Jodi Shaw, a former residential life coordinator at Smith College, resigned from her position Friday afternoon, alleging in a resignation letter to the college president that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment because of the color of her skin.
In the letter, obtained by former New York Times editor Bari Weiss, Shaw told Smith College President Kathleen McCartney that a “racially hostile environment that the college has subjected me to for the past two and a half years has left me physically and mentally debilitated.” She also said that she couldn’t remain silent about her experience, and as such, had turned down a settlement from the college.
Shaw, a divorced mother of two children, detailed several allegations in the letter, including an incident in 2018 when she was told she couldn’t use a library-orientation presentation she developed because it would have been in rap form. The presentation, she wrote, would have been crucial to a promotion. Although she soon switched to a different job within the college, she says similar experiences occurred at her new position.
I endured meetings in which another staff member violently banged his fist on the table, chanting “Rich, white women! Rich, white women!” in reference to Smith alumnae. I listened to my supervisor openly name preferred racial quotas for job openings in our department. I was given supplemental literature in which the world’s population was reduced to two categories — “dominant group members” and “subordinated group members” — based solely on characteristics like race.
The “last straw,” wrote Shaw, was in January 2020, when she and her colleagues attended a retreat “focused on racial issues,” and she was allegedly asked to talk about her own race during a group meeting, but she declined, saying she wasn’t comfortable doing so.
Later, the facilitators told everyone present that a white person’s discomfort at discussing their race is a symptom of “white fragility.” They said that the white person may seem like they are in distress, but that it is actually a “power play.” In other words, because I am white, my genuine discomfort was framed as an act of aggression. I was shamed and humiliated in front of all of my colleagues.
What passes for “progressive” today at Smith and at so many other institutions is regressive. It taps into humanity’s worst instincts to break down into warring factions, and I fear this is rapidly leading us to a very twisted place. It terrifies me that others don’t seem to see that racial segregation and demonization are wrong and dangerous no matter what its victims look like. Being told that any disagreement or feelings of discomfort somehow upholds “white supremacy” is not just morally wrong. It is psychologically abusive.
Shaw told McCartney that she was retaliated against after filing a complaint over the incident and that she was told civil rights laws protections weren’t created for people like her. The letter concluded: “My need to tell the truth — and to be the kind of woman Smith taught me to be — makes it impossible for me to accept financial security at the expense of remaining silent about something I know is wrong. My children’s future, and indeed, our collective future as a free nation, depends on people having the courage to stand up to this dangerous and divisive ideology, no matter the cost.”
Read the full letter, and commentary by Weiss, here.
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