April 21st Letter to the Pomona College Sociology Department

April 21, 2017

Dear Pomona College Sociology Department, Dean Bilger, and President Oxtoby,

We, a collective of Sociology students, alumni, and allies at Pomona College, are writing to express our anger and concern regarding the recent hire of Alice Goffman. Goffman’s hire proves the College’s failure to wholeheartedly address underrepresentation of faculty of color and Pomona’s institutional inadequacy to recognize and advocate for the best interests of students of color. Pomona College prides itself on being one of the nation’s finest liberal arts colleges. We rightfully boast having exceptional faculty, and providing intimate learning environments. However, the national controversy around Alice Goffman’s academic integrity, dubious reputation, her hyper-criminalization of Black men, and hyper-sexualization of Black women does not embrace and align with our shared community values.

Moreover, the position Goffman was hired for, the McConnell Visiting Professor Chair, was created with the aim to “improve the tolerance and sympathy of individuals for each other and their understanding of their respective motivations.” This hire does not enhance a culture of inquiry and understanding on campus as we navigate a tumultuous time in our nation’s history; on the contrary, it boasts the framework that white women can theorize about and profit from Black lives while giving no room for Black academics to claim scholarship regarding their own lived experiences.

To this end, we demand:

  1. The rescindment of the offer to hire Alice Goffman as the McConnell Visiting Professor of Sociology. In the case that she has accepted the offer, we demand the termination of her contract.
  2. A meeting with the faculty hiring committee, Dean of Faculty, and President Oxtoby no later than Wednesday, April 26th to discuss greater transparency in the process of hiring Sociology faculty as well as the future direction of the Sociology Department as a whole.
  3. A formal letter written by the faculty hiring committee released by Monday, May 1st that details:
The rationale that led to this hiring decision.
The lack of representative student involvement in the hiring process.
Concrete steps the Department will take moving forward to ensure such undemocratic, covert hiring processes are never repeated.

Demand One: On the Rescindment of Goffman’s Job Offer

Alice Goffman’s research methods. Alice Goffman’s qualitative research methods have been criticized heavily by numerous scholars in the field of sociology. Her methods have endangered her research participants, encouraged the hyper-policing of Black communities, and continue to perpetuate anti-Blackness. Goffman’s research has been critiqued by Dr. Victor Rios as being a “fatalistic, sensationalist narrative” which “is positioned to reify stereotypes like those of the ghetto and its non compos mentis residents.” Moreover, a New York Times article further describes the controversy surrounding Goffman’s work. The article states, “In May, an unsigned, 60-page, single-­spaced document was emailed from a throwaway address to hundreds of sociologists, detailing a series of claims casting doubt on the veracity of events as Goffman described them.” Additionally, hiring white faculty who engage in voyeuristic, unethical research and who are not mindful of their positionality as outsiders to the communities they study reinforces harmful narratives about people of color. This practice is detrimental to Pomona’s goal of supporting students of color; we condemn the harm Goffman’s research has caused Black communities. It is especially troubling that Goffman’s publications have been critiqued as racist, sensationalist and unethical. If no action is taken, the Sociology Department will knowingly provide Goffman with a platform to promote harmful research methods in Sociology 51: Introduction to Sociology, Sociology 102: Qualitative Research Methods and other courses.

Pomona College’s commitment to diversity in higher education. On May 12, 2016, the faculty passed a revision to the faculty and tenure criteria to include language of “fostering an inclusive classroom.” Additionally, this revision recognizes the importance of faculty mentorship. This revision came after more than 400 Pomona students demanded that change be made. The vast majority of Sociology majors are students of color (and most are women of color), but the faculty are not at all representative of their students’ diversity. The Sociology Department at Pomona College has not consistently had enough full-time faculty members of color to support its marginalized students. This is deeply concerning given that the percentage of students of color has been increasing with each admitted class, with the Class of 2021 consisting of 56.7% students of color.

Demand Two: On the Meeting with Faculty and Administrators

We demand to have a meeting by Wednesday, April 26th with the faculty hiring committee, Dean of Faculty, and President Oxtoby to discuss the following:

