The attacks on members of the teaching staff at the University of Sydney by the right-wing tabloid, The Daily Telegraph on 8 August 2018, which zoned in on a female professor of Asian descent, Dr Jane Park, was an assault on those of us who work in the terrain of race critical, gender, and queer studies. ACRAWSA is a space for academics who challenge the ongoing racial logics that continue to cement white supremacist structures and thwart Indigenous sovereignty to share their work, be it on our blog, the CRAWS journal, or at our conferences and events. We also see it as our role to support members of the broader critical race scholarly community when they are faced with attacks or are in need of support.
The assault on our University of Sydney’s colleagues is part of a more deeply entrenched attack on academic freedom in Australia and around the world, an attack which has also been repackaged as targeting the right, rather than – as has always been the case – impacting those challenging authority from the margins. In Australia, this particular war has a long narrative going back to the ‘history wars‘ and is seeing its latest iteration in the debate over the Australian National University’s refusal to host the right-wing Ramsay Centre’s course in ‘western civilization.’ Against a generalised backdrop of attack on the humanities, universities emphasise ’employability’ and ‘impact’ in a bid to show the relevance of our scholarly areas in the face of dwindling funding and public support.
Colleagues often point to the stark, quantifiable contrast between the amount of research funding awarded to STEM subjects as opposed to the Humanities and Social Sciences, and this is indeed very problematic. However, within HASS itself, what work is being funded and promoted, being given prominence in the Australian academy and elsewhere, is important to take stock of. For example, in the last round of Australian Research Council funding 2018, almost $1m was awarded to a project ‘engaging Muslims in the fight against terrorism.’ This research is couched in a ‘War on terror’ narrative in which Muslims are singled out for attention as especially prone to engagement in terrorist activities despite the fact that, in today’s increasingly hospitable environment for right-wing extremism, the violent threat to society – racialised people and women in particular – is more likely to come from white supremacists in increasing alignment with right-wing governments.
There is a considerable disconnect between what students and the public want and what academic managers and decision-makers in the sphere of research think they want. Academics such as those attacked by the Daily Telegraph are meeting students’ needs and interests in an increasingly multi-racial space, where students are rightly challenging the ‘white curriculum‘ and the prominence of ‘malestream’ scholarship in our reading lists. The small spaces that race critical academics have carved out for themselves are under attack, not only by the right-wing tabloids, where you would expect it, but from a timid academic management who is all too ready to operationalise symbolic diversity to sell academic ‘services’ and to pay lip service to widening participation agendas, but not so ready to dismantle its own white structures. As Kehinde Andrews writes, universities not only do not challenge racism, they reproduce it in myriad ways.
Diversity is not enough, as Eve Tuck argues. Rather, change can only come from relinquishing power and thus moving towards justice. This means recognising the complicity of the academic system in maintaining systems of white dominance, not only through hiring practices and curricular choices, but also through the vision of society promoted by the neoliberal university. Today, in a competitive market, universities send the message that choice is the right of students, recast as ‘customers.’ However, by failing to even consider what decolonising research, teaching and academic management could look like, effectively universities tell students that the best they can hope for are some elective units that look beyond the unbearable whiteness of the humanities.
Due to this recurrent lack of institutional support – as with the members of the Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN) – we stand with our colleagues when they are under attack while also reminding that we need a much longer term, collectively organised, plan. This plan must looks beyond crisis management and damage control and towards a future in which academic freedom is not just for white men. One of the ways in which colleagues in Australia have started to think about these issues is via the ‘Teaching While Black‘ symposia organised by sociologist, Chelsea Bond in recent months. From overseas, the recently published edited volume, Decolonising the University, is a must-read.
Gathered in this short symposium, we have three responses to the Daily Telegraph assault. Maria Elena Indelicato discusses the gendered and racialised nature of the attacks, considering how the author of the article opposed a ‘robust masculine academy’ with a soft, feminine and racialised teaching space. Jay Daniel Thompson sets the Daily Telegraph‘s attack in the wider context of the right’s assault on academic freedom. Lastly, Timothy Kazuo Steains considers the particular burdens of hyper visibility and emotional labour that women academics of Asian descent are forced to shoulder.