According to the University of Memphis website, over 2,400 people work at the University of Memphis (over 900 of which are faculty members. The campus includes over 21,000 students and spans 1,600 acres. Why, out of all that space and all those people, was I one of three students picked to be interviewed about a professor I have never met?
Shoulda, Coulda, Didna
Let me backtrack just a little. Earlier that day, I ran across a story on my Facebook newsfeed talking about inflammatory social media posts made by a UofM professor. I read the story and started watching the whole thing unfold throughout the day. You can Google the tweets. I found her Twitter handle and watched as tweet after tweet popped up written by folks responding to what she had said. A few were encouraging, but most were ugly. People can say what they want, but the majority of the ugly tweets I saw (as well as on the news Facebook pages) were made by people whose profile pictures depicted the Confederate flag. Most called for her dismissal, some swore their child would never attend a university that harbored such a racist person, and some were just attacking her. I went back today and noticed many of the tweets have been deleted, by the way. UofM posted a quick tweet later that day stating that Dr. Robinson was no longer employed at the University of Memphis. Dr. Robinson tweeted at some point (it was re-tweeted by one of her Twitter followers) that she was not fired and she had given notice back in May. Later, reports of her new employment at Rhodes College started showing up.
The News Reporter
Enter the media. A news reporter approached me as I was waiting for the Blue Line to come pick me up late that afternoon. She asked if I were a UofM student. I SHOULD have said no. But I didn’t. Then she asked if I knew Dr. Robinson. I had never had a class with Dr. Robinson so I didn’t really have an idea of what she was like. I had taken Intro to Sociology by Dr. Enck and Racial and Ethnic Minorities by Prof. Murphy, but never one from her (although I wish I would have been able to fit one in!). I’d only really begun sorting out what possibly could have happened when the reporter approached me with her questions. I told the reporter I didn’t know Dr. Robinson as I’d never taken one of her classes. I also said that I had read a tweet from Dr. Robinson stating that she HADN’T been fired, but had given her notice back in May. The news reporter then told me their source said that she had been fired. Unfortunately for me, I’m not good at hiding my emotions so my surprise at hearing she had been fired was written all over my face. The reporter quickly then asked something about her ideas and forcing them in the classroom at the same time the camera man (who I hadn’t paid much attention to until that point) whipped his camera up and started rolling. Shit. I COULD HAVE reminded her I had no idea since I had never had her. I probably should have said that. But I didn’t. What came out of my mouth was my experiences in the classroom during my undergrad years with other professors. I explained that we are free to express and discuss our views regardless of the professor’s personal opinion. She asked me if I thought her firing was a result of racism. I responded I didn’t think so.
The tweets Dr. Robinson posted were very powerful, very in-your-face, very controversial, and very much in line with how she rolls. Had she introduced these tweets in a class, I could imagine her writing a tweet on the board in silence, turning back to the class, and asking a simple question, What do you think about this? I would have jumped at the chance to completely immerse myself in discussion and debate. The time would have flown by and I would probably have left the classroom with a little bit more insight, a little bit smarter, and with more respect for a professor who forced me to think about topics that are often avoided. Then again, that’s what college is for, right? To encourage critical thinking, to make us uncomfortable and think outside our mental box, to open our minds and question our beliefs even if we come back to those same beliefs. My other professors did this for me so I have no reason to think Dr. Robinson would not have done the same for me.
1. I know of other professors who have left under circumstances that were less than ideal and I don’t remember the UofM EVER stating they no longer worked there. I feel they toed a very dangerous line by choosing to publically state that. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that the reporter may not have been entirely truthful about her source because I can’t imagine anyone in admin volunteering that information.
2. I feel that by responding as viciously as many people did, they simply nailed home some of Dr. Robinson’s statements.
3. Let’s talk about whiteness for a second. Whiteness is not the same as white people. Whiteness in the sense that Dr. Robinson stated in her tweet refers to a word that needs to be defined from a sociological viewpoint. So for those of you Googling just “whiteness”, stop. Just stop. Instead, Google “the sociological definition of whiteness” and you’ll get a better idea of what Dr. Robinson is talking about. You’ll also see why I’m not spelling it out here because it obviously would turn my blog post into a book.
