In an open letter to Pomona College’s Sociology Department, Dean of Academic Affairs, and President, an anonymous group of 128 students, alumni, and “allies” of the Sociology Department demand that the college rescind its offer to hire “racist” and “unethical” Dr. Alice Goffman as a sociology professor and turn over control of future hiring to students.
“We, a collective of Sociology students, alumni, and allies at Pomona College, are writing to express our anger and concern regarding the recent hire of Alice Goffman. Goffman’s hire proves the college’s failure to wholeheartedly address underrepresentation of faculty of color … [T]he national controversy around Alice Goffman’s academic integrity, dubious reputation, her hyper-criminalization of Black men, and hyper-sexualization of Black women does not embrace and align with our shared community values,” the letter begins.
“To this end, we demand … the rescindment of the offer to hire Alice Goffman as the McConnell Visiting Professor of Sociology,” the authors write. “In the case that she has accepted the offer, we demand the termination of her contract.”
The open letter also demands “the creation of peer-appointed, influential student positions on the hiring committee” that place students “at the forefront of all current and future hiring decisions in the Sociology Department.”
One major problem with Goffman, according to the letter, is that she is a White female who was chosen over two Black candidates. “[T]he two other candidates for this position were highly qualified Black women whose critical research focuses on intersectionality and structural inequality,” the authors write. “[This hire] boasts the framework that white women can theorize about and profit from Black lives while giving no room for Black academics to claim scholarship regarding their own lived experiences.”
In a message to the Independent, an anonymous Pomona student who attended presentations by candidates for the position explained “that as someone who went to the presentations, I did think Alice [Goffman]’s was the most coherent and put-together.”
Goffman gave her presentation on “Mapping the Fatefulness of Everyday Life,” while the other two candidates, Dr. Katrina Bell McDonald and Dr. Marla Kohlman discussed “Intersecting Race and Gender” and “Intersectionality: Politics and Praxis,” respectively.
Goffman is known for her work on the impact of mass incarceration and policing in low-income African-American communities, but students believe her work disqualifies her from teaching at Pomona College.
“Her [Goffman’s] methods have endangered her research participants, encouraged the hyper-policing of Black communities, and continue to perpetuate anti-Blackness,” the students write. “Additionally, hiring white faculty who engage in voyeuristic, unethical research and who are not mindful of their positionality as outsiders to the communities they study reinforces harmful narratives about people of color. This practice is detrimental to Pomona’s goal of supporting students of color; we condemn the harm Goffman’s research has caused Black communities.”
The letter goes on to accuse Goffman’s publications of being “racist, sensationalist, and unethical.”
The students also are seeking a formal letter from the sociology department detailing where it went wrong in choosing Goffman for the position:
“We are requesting a formal letter recognizing the flawed process of hiring Goffman and how from now on, student involvement will be central to such decisions. We ask that the faculty committee exercise greater transparency by explicitly detailing the hiring procedure and addressing the lack of communication with students regarding the faculty opening and potential candidates. Since faculty are in positions to influence and inspire the student body, it is very important that students are made aware of and involved in hiring practices that directly impact our college experiences.”
The letter’s authors also claim that the “majority of Sociology majors are students of color” and complain that “the faculty are not at all representative of their students’ diversity.” They also ask for more professors of color in all fields, as it “is deeply concerning [that there are not more professors of color] given that the percentage of students of color has been increasing with each admitted class, with the Class of 2021 consisting of 56.7% students of color.”
Although the Sociology Department does currently include faculty of color, the students are not satisfied, as the hire of Goffman—a White female—will mean that “the Department will have zero women of color faculty members.” (emphasis original)
The letter claims to have garnered 128 signatures, but this is impossible to verify, as none of the signatories’ names are listed.
“128 names [have been] redacted for individual safety in recognition of the violence inflicted on communities of color by various publications, namely the Claremont Independent,” the authors explain.
The college has until 5:00 p.m. next Tuesday to respond—or else, say the authors.
“Should we not receive a response to our demands,” they write, “we will take direct action.” (emphasis original)