Jodi Shaw, a self-proclaimed lifelong liberal, resigned from her job at Smith College in Massachusetts recently, claiming that the school’s adherence to race-based theories created a hostile work environment.
Critical race theory and race-based trainings seem to be making their way into many schools and workplaces in an attempt to “fight systemic racism.” Shaw believes such initiatives have created a hostile work environment at Smith, an elite private women’s college.
Shaw claims the school’s initiatives reduced “her personhood to a racial category” and is seeking to expose what she says are discriminatory policies at the university.
Shaw is a divorced mother of two and earned a salary of $45,000 per year but claims she declined a settlement in exchange for her silence, choosing to resign instead.
In October, Shaw posted the first of a series of videos detailing her claims about the school’s policies. Her first video was a list of requests. In the video, Shaw said,
“I ask that Smith College stop reducing my personhood to a racial category. Stop telling me what I must think and feel about myself. Stop presuming to know who I am or what my culture is based upon my skin color. Stop asking me to project stereotypes and assumptions onto others based on their skin color.”
Shaw said the university made her feel that she was no longer a valuable member of the staff and that the most important thing about her was her skin color.
Shaw claims she previously filed an internal complaint, but after her efforts affected no change, she decided to resign. She gave her resignation letter to journalist Bari Weiss, who published it on her website.
Shaw’s letter explains that an accusation of racism by a student in 2018 prompted the school to issue an apology and adopt antiracism initiatives, even though an independent investigation found no evidence of racial bias.
Days before she was to present a library orientation, Shaw’s supervisor allegedly told her she must change the program because it was in the form of a rap. She claims his reason was “because you are white” and that her presentation could be viewed as “cultural appropriation.” She said the supervisor made it clear that the problem was not the rap or its use in the program, but the color of her skin.
“I was up for a full-time position in the library at that time, and I was essentially informed that my candidacy for that position was dependent upon my ability, in a matter of days, to reinvent a program to which I had devoted months of time,” she wrote.
After changing jobs at the school, she claims she “was told on multiple occasions that discussing my personal thoughts and feelings about my skin color is a requirement of my job.”
Student conflicts were handled through the lens of race, which projected stereotypes on students based on the color of their skin and encouraged them to do the same, she added.
“I believe such a curriculum is dehumanizing, prevents authentic connection, and undermines the moral agency of young people who are just beginning to find their way in the world. Although I have spoken to many staff and faculty at the college who are deeply troubled by all of this, they are too terrified to speak out about it. This illustrates the deeply hostile and fearful culture that pervades Smith College.”
The “final straw,” she said, occurred when she attended a mandatory Residence Life staff retreat focused on racial issues. Facilitators allegedly asked each member of the department to respond to personal questions about race and racial identity, to which Shaw responded that she was uncomfortable discussing the topic. Shaw claimed she was the only person to abstain.
The facilitators allegedly told the group that a white person’s discomfort at discussing these topics was due to “white fragility” and was actually a “power play.” Shaw claims that this interpretation of her genuine discomfort as aggression humiliated and shamed her in front of her colleagues.
Shaw claims that she filed an internal complaint, but it was not taken seriously because of her race and that she experienced retaliatory behavior.
Smith College President Kathleen McCartney released a statement addressing the allegations. She calls Shaw’s claims “baseless” and that the school “flatly denies” them.
“The employee suggests that Smith tried to buy her silence. But it was the employee herself who demanded payment of an exceptionally large sum in exchange for dropping a threatened legal claim and agreeing to standard confidentiality provisions,” the statement claims.
“At Smith College, our commitment to, and strategies for, advancing equity and inclusion are grounded in evidence. Research demonstrates the continued presence of systemic discrimination against people of color across all areas of society, from education to health care to employment. Redressing the reality of racism requires asking ourselves how we might, even inadvertently, reinforce existing inequalities or contribute to an exclusionary atmosphere. While it might be uncomfortable to accept that each of us, regardless of color or background, may have absorbed unconscious biases or at times acted in ways that are harmful to members of our community, such self-reflection is a prerequisite for making meaningful progress. The aim of our equity and inclusion training is never to shame or ostracize. Rather, the goal is to facilitate authentic conversations that help to overcome the barriers between us, and the college welcomes constructive criticism of our workshops and trainings.”
Whether or not the incidents Shaw alleges actually happened, or happened in the way she claims, we do not know for sure at this point. However, her claims are certainly not unprecedented. Accounts of the harms of critical race theory are growing more common.
For example, a bi-racial Nevada charter school student and his mother sued school officials due to curriculum they claim was discriminatory because it assigned character attributes to students based solely on classes such as race and sex.
One Bronx educator, Karen Ames, claims to have been demoted because of her age and heritage. In an implicit bias training, superintendents were asked to share their personal stories. After explaining that her grandparents lost two children in the Holocaust, one colleague allegedly responded, “You better check yourself,” and “That is not about being Jewish! It’s about black and brown boys of color only.” At a later date, she was given a termination letter and was told the department “was moving in a new direction.”
Stories abound of similarly troubling accounts regarding racial curriculum in schools.
The statement by Smith College president McCartney sounds as though the school has fully embraced critical race theory, which at its core is discriminatory. Whether that resulted in any discriminatory practices at Smith College, intentional or otherwise, is unknown at this time.
Embracing theories that reduce human beings to racial categories and labeling some races as oppressors and others as oppressed is likely to result in people feeling devalued. In fact, organizations that put so much emphasis on skin color and race will likely only succeed in fostering greater racial strife and discrimination.