James Fisher said he couldn't attend classes at the University of Pennsylvania because one his white professors refused to denounce his white privilege. Fisher is black, and he wrote an article about his mental anguish published in his university’s newspaper The Daily Pennsylvanian. “I stopped going to his class for a month. With different emotions going through my head from not only this class but from the Trump election, I did not want to step foot into another white space until I made sure that my mental health was restored,” Fisher wrote.
The paper said Fisher is from the Bronx, NY and in his picture looked fairly normal. He must have learned some toughness living there and he’s only in his sophomore year at UPenn. Is this what can happen to a man after only one year in an Ivy League school these days? He can get completely rattled by a white man who doesn’t think the way Fisher believes he should? Fisher claims his professor is nice, but Fisher claims being in his presence is still traumatizing:
These are the types of things that happen when white teachers do not want to acknowledge their privileges; they can psychologically hurt their students. It is not enough to be aware of your privilege. It is also not enough to be a nice person. Your niceness does not mean that you are not capable of contributing to racial systems of oppression.
It’s sad that Fisher is evidently coming unglued. I’m not a mental health professional, but it seems there are other issues going on with him and he’s blaming a “nice” white guy for his problems. But why did the university newspaper provide space for his embarrassing article? That’s what I’m wondering. Looking into this, I discovered the paper is entirely student-run, but it’s funded by the university, which is private and not part of the state of Pennsylvania as, say, the University of Maine is. Pennsylvania taxpayers are not funding it, except as they pay taxes to the federal government which provides assistance for some of its students to attend there or to attend any other college. In that sense, I’m paying too and so is every other American taxpayer.
I also learned that 250 students work for the newspaper and elect an all-student board every year which makes editorial decisions like publishing Fisher’s article. I saw no disclaimer such as the typical: “Opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.” Seeing something like that might have provided me some comfort.
Fisher’s article ran under a headline identifying it as part of a continuing series called: “Spilling the Real Tea” which runs every two weeks. Given the university was established in 1740, I wondered if it was some reference to the Boston Tea Party during which revolutionaries spilled British Tea into Boston harbor in protest against the British government. When I googled the expression, all that came up were examples of people using it. Judging from context clues, it seems to mean something like “telling the real truth.”
Is that what the elected board of students at a prestigious university believe James Fisher is doing? Telling the real truth? Must be, since I see he’s published three other articles in the same space. Is this indicative of how absolutely crazy it is on American campuses today? It would seem so. I’ll leave you with another quote from Fisher:
It is not enough that you are sorry for the injustices caused by your people. It is not enough that you read one article on the Black Lives Matter movement because your black friend recommended it to you. It is not enough that you gave your black students extensions on their papers because Trump got elected. The truth is, you as a single person cannot make up for the horrific things that white people have done to us throughout human history. But that does not mean that you do not have the power to stop yourself from oppressing the students that you teach every day.
Remember, it costs $70,000 a year to go to the University of Pennsylvania today. What a deal, huh?