When you hear about a commitment to “diversity,” you might assume it translates into an attempt for that institution to actively recruit a more representative population, prioritizing vulnerable students of color. But, just as often, diversity is co-opted by those institutions and used as a cover for many problematic actions and behaviors. Northwestern proves to be no different, using a commitment to “intellectual freedom” to justify allowing anti-Black and misogynistic scholarship to be conducted by visiting scholar Satoshi Kanazawa.
“My identity, as a Black women, is being politicized,” first-year student Sheyda Tribble says about her experience on campus. She says she feels forced to insert herself into organizing against Northwestern in order to protect herself. “That’s something I didn’t ever expect to happen during my first quarter here,” Tribble says.
Northwestern continues to demonstrate its co-optation of diversity in how it has fought to allow visiting scholar Satoshi Kanazawa to remain on its campus amidst protests from many, particularly Black women.
Kanazawa’s controversial career
For context, Kanazawa has built his career in higher academia on the ideas of evolutionary psychology and eugenics, which he has used to perpetuate racism, anti-Blackness and misogyny.
Kanazawa’s most infamous theories are on why Black women are less physically attractive and how sub-Saharan Africans have low IQs, which he believes leads to high rates of poverty and disease. Both studies were met with backlash from both the public and from his peers in psychology. In 2011, his work was called both “racist” and a “logical fallacy” by Dr. Khadijah Britton and over ten of Kanazawa’s colleagues in the field who successfully worked to scientifically debunk his claims.
To reiterate, over ten of his colleagues have already denounced him and successfully debunked his work.
Northwestern students voice their frustration
After students initially heard that Kanazawa was welcomed to Northwestern’s campus, a petition was started by Junior student Deborah Shoola, which as of now has gotten over 5,000 signatures.
Provost Jonathan Holloway sent out an email to the Northwestern community stating that someone’s “personally held views, no matter how odious, cannot be a reason to undermine the vital principle of intellectual freedom that all academic institutions serve to protect.”
Through this statement and their commitment to “intellectual freedom” in this context, Northwestern University has demonstrated an openness to scholarship that is racist and sexist, a choice many say was made at the expense of the physical and emotional health of its Black students. This comes during a period where Northwestern students are vying for more health resources, particularly mental health resources, amidst a “string of suicides” on campus.
In response back to this official statement, first-year student and ASG Senator Christian Wade authored a resolution calling for the dismissal of Satoshi Kanazawa. The legislation was approved by the Associated Student Government Senate on January 16.
The history of eugenics in American universities
Anti-Blackness and eugenics have been maintained by elite institutions including Northwestern for well over a hundred years.
“This is an assault that we are used to as a demographic. I’m disappointed, but not surprised”, Junior Amira Richards said, who is the Student Executive Director of For Us, By Us, an organization intended to be a safe space for Black womxn-identifying individuals on Northwestern’s campus.
At the start of the 20th century, many American universities were at the forefront of the eugenics movement, a pseudoscience that seeks to improve the human population by controlled breeding. The early movement was led by presidents of elite private institutions like Harvard, Yale and Stanford, and gave power and validity to racist practices and laws. It most infamously provided the intellectual foundations for Hitler’s racial cleansing policies.
The eugenics movement in the US focused on eliminating “negative” traits. Their targeted traits were found concentrated in poor, uneducated, and minority populations. The movement led to the forced sterilization of over 64,000 people in the United States by the 1940s.
After World War II, most American institutions publicly abandoned their support of eugenics policies and their funding for eugenics research, nonetheless, there are still many cases of professors and scholars in the US who maintain their eugenicist policies.
Similar to Kanazawa,in 1969, Arthur Jensen, a tenured professor and scholar at the University of California, Berkeley argued that Black students’ poor academic performance was due to irreversible genetic deficiencies. His lectures were disrupted by angry mobs, bomb squads handled his mail and colleagues mounted a campaign to formally censure him. However, ultimately, the effort failed and he continued to teach for nearly 30 more years.
Black Northwestern students expected more from the school
Senior Anyah Akanni, Coordinator of For Members Only, Northwestern’s Black Student Alliance, says, “The biggest problem in this situation is that institutionalized racism is being accepted by institutions that say they aren’t racist.”
Because of this hypocrisy seen across academia, Akanni added, “It’s important for students at Northwestern to take a stand and show other institutions that this is not okay.”
Beyond the petition, another stand was taken during a Town Hall discussing the presence of Kanazawa on Northwestern’s campus. The event highlighted the power of not only the Black community on Northwestern’s campus, but of community building and solidarity.
Rick Wallace, an attendee of the Town Hall, a Senior student and the President of The Collective, a club meant to explore Black masculinity, saw this opportunity for the Black community to support each other.
“This is obviously an issue that affects Black women directly… but [it’s also] a matter of us as Black men being there to support and offer the resources that we have. This shouldn’t be a Black men led initiative, but we should be equally outraged,” Wallace said.
It’s important to note that this situation is far from over between the Black community and the Northwestern administration, but at the very least optimism and community are brewing among Black students.
“If no one has us, then we have us, and that’s how it has always been. We are a force to be reckoned with”, echoed Richards.