Controversial BU Professor Saida Grundy Calls for Dialogues on Race
Incoming Boston University assistant professor Saida Grundy landed herself in hot water over the weekend for racially charged tweets, screenshot by UMass Amherst student Nick Pappas on his website SoCawlege.com. They drew the attention and ire of right-leaning outlets Fox News, the Washington Times, and the Boston Herald, who focused on one string of tweets in particular, posted on April 22 and cobbled together here:
For the record, NO race outside of Europeans had a system that made slavery a *personhood* instead of temporary condition. There is also no race except Europeans who kidnapped and transported human being in order to enslave them and their offspring for life. Before Europeans invented it as such, slavery was not a condition that was defacto [sic] inherited from parent to child. In other words, deal with your white sh*t, white people. Slavery is a *YALL* thing.
In other tweets, Grundy calls St. Patrick’s Day “the white people’s Kwanzaa,” white college males “a problem population,” looting “poor black people’s best impression of Wall Street,” and white people “all Ben Affleck,” referring to the actor’s recently uncovered efforts to have his slave-owning ancestors omitted from a documentary. Grundy’s Twitter account has since been made private.
Grundy, who will join BU’s Department of Sociology with an additional appointment in African-American Studies starting July 1, initially received support from BU spokesperson Colin Riley, who told Fox News Friday she was “exercising her right to free speech and we respect her right to do so.”
A day later, Riley told Fox News, “The University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements.”
President Robert A. Brown sent an email to the BU community Tuesday, and after “a great deal of consultation and soul-searching,” defended Grundy’s right to free speech while expressing disappointment in the content of her remarks:
Many members of our community are aware of comments made on social media by Dr. Saida Grundy, who on July 1st will become an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology with an additional appointment in African American Studies.
Dr. Grundy’s comments are receiving extensive coverage in the media; we are also hearing from alumni, friends, and others about them. Many have expressed the view that some of Dr. Grundy’s comments are offensive and/or racist.
At Boston University, we acknowledge Dr. Grundy’s right to hold and express her opinions. Our community is composed of faculty, staff, and students who represent widely varying points of view on many sensitive issues.
At the same time, we fully appreciate why many have reacted so strongly to her statements. Boston University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form, and we are committed to maintaining an educational environment that is free from bias, fully inclusive, and open to wide-ranging discussions. We are disappointed and concerned by statements that reduce individuals to stereotypes on the basis of a broad category such as sex, race, or ethnicity. I believe Dr. Grundy’s remarks fit this characterization.
I do not say this lightly or without a great deal of consultation and soul-searching. I understand there is a broader context to Dr. Grundy’s tweets and that, as a scholar, she has the right to pursue her research, formulate her views, and challenge the rest of us to think differently about race relations. But we also must recognize that words have power and the words in her Twitter feed were powerful in the way they stereotyped and condemned other people. As a university president, I am accustomed to living in a world where faculty do—and should—have great latitude to express their opinions and provoke discussion. But I also have an obligation to speak up when words become hurtful to one group or another in the way they typecast and label its members. That is why I weigh in on this issue today.
Too often conversations about race quickly become inflamed and divisive. We must resolve to find a vocabulary for these conversations that allows us to seek answers without intemperance, rancor, or unnecessary divisiveness. We expect our faculty members to strive to create this environment in their classrooms.
I also understand that some members of our faculty believe that any equivocation by the president is tantamount to not supporting a new colleague. To those who feel that way, I ask that we talk rather than jump to conclusions. I recognize this is a difficult issue and I welcome the chance to talk with all of you and Dr. Grundy about it.
Only when we hold these conversations will we—as an academic community, with our educational programs, research, and scholarship—meet the standards we set for ourselves.
Roughly 3 percent of BU’s student body is African-American, according to federal data. Last December, Brown— under threat of subpoena—testified at a Boston City Council hearing on campus diversity after initially declining due to a scheduling conflict. In court papers, BU called the subpoena spearheaded by Councilor Tito Jackson, “an undue burden, is oppressive and was intended to harass.” At the end of June, the school plans to pull the plug on its African Presidential Center, founded by former U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania and civil rights activist Rev. Charles R. Stith in 2001.
“If you ask could this be about something other than the marginalization of African-Americans and racism, the answer is no,” Stith told the Globe. “If there had been a program inviting European presidents that was as successful as ours, I doubt if it would have gotten the same treatment.” In the same story, Riley cited the center’s inability to raise the funds needed to keep it open despite several warnings from administration.
Grundy responded to the furor over her tweets Wednesday with a letter to the editor in the Daily Free Press, BU’s campus newspaper.
“In the past year alone, the inconvenient matter of race has made itself an unavoidable topic of discussion in our country. These issues are uncomfortable for all of us, and, yet, the events we now witness with regularity in our nation tell us that we can no longer circumvent the problems of difference with strategies of silence,” Grundy wrote.
Grundy, who earned her master’s and doctorate at the University of Michigan, added that she is “unequivocally committed” to making her classroom an inclusive place where students feel comfortable to express their opinions. “I regret that my personal passion about issues surrounding these events led me to speak about them indelicately. I deprived them of the nuance and complexity that such subjects always deserve,” Grundy wrote.
Grundy did not respond to Boston‘s request for an interview.