Who’s telling who to STFU at American universities? Observations on teaching at a HWCU.

cupofSTFUAh, yes: freedom of speech. What some really mean when they evoke it is, “my right to have my say and not have you talk back,” like all of those crybabies who have cancelled their appearances at commencement ceremonies in the last few years because not every student and faculty member greeted their future appearance on campus with hugs and cocoa and slankets.

If you really believe in liberty of speech, then stop telling others to STFU.  In my view, the people who are being criticized most vigorously for speaking up lately at Yale and the University of Missouri are all too often quiet about their experiences, silent on campus, and eager not to draw attention to themselves, and it’s these students whose voices we need to listen to the most.

Too many people have zero imagination about what it is to be African American or Latin@ on a historically white college or university (HWCU) campus. But everyone who has ever attended or taught or worked at a HWCU knows that African Americans on HWCUs are viewed with suspicion just for being there, let alone when they try to unlock their own damn bikes or organize a protest about their marginalization.

I teach at a HWCU in Northern Colorado, a place that is increasingly Latin@ but has very few African American residents.  In my classes, my experience with non-white students in general, and African American students in particular, over the past fourteen years is that they go out of their way to be polite, inoffensive, unobtrusive, and try not to call attention to themselves in any way.  Their efforts to try to fly under the radar and evade notice grieve me, even as I think I understand their interest in remaining quiet and unobtrusive.  I work to offer a non-white perspective on history constantly, but I don’t know if I’m making it better or worse for my non-white students (or if they even care.) That’s the reality of attending a HWCU for the majority of black students in the United States:  working hard to get your degree, trying not be noticed, not taking up much space or speaking up in class. Continue reading

Susan Amussen of UC Merced on what it’s like when it’s your campus: “Violence ripples out, affecting far more people than we expect.”

Photo of vigil at UC-Merced, November 6, 2015. Courtesy of Susan Amussen.

Photo of vigil at UC-Merced, November 6, 2015
Courtesy of Susan Amussen

Today’s guest post is from yet another friend of the blog whose campus sustained a knife attack by a student that was ended when he was shot and killed by campus police.  Fortunately and significantly, the only fatality in this incident was the perpetrator–he inflicted no fatal injuries because his weapon of choice was not a gun.  Susan Amussen, Professor of History at the University of California, Merced, sent this in on Thursday night and updated it last night after the vigil for the victims. 

By now, most of you know that on Wednesday morning, a student at UC Merced named Faisal Mohammed attacked a fellow student in a classroom with a knife.  He proceeded to stab a contract worker who had intervened when he heard the noise.   He then went outside and stabbed one of our staff advisors, and another student who tried to help that advisor.  As he ran from the campus police he was shot; he later died of his wounds.

As these stories go, it’s not as bad as it could have been.   He didn’t have a gun.  That was my first thought, and I can’t tell you how many of the messages I’ve received have commented on that.   It was early (a 7:30 AM class) so the campus was relatively empty.  All the victims are alive, and will make a full recovery.  Only the student who wielded the knife is dead.  Faisal (who I hadn’t known) was a first year student, and really, at this point that’s all we know.  While Fox News has tried to talk about jihad, as our Chancellor has said, there is no evidence that the initial attack involved anything but personal antagonism.  His roommate reports that he kept to himself, and didn’t seem to have friends.  All of us who teach know how complicated the transition to college is for many kids, and I keep thinking of him as a child.  I can’t use the words that are used so often – suspect, perpetrator, etc.  He was a kid, a student, with some kind of problem, but we don’t know what. Continue reading

Paul Harvey on the recent Colorado Springs mass-murder: “We will all have another chance to pay obeisance to the God that we are all compelled, willingly or not, to worship.”


Paul Harvey, Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Scholar, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

Today’s post was written at my invitation by Paul Harvey, Professor of History and Presidential Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.  Among many other titles in the history of evangelical Protestantism in the American South, most recently he is the author most recently of Moses, Jesus, and the Trickster in the Evangelical South and the co-author with Edward J. Blum of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.  Regular readers of Historiann may also recognize Paul as the creator of the blog Religion in American History.

Paul lives just about a mile from the place where yet another deranged white man murdered three strangers last Saturday morning in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  I’m so grateful to him for sharing his perspective as a neighbor and a fellow historian.

