Department of Gender and Women's Studies, Statement in Support of Chancellor Wise

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

posted under by Unit for Criticism
[The Department of Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released a statement in support of Chancellor Wise on January 28th following backlash from the undergraduate student body after she announced that the university would remain open on January 27th despite cold weather]

Statement in Support of Chancellor Wise

As scholars, teachers, staff, and students in Gender and Women’s Studies, we devote our
energies to understanding interlocking questions of gender, race, and sexuality. We are outraged
at the sexist and racist language used in the student-generated Twitter messages targeting
Chancellor Phyllis Wise after the non-cancellation of regular teaching activities on Monday. We
are even more concerned with the ongoing and deeply entrenched attitudes that are behind those
threatening messages.

Language matters because it draws on histories of making sense of what is happening, what has
already happened, what might yet happen. How we respond to and describe a specific event --
whether we perceive an action as “business as usual” or as an “injustice” -- informs our
perception of the event and its circumstances, and thus has material and ethical consequences.
Language is not just a vehicle for expressing a reality; it offers profound possibilities and also
consequences for our ability to describe the world around us, and for our relations with others.
The sexist and racist language used by some University of Illinois students to voice their
discontent in response to Chancellor Wise's decision matters for these reasons. Why these words,
and not others? The specific content of these tweets bear long histories of making sense of
women, Asian women, women of color, and do have material and ethical consequences for how
we are in relation to one another on this campus.

While these hateful messages targeted Chancellor Wise, they in fact reveal a pervasive and
pernicious attitude within campus culture about women, indigenous peoples, and people of color
in general, and Asian American and Asian women in particular, especially when they hold
positions of authority. While this incident was a highly public spectacle -- with abundant direct
evidence of this hostility -- we are also troubled by the racist and sexist climate (and sometimes
physical violence) that women faculty, staff, and students (especially indigenous women and
women of color) face everyday, whether online, in the hallway, on the street, or in the classroom.

Gender and Women’s Studies faculty and staff are committed to a more just world, and to
fostering ethical orientations that would make this possible. Fortunately, since yesterday, we have
seen evidence that others share our concerns about the University of Illinois community,
including a student-generated petition to condemn racism and sexism on our campus. These
responses should be encouraged and demonstrate that the potential for change and transformative
education come also from our students.


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