  1. Addressing the extreme lack of transparency in the hiring process. We are angered about the extreme lack of transparency in the Sociology Department throughout this process, and the absence of communication or announcements about the hire. Sociology students were given no notice that the Department was hiring a new professor. Candidates were only referred to as “guest lecturers,” not as potential faculty members. Students attending the lectures were given no platform to provide feedback about candidates.
  2. The creation of peer-appointed, influential student positions on the hiring committee. The students appointed for the committee should be selected by peers and representative of the demographics and needs of fellow Sociology students. These students will be at the forefront of all current and future hiring decisions in the Sociology Department. The current lack of transparency and student input on hiring decisions is not an issue unique to the Sociology Department, but is a recurring pattern throughout the College. Despite student organizing and dissent, students’ concerns have remained consistently unaddressed.
  3. Discussing the future trajectory of the Sociology Department. While Sociology claims to critique elitism and interlocking systems of domination and power, the Department perpetuates these very forces by excluding students from crucial conversations surrounding the future of the Department. With this hire, as of the 2017–2018 academic year, the Department will have zero women of color faculty members. The Department rejected the opportunity to change this during the hiring process for the McConnell Visiting Professor of Sociology, where the two other candidates for this position were highly qualified Black women whose critical research focuses on intersectionality and structural inequality. The Sociology Department claims to support students of color, but this hiring decision sends the opposite message. Students need authentic mentors. The hiring of Alice Goffman has already, and will continue to discourage students of color, and especially women of color, from entering the Sociology Department and academia for years to come.

Demand Three: On the Formal Letter from Faculty

This letter shall be written and released by the Sociology faculty after the conclusion of meetings between Sociology students and the faculty/administrators involved in the hiring process, no later than Monday, May 1st. The letter should be circulated among all Sociology faculty and majors/minors. The letter will summarize our agreements and set a precedent for a Sociology Department that is reflective of our increasingly diverse student body. This letter shall:

  1. Provide the rationale for this hiring decision to prevent similar recurrences. In order to formulate a concrete plan for the role of students in current and future hiring decisions within the Sociology Department, we are requesting a formal letter recognizing the flawed process of hiring Goffman and how from now on, student involvement will be central to such decisions. We ask that the faculty committee exercise greater transparency by explicitly detailing the hiring procedure and addressing the lack of communication with students regarding the faculty opening and potential candidates. Since faculty are in positions to influence and inspire the student body, it is very important that students are made aware of and involved in hiring practices that directly impact our college experiences.
  2. Address the inauthentic commitment to faculty and student diversity. In 2015, the Claremont Colleges received a one million dollar grant from the Mellon Mays Foundation. In a TSL article, Dean Feldblum states, “the focus of MMUF is to foster diversity in U.S. colleges and universities.” In a similar article, President Oxtoby states, “America’s demographics are changing rapidly, and it’s more important than ever for college students to learn from faculty members who share their backgrounds and understand their personal stories.” We condemn the College for celebrating faculty diversity in theory, but failing to follow through in practice. Furthermore, Pomona College’s efforts to partner with organizations such as the Posse Foundation and QuestBridge allows the institution access to applications from students of color, low-income, first-generation, and other marginalized students. However, once students matriculate, the institution does not adequately support their needs. Student and faculty diversity must go hand-in-hand. Thus, we demand that the Sociology Department outline actionable steps to increase faculty diversity and cultivate sustainable academic support for these students.

Conclusion

This egregious hire does not occur in isolation from other events happening at the Claremont Colleges, across the nation, and around the world. We move in solidarity with the student organizers at Harvey Mudd College, Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Pitzer College, and Pomona College who are working to make these campuses liveable both inside and outside the classroom. This instance of anti-Blackness is inexcusable and directly contradicts the College’s mission of “diversity and inclusion.”

Recently, student of color organizers across the Claremont Colleges have moved to increase visibility around the ways in which these institutions perpetuate systemic oppression. From the lack of mental health resources for marginalized students after the deaths of two students of color this semester, to the exploitation of RAs at Pomona and Scripps, to the promotion of anti-Black discourse at Claremont McKenna, the Claremont Colleges continue to exhibit an appalling disregard for the lives and experiences of students of color. The hiring of Alice Goffman fits within this pattern, and is just one more example of how the needs of students of color constantly go unaddressed, leading to further exploitation of our labor when we must inevitably advocate for ourselves and hold these institutions accountable time after time.

Within the context of recent events on campus and nationwide, we urgently feel the need for students of color to be safe and supported, and to be critical of the ways the Claremont Colleges perpetuate oppression against students of color and members of our communities who exist outside these elite, exclusionary institutions. The hiring of Alice Goffman is antithetical to these goals of supporting students of color and holding institutions of higher education accountable for the violence they enact on marginalized groups in ways that are often rendered invisible. We know this because our lived experiences and our studies in classes with women of color faculty have taught us so. We recognize the way these institutions operate as microcosms of the broader society, and with the knowledge that all oppression is connected, we will continue to push Pomona College and the 5C’s to do better.

We expect the Sociology faculty and administration to address the demands that have been presented above in a timely manner. Should we not receive a response to our demands by Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 5PM, we will take direct action.

Sincerely,

[128 names redacted for individual safety in recognition of the violence inflicted on communities of color by various publications, namely the claremont independent]