If you're unfamiliar with Schaefer Riley or the controversy she's created, she's the author of a nasty blog post from April 30, mocking the dissertations of graduate students her publication, The Chronicle of Higher Education, deemed "5 Up-and Coming Ph.D Candidates in a New Doctoral Program," or as Schaefer Riley describes them sarcastically, "the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students".
"If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it," writes Schaefer Riley, before tossing each dissertation aside with some quippy comments--leading to an Internet firestorm. Her post—which probably gave The Chronicle the most traffic it's seen in recent years--is a prime example of trolling. Schaefer Riley's editor didn't take down the post though many commenters asked her to, and instead urged Chronicle's readers to "comment" and "set things straight" and let Schaefer Riley have another follow-up to her first post. In other words, more trolling.
While the graduate students who were mocked by Schaefer Riley and faculty at Northwestern have responded earnestly to Schaefer Riley's troll attempt, we decided to take take a closer look at Schaefer Riley's arguments to see if we could learn anything from her ramblings, and what she seems to want to get across (she makes it very clear that people have called her a racist) is how not-a-racist she is despite her proposal to eliminate an entire subject based on a few dissertations.
So in case you wanted to have a conversation about eliminating Black Studies from higher education but were worried about sounding racist, do not:
- Use this headline: "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations."
- Write: "The best that can be said of these topics [Black Studies] is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them."
- Encourage people to read dissertations that aren't published (it's not possible) and eliminate black studies based on said (unpublished) dissertations.
- Write: "If the dissertations in question were written by white people, I’d call them irrelevant and partisan as well."
- Follow the previous statement by writing: "A word to the wise: If you’re trying to convince the wider world that black people in America are oppressed, I’d skip using the experience of black graduate students as an example."
- Refute the claim that you're a racist, by listing off your 15 years of experience as a journalist (hint: journalists can be racists)
- Use the "black president = no oppression" argument
- Say this: "I think they can just as well leave their calendars at 1963 and let some legitimate scholars find solutions to the problems of blacks in America. Solutions that don’t begin and end with blame the white man."
Update 10:26 a.m. Schaefer Riley was fired last night.
*A commenter pointed out (and cited Levy's CV) that that Riley had capitalized LaTaSha B. Levy's name correctly. That didn't match up with the way Levy's name appeared in her response to the Chronicle,