Letters to the Editor

Letter: Responding to student concerns

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

To the Editor:

At an open university like ours, what happens in a classroom is always fair game for public discussion, and Kyle Tildon ’19 has every right to openly criticize one of his professors, as he did in his recent Herald column, “On the Classroom.” But that does not mean that his charges against John Logan, professor of sociology and director of the S4 initiative, or Logan’s response to them, should go without comment.

The irony of Tildon’s critique is that he has accused Elijah Anderson, Yale professor of sociology, one of the country’s most prominent black scholars, of spreading “hateful” and “racist” ideas in a highly-cited article that Logan assigned to his sociology class. But if one reads the article itself, as well as a more recent one (“The White Space”) by Anderson, it becomes apparent that these articles are actually thoughtful commentaries on the effects of white racism on black, urban communities. To cite just one example, Tildon accuses Anderson of implying that “blacks entering predominantly white spaces were physically dirty,” and ought to clean themselves up. But when one reads Anderson’s article, it is clear that such comments actually refer to the stereotypes enforced by white society, as well as the unfair and unjust obstacles that black people face in overcoming those stereotypes.

Logan not only responded to the concerns of his student, but he actually brought Anderson into the classroom to discuss these issues in person. That is an extraordinary example of responsiveness to student concerns that should be lauded, not criticized. What Tildon is objecting to is not racism or sexism, but rather a scholar’s analysis of racism and sexism that differs from his own. Tildon’s response, unfortunately, is not to challenge and critique the ideas with which he disagrees, but to call for them to be stricken from the classroom and to attempt the public shaming of a professor bold enough to engage his students in a discussion of one of the most important issues facing society today. I write to express my support for Logan’s attempts to keep an open classroom where even the most controversial ideas may be considered. His actions are in the very best traditions of this university.

Kenneth Miller ’70 P’02

Professor of Biology