also received many communications from people at other colleges and organizations. They have connected to say thank you, to express support and offer words of encouragement. Many tell me they cannot do the same out of the (legitimate) fear of losing their jobs, so they are glad that I am doing it. All of this support is very encouraging to me. Speaking out has given others some hope that this ivory tower tyranny has an end date.RD: Of all the places to expect resistance to wokeness, Smith is one of the last. Western Massachusetts is the heart of progressive Whiteness. The people in Northampton must see you as a traitor to the community. What is your daily life like since you went public?“Western Massachusetts is the heart of progressive Wokeness.” Oh Rod, if only I had known that before moving here! As a Smith student in the late ’80s to early ’90s, Northampton felt like a much different place. A liberal utopia, where people of all stripes lived and played, where diversity of thought was a reality. Probably not unrelated, it was a lot less expensive place to live back then too.I do not know how people in town see me. This is partly a function of 1) Covid (I don’t get out much), 2) all my close friends live elsewhere, and 3) the local newspaper has not dared to print anything about it. The Hampshire Gazette is not known for critiquing the college. It refused to publish a letter by a staff member that openly criticized the college’s handling of the July 31, 2018 incident, which concluded that the college had created a hostile work environment. The Springfield Republican ended up publishing it first. The Gazette eventually wrote about her letter in some fashion, but did not reprint it. As a small town, Smith is a major driver of the local economy, and as such, wields much power in Northampton. It is discouraging to think that even the local news outlet is afraid of incurring the wrath of Smith College.RD: Why should people outside of Smith care about this?JS: Because this ideology -one that you cannot question or you will be ousted, shamed, and shunned to no end- is coming to a K-12 school, dance class, knitting circle and/or city council near you! This ideology, one that tells us that a person’s most important attributes are immutable ones, that breaks people down into racial groups and then asks us to assign status (power, privilege or victim) to individuals according to their (observable) membership in one of these groups is not unfamiliar. Seeking to compel people, through the use of shame, to conform at all costs to an ideology that is not only illogical but is destructive and divisive, is not unfamiliar. This tactic has been used many times before, to justify some of the most horrific and shameful acts in the history of humankind.My friends who refer to themselves as liberals, who think the left is morally sound and always good, and therefore anything coming from that “side” must be okay, need to seriously question their assumptions right now. These are not liberal values. This is a rigid, dogmatic and dangerous ideology. These ideas are distinctly illiberal. This is not going to go away on its own, we need to work for it.RD: The Polish anti-communist dissident and intellectual Czeslaw Milosz once wrote that people should pay attention to what the intellectuals say, because they set the tone for a society. Similarly, the sociologist James Davison Hunter has argued that elite networks are the carriers of cultural change. The kind of people who graduate from schools like Smith are going to be the people who run businesses and institutions — and we had better be concerned by how they are socialized to think about race, because it’s ultimately going to affect us all. Am I right about that, or am I missing something?JS: You are absolutely correct. I notice you used the word “socialized.” I think what is going on in this case could be referred to as training. I would even go so far as to call it a form of behavior modification, one in which fear and shame are the tools used to compel acceptable behavioral outcomes.Students and their families are paying a lot of money to attend Smith College. As an insider, I seriously question the quality of the education they are receiving, and I am deeply worried about how they will fare after graduation. It would appear as if many of these students graduate and immediately set to work using the same tools of shame and fear they learned at Smith to coerce others into conformity. I ask anyone considering going to or sending their child to Smith College to engage in some careful examination of what is going on across all levels (students, staff and faculty) at the college before making a commitment.