In response to a social media firestorm sparked by racially charged tweets sent by an incoming sociologist, President Robert A. Brown sent a letter on Tuesday to the BU community expressing concern that the posts reduced people to stereotypes on the basis of broad categories. The tweets, sent by Saida Grundy, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of sociology and African American studies, who is scheduled to join the BU faculty on July 1, have gone viral, and the Office of the President has received hundreds of emails and many phone calls complaining about her assertions.
“At Boston University we acknowledge Dr. Grundy’s right to hold and express her opinions,” Brown wrote. “At the same time, we fully appreciate why many have reacted so strongly to her statements. Boston University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are committed to maintaining an educational environment that is free from bias, fully inclusive, and open to wide-ranging discussions. We are disappointed and concerned by statements that reduce individuals to stereotypes on the basis of a broad category such as sex, race, or ethnicity. I believe Dr. Grundy’s remarks fit this characterization.”
Grundy’s tweets, which include such statements as “white masculinity isn’t a problem for america’s (sic) colleges, white masculinity is THE problem for america’s (sic) colleges,” and “for the record, NO race outside of europeans (sic) had a system that made slavery a *personhood* instead of temporary condition,” were first reported on the website SoCawlege. They have since been reported by Fox News, the Washington Times, and other publications. At the same time, an online petition in support of Grundy was posted on change.org, and signed by 1,000 supporters.
Grundy’s Twitter account has been locked and a note advises visitors that “saigrundy’s Tweets are protected.”
In a statement sent to the University, Grundy said she regrets that her personal passion about matters of race led her “to speak about them indelicately. I deprived them of the nuance and complexity that such subjects always deserve.
“As an experienced educator,” Grundy wrote,” I take seriously my responsibility to create an inclusive learning environment for all of my students. Both professionally and ethically, I am unequivocally committed to ensuring that my classroom is a space where all students are welcomed. I know firsthand that students learn best by discussing these issues openly and honestly without risk of censure or penalty. I look forward to more dialogues about race, diversity, and inclusion in my career at Boston University, and to having the honor of knowing and teaching some of the finest minds in the world.”
In his letter to the community, Brown defended Grundy’s “right to pursue her research, formulate her views, and challenge the rest of us to think differently about race relations.
“But,” Brown wrote, “we also must recognize that words have power and the words in her Twitter feed were powerful in the way they stereotyped and condemned other people. As a university president, I am accustomed to living in a world where faculty do—and should—have great latitude to express their opinions and provoke discussion. But I also have an obligation to speak up when words become hurtful to one group or another in the way they typecast and label its members. That is why I weigh in on this issue today.
“Too often conversations about race quickly become inflamed and divisive. We must resolve to find a vocabulary for these conversations that allows us to seek answers without intemperance, rancor, or unnecessary divisiveness. We expect our faculty members to strive to create this environment in their classrooms.”
Nazli Kibria, a CAS professor and chair of sociology, said the faculty and students in the sociology department look forward to having Grundy join them. “Dr. Grundy’s scholarship on black middle class masculinity engages with core sociological questions about social inequalities and identities,” Kibria said. “We see her as an exceptionally promising teacher who has a demonstrated ability to present scholarly materials and engage in fruitful dialogue with her classroom audience. It is important to not let the controversy about her Twitter statements overshadow her accomplishments and her potential contributions to the BU community.”
Nancy Ammerman, a CAS professor of sociology and a member of the search committee that recruited Grundy, said she is as excited about Grundy’s arrival today as she was when she interviewed her. “The excerpts from her Twitter feed are indeed unsettling,” said Ammerman, “but so is the really virulent response to them. What I know is that Ms. Grundy is an excellent teacher, able to communicate with all kinds of people, and utterly committed to enabling all her students to thrive and to see themselves and the world more clearly. The measure of her ability to think justly about race—black and white—will come in the classroom and in her writing, not in a few comments taken out of context. I look forward to engaging with her in the kind of open academic exchanges that happen in this department and throughout this University.”
Timothy Longman, director of the African Studies Center and a CAS associate professor of political science, said he hadn’t seen Grundy’s tweets, but he does “strongly object to Fox News and others excerpting her tweets to promote the preposterous idea that white men are somehow a persecuted minority. Looking around the academy today, it’s pretty clear that white men are under no threat.
“Academic freedom is a bedrock principle for universities,” said Longman, “so I’m uncomfortable with attacks on professors who express their opinions, even if those opinions are controversial. Twitter is a particularly challenging medium. I can say from my own experience that it is difficult to maintain civil discourse in 140 characters. If people want to judge Professor Grundy, they should read her academic works.”
Zoi Zaldivar (SED’15) said the outcry over Grundy’s remarks is “telling” about America’s race discussions. “Our country as a whole is a little on edge,” she said. “When you look back at Ferguson and Baltimore, a lot of people are starting to look at racism, especially white males, where I think a lot of the blame is being put. There is a tendency to be on the defensive.”
Professors should be free to tweet their opinions, said Abby Pauley (CAS’17). “They’re exercising their right to freedom of speech and showing another aspect of their personality,” she said. “Professors are people, too, and she brings up a few good points that need to be addressed.”
Jeffrey Herrera (CAS’15) agrees with “60 to 70 percent” of what Grundy’s tweets have said. “I work at the Community Service Center, and we have discussions about race very frequently,” Herrera said. “What she said in the tweets is going to alienate some people, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s important for students to know that conversation about race is important.”
Grundy’s BU faculty webpage says her interests span race, class, and gender; sexuality; qualitative methodology; feminist theory; stratification and inequality; and urban ethnography. It states that in 2014 she was named a junior fellow of the Urban Ethnography Project at Yale University, and that her research has been supported by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts identifies Grundy as a graduate student who earned a BA at Spelman College and an MA and a PhD in sociology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan.