You assert that Megan Neely, the former Director of Graduate Studies in Biostatistics, who sent an email chastising students for speaking Chinese in the department building and warning them of the potential negative impacts on their futures, should not have stepped down. I strongly disagree.
Megan Neely’s email to students warning them against speaking in their native languages, specifically Chinese, is a clear perpetuation of racism and xenophobia. While your statement that “most employers implicitly demand good-to-excellent English in their hiring process” has merit, Neely’s email was drenched in the inherent and incorrect assumption that students who choose to speak their native language are less equipped to speak English in a work setting. In order to enroll in the Biostatistics program, international students must demonstrate their proficiency in English. Bottom line: the students on this campus already speak English. Furthermore, this assumption speaks to a broader trend in this country to treat being bilingual as a positive skill in white, native English speakers and as a liability in non-native English speakers of color. This is a damaging and discriminatory trend which needs to be discussed and confronted.
Additionally, you assert that Neely is “just the face of a larger power structure” and that “ideologies aren’t fought with firings and scapegoats: they’re fought with discourse.” But Megan Neely is not a scapegoat. A scapegoat is a person who is forced to bear the “blame for others” and is sacrificed unfairly. In her email, Neely demonstrated that she is an active perpetuator of the xenophobic and racist ideologies that so deeply harm the students of color on our campus. While she is the face of a larger power structure, she is also a part of that power structure and she must be held accountable.
A great challenge of confronting systems of oppression is that they are so deeply and historically ingrained in our society that it seems impossible. When confronting these systems, discourse is important, but so is action. Megan Neely resigning is a step in the right direction. It is the beginning, not the end, of the action that should be taking place in response to this attack on students. The teachers who singled out the students speaking Chinese and reported them to Neely should step down as well. This process should continue until the institution reflects the values and the needs of the students that they serve.
There is nothing satisfying about the resignation of Megan Neely. Her resignation is proof of what many students already know: that like in our country at large, racism is perpetuated within the highest levels of this university. While you are correct that “the ultimate enemy will never be a person, but an ideology,” the truth is that ideologies like racism do not exist without people who perpetuate them. If we truly want to see change on our campus, we must take action as well as engage in meaningful discourse. We must hold Megan Neely and every other individual who actively perpetuates these hateful ideologies accountable.
Alicia Porile is a Trinity junior.