4. I rate people using simple criteria. Are they nice? If you are a nice person, I like you even if you have weird habits. If you are not a nice person, I treat you professionally if you’re a work colleague, speak to you if you I have to, but generally I avoid you if I can. Ain’t nobody got time for that kind of negativity. Many of the negative tweets I saw were made by people who are not nice. No one nice can post the things they did.
5. The articles I read about Dr. Robinson were very subjective and at times misleading. I feel this is irresponsible journalism and contributed to the mob mentality that came later, calling for her resignation.
Do I feel Dr. Robinson was in the wrong for posting the things she did?
No. Dr. Robinson is a vocal person. She’s a sociologist, for goodness sake! How could she NOT have an opinion on social issues? It’s demanded of her as a responsible professor.
Do I feel she could have said it better?
Yes and the only reason I say that is because I feel an opinion has more of a chance to be analyzed objectively if it’s stated a bit more gently. I’m not saying that everyone would have stopped before they hit send on their ugly tweet – some people are just going to be mean, regardless. It’s just what I do myself. I try to gently share my opinion and sometimes I don’t share it at all. I’m also assuming here that Dr. Robinson was looking for her opinion to be analyzed objectively.
Is my opinion of how to share opinions correct?
Not necessarily. We’re all different and we express ourselves differently.
Am I this forgiving of all people with an opinion?
If someone posts something that is just idiotic, I do what any normal person does. I read it and think, wtf? Do I attack the person? No. Do I question them? Sometimes. It depends on who it is. If it’s a celebrity, I just let it go. I may blog about it later if the urge strikes me. If it’s a friend or acquaintance, I usually just let it go as well unless I feel I can share my opinion without being attacked. Again, I may blog about it later if the urge strikes me.
Do I agree with what Dr. Robinson says?
Well, now that’s a bit trickier. It’s also something I may address in a future blog. I agree with some of her posts. The others? I don’t know yet. I have to analyze them and see if I agree with them or not. I know one thing for sure – I’m going to be spending a lot of time on her blog over the next couple of weeks. She has some fascinating, thought-provoking posts on there!
Do I think Dr. Robinson is racist?
I don’t believe so. Being racist means thinking that one’s race is superior to another. I can’t get inside her head so I can’t say for sure if she is or isn’t, but based on what I’ve read so far, I would guess the answer is no.
What do I think about the University of Memphis?
I love UofM. This university has taken a broken-down, old, divorced, single mother and has turned me into a woman with confidence, a woman with knowledge, a woman who can hold her head up high in the world again. UofM has been my home, literally, for the last six years. I will always be a proud alumni. I would recommend UofM to anyone. It's a great place to learn. I also am aware that UofM has its faults. I hear whispers, I observe, and I know that things go on at this place that are not always very nice things. However, the same could be true of any university. Yes, I’m a suburbanite white girl so I see things through a different lens. I don’t know what it’s like being a black woman in a university setting, but I do know it’s different and it shouldn’t be. Do I think they should have posted that tweet regarding Dr. Robinson’s employment? No. Just no. Dr. Robinson voluntarily addressed her employment status and it should have been left at that. Wtf, UofM??
We live in a different world – a world where we can instantly share our thoughts online with potentially hundreds and thousands of people around the world as I just did with this blog post. I love that because I can see what makes people tick based on what they post and I can share my thoughts on the world to the world. It’s also upsetting, though, because it drives home certainties. America still suffers horribly from racism. While I think racism is going to be around for a very long time, I do wish we could improve our ability to sit down and discuss it intelligently instead of firing ugly 140-character zingers at each other.
For what my opinion is worth, I believe she has been treated unfairly, but she strikes me as someone who can’t be kept down. I look forward to seeing her in action in the future.
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