It was a beautiful Saturday morning here on October 31st. Weekends in the Old North End of Colorado Springs are full of people walking about, garage sales, scores of bicyclists and joggers, 20somethings tapping away on their smartphones in recently opened hipster coffee places, evangelicals gathering for para-church activities, and me – grading papers, writing, reading the book for next week’s class, or whatever (all three, this particular weekend). There seemed to be an inordinate number of sirens this particular morning, but I do live by a firehouse and near a hospital, and sometimes you get that. I settled back into some coursework.

But on this particular beautiful Saturday morning, yet another troubled white man – the same one we’ve seen all over the country, shooting up people in college and grade-school classrooms, malls, chain restaurants, and theaters – walked down a street about a mile and a quarter south of my home (and about three blocks from the historic downtown high school – Palmer High, named for the founder of this city, William Jackson Palmer). He previously had left a bizarre video “expressing displeasure with his father for allegedly falling under the sway of a particular preacher.” His mother had published a book that was, in part, about her son (as well as about her own struggles), entitled Sober mercies: How love caught up with a Christian Drunk.

Whatever his problems, it was still legal for him to walk around brandishing a heavy firearm. Actually, he had three – an AR-15 rifle, a 9 mm pistol and a .357 revolver. Continue reading

Another day, another white man guns down his neighbors in Colorado


Friends! It’s that crazybusy time of the semester, when Team Historiann is spending 8, 10, and even 12 hours a day on campus! As I keep saying to my friends and colleagues here and around the world:  I’ve forgotten how much work work is.  Ah, sabbatical. . . . in my mind, I’m still there.

Anyhoo, as the kids say–ICYMIin case you missed it, we had another senseless mass shooting of innocent strangers here in Colorado Springs on Saturday morning.  You might have missed it entirely, because it ended with “only” the deaths of three victims and the shooter himself.  White?  Check.  Male?  Check.  Probably barking mad? Check.  And yet this “Christian drunk,” as his mother called him, still had access to high-power firearms?  Checkity check check check.  Check.

Today’s update in The Denver Post, in which the murderer and victims alike were identified, included a choice detail that most of you outside Colorado might otherwise miss: Continue reading

Berkeley star astronomer Geoff Marcy resigns, but why only now? Advice to the desperate on why you should never STFU about harassment or abuse.

Make some noise!

Make some noise!

You probably have seen in the news today that star University of California-Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy has resigned because details of the university’s inquiry into a decade of sexual harassment charges and his weak reprimand were published by BuzzFeed last Friday.  Here’s a typical take on the matter from Inside Higher Ed and republished at Slate this morning:

One of the biggest names in astronomy resigned his professorship at the University of California at Berkeley on Wednesday over the fallout from a damning investigation into his conduct with female students. The news demonstrates that not even star scholars enjoy impunity when it comes to sexual harassment, but in the end it was Geoff Marcy’s fellow scientists—not the Berkeley administration—who forced him out.

A vigorous peer pressure campaign launched Friday, upon news of the investigation and Berkeley’s lukewarm response, seemingly backed Marcy into a corner and, in so doing, sent a strong message to academic science: Even if your institution doesn’t reject you for harassing students, your colleagues will.

Oh, really?  I mean, I completely agree that his astronomer colleagues are the ones who have known about this kind of behavior all along.  For example, from the very same story:  Continue reading

Just another day at a university in cowboy country fantasyland (aka the U.S.A.)

Do I feel lucky?

Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

H/t to @LeapingRobot (aka Patrick McCray) for drawing my attention to this thoughtful request from Boisie State’s Greg Hampikian, who asks the Idaho Lege, “When May I Shoot A Student?”  Published nearly two years ago, he explains:

In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?

I am a biology professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be a good idea to even the playing field.

I think you get the sense of the Swiftian satire that follows.  (Swift’s essay on eating children is eerily appropriate to the problem Hampikian’s essay addresses, which is extraordinary deference shown to a minority of gun nuts in the population at the expense of the majority of us, who just want to go to church, school, the gym, and the mall without being shot.) My favorite is his imagining of the popularity of study-abroad programs for bad guys who want to wreak havoc in gun-free zones: Continue reading