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Culture War Roundup for the week of February 20, 2023

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I'm moving to a job on a campus in the US. The question of what to do about social justice, political conversations, and social justice training requirements has been vexing me for a while. I just got my first email from someone who has pronouns in their email signature, with a link to the campus policy on pronoun use. (Tl;dr: staff are "encouraged," to use pronouns and "expected" to treat people in accordance with their claimed pronouns.)

Here are my options:

  1. Poe's strategy: Agree and amplify. I use all pronouns as claimed. I believe we should racially segregate as much as possible because that would be good for making Black communities into safe spaces for Black bodies, but we should do this by forcibly unhousing white people, because anything else would be gentrification. I take full responsibility for the racism of all the people of my race, and think we should give full reparations to all Black bodies. This probably codes as high-class, but there is a large chance of being unable to keep up with the charade and a small chance of being cancelled as a result. There is also a chance of value drift and the mental risks inherent in living a lie.

  2. Mainland Chinese strategy: I don't talk about politics or social issues at all. If asked, it's because I can't keep up with it. (This is mostly true!) Probably codes as low-class in the US, but I won't be cancelled for my opinions, because I don't have opinions... at least until BLMII (LGBTQIA+ boogaloo) comes around and everyone who doesn't fly the Rainbow-BLM flag is cancelled.

  3. Mask strategy: I don't talk much, but when pushed I shrug and concur with moderately pro-SJ shibboleths that I still believe. When in private with a trusted interlocutor, it's mask off. This is what I currently do, but SJ isn't a significant factor at all in my current social environment, so I am able to spend more time mask-off than mask-on.

  4. Earnest SJW strategy: This is the highest-class option, but I don't think I can pull it off. I don't know the language, I'm doomed to stumble, and don't want to break my reasoning capacity that much, and it goes directly against my values, interests, and tribe.

  5. Earnest Mottizan strategy: True honesty. I oppose SJ (because it is in direct opposition with my values) and I'm not afraid to say so... in a friendly way with a smile on my face. I support equal rights, but not equality of outcomes, which I don't think is ever possible. I think most SJ is just an elite conspiracy to shift focus away from class issues, with the richest of the rich supporting it because they are wealthy enough to avoid its negative side effects... which hurt black people too. I think unfettered immigration is bad for blacks in America, and I don't think SJ really helps the people it seeks to help, instead infantilizing them and removing their agency. I think the biggest problem facing black america is lack of interest in education, and the biggest problem facing women in STEM is that STEM careers suck: the pay is for tools, and no smart woman would enter them when other careers are low stress and more lucrative. My experience living in a more conservative society has taught me that most SJW claims are false in traditional societies, etc. Etc.

So, I guess what I'm asking is: what's the safest strategy, what's the best for my career, and what's the best way to spread my values? For those of you in US academia, what approach do you follow, and what works or doesn't work?

I work at a small private US liberal arts college. When I was part of a search for a tenure-track candidate, we asked the candidates to include in their application a DEI statement, because it was expected for all searches at the college.

Then we threw out any candidates who clearly drank the Cool-Aid.

Out went the candidate who said she moved all her black students to the front of the class, and all her white students to the back of the class. Out went the candidate who said he had a special study group only for his LatinX students.

In went the candidate that said she volunteered at a tutoring program for the local Title I school with majority of student black or latino. In went the candidate who said he stepped up his office hours for everyone, and personally reached out to invite each student who struggled in his class, many of whom were black.

If you are working in academia, having a reasonable amount of fluency in the current etiquette of the Professional-Managerial Class is a requirement of the job. Knowing when to not get carried away with the rhetoric is also part of the job. The candidates that we tossed out (like the ones above) actually discriminated against some students, so they were a legal liability for their employer.

You mentioned in another comment that your goal is personal career progress, and that you'll be with this employer for only a few years. Good, focus on that. Don't fall for anyone claiming that you should be able to "bring your whole self" to work. You are expected and required to only bring your professional self to work. So: if your employer requires X, you do X or quit. If your employer recommends X and you don't want to do X, quietly don't do X. If other employees ask you why you are not doing the recommended X, ask them politely to explain the benefits of doing X, and consider their explanations. Even if their explanation is a stream of religious/woke prosthelytizing, you can get some value from it by seeing what new terms or etiquette is going around. But someone may actually tell you something more useful (e.g., X is something your boss really cares about and pays attention to).

Unfortunately not everyone takes this approach when grading submissions. NSF requires that you address the 'broader impacts' of your grant proposal, which means in essence what you are doing to promote diversity.

I took the approach you described and wrote about things that I was doing to improve stem outreach and training in general, as well initiatives I was involved in at a nearby hbcu. I got solid scores from two reviewers, which would be well in the range of an acceptance, and got absolutely hammered by the third reviewer, who insisted I wasn't doing enough for minorities.

Ultimately my proposal wasn't funded. Thankfully I've been having better luck with NIH, who don't have this requirement.

Congratulations on getting the NIH grant!

You are right to point out that a significant portion of gatekeepers in US Academia are very much into the DEI/woke ideology. I would guess that in some fields, they are the majority of gatekeepers. In other fields, they may yet be a minority. Since most fields in US are liberal/left, and DEI/woke ideology evolved specifically to spread in or dominate such spaces, I would expect to encounter such gatekeepers in pretty much any academic field. I would also expect to encounter gatekeepers who retain classical liberal ideals that are at odds with discriminatory aspects of the former.

Getting a specific job, getting a specific grant, those have always been a crap shoot and involved guessing the priorities of whoever comprised the hiring / grant committee. It also is, deliberately, a status game. We would like to think that academic status is about merit, but it's still status, and thus susceptible to status-affecting politics. DEI/woke has been quite effective in that game, in the milieu of liberal/left spaces. So I would expect their representation within the academic gatekeepers to increase.

To anyone who is personally worried about this trend, I recommend considering life outside of academia.

When I was part of a search for a tenure-track candidate, we asked the candidates to include in their application a DEI statement, because it was expected for all searches at the college.

Then we threw out any candidates who clearly drank the Cool-Aid.

Why didn't the same people who expected the DEI statement in the first place also insist on accepting the kind of DEI statement they wanted?

We did.

That is: there was a general pressure from administration and other professors to have some kind of DEI statement; we (the search committee) wrote the prompt ourselves, and nobody outside of the search committee read these statements. We deliberately avoided DEI/woke jargon in our prompt, which went something like: "Describe how you have adjusted your teaching based on considerations of your students' various backgrounds. Give specific examples." We wanted applicants who have a track record of appropriately adjusting their pedagogy to fit the students that are actually in their course, and that's what we looked for.

Quite a few applicants phrased their statement with lots of DEI/woke jargon--probably because they were applying for other academic positions as well and DEI statements got pretty common then. That wasn't a drawback for those whose examples were actual useful pedagogy, like the guy who made a point to reach out to struggling students, noted that many of them were black ( but also conveyed that he reached out to all struggling students). Showing facility with currently-fashionable jargon is a definite plus at a small liberal arts college, because it means students aren't going to out-jargon you. However, we did scrutinize such statements for signs that the candidate was a possible liability (like those that supported actual discriminatory treatment based on protected categories) or poor collegiality (like those who made a point to publically "call out" various shit at their institution without even approaching people in private).