“You Will Never Understand Racism Like I Do”

Ten a.m. Thursday morning, January 30, 2020: Chapel is about to start in Pioneer Memorial Church at Andrews University (AU). A young woman, a student, settles down in the pew and turns to her Twitter feed:

“Might as well say what happened to me yesterday while I’m not paying attention to chapel,” she writes. “I am mentally exhausted with the white male professors at AU. I had this argument with my professor today and I’ll go into detail about it later. Cause I’m going to file a formal complaint.”

She is a reader for the history professor she is so angry with; he had just returned to her a paper from Fall semester with a grade of 74. The comment from the rubric is reproduced in her Twitter feed:

Her own summary of the essay: “My paper was about the stereotypes of Black people in America, how they were created and how they are still perpetuated onto black people to be one of the characteristics to hold a Black people to a 2nd-class citizenship.”

What follows in the staccato bursts of Twitter is a detailed description of an hour-long conversation with her professor, who has taught at AU since 1990, an escalating argument about stereotyping, racism, and White privilege, as remembered by the student. Click here for the entire account.

Frankly, much of the reported conversation reads like a one-act play:

Me: “… I’m proud of being black”

Dr M: you’re proud of that? You have pride in that?

Me: yes I am proud of being black

Dr: Well you need to fix that

Me: why can’t I be proud in being black

Dr: why would you be proud of that?

At one point I say, “you will never understand racism like I do”

Dr: Oh really? White people invented racism!

By the end of the hour, the student is in tears. She has tried to tell her professor and employer what it is like to be Black in America; he is adamant that he himself is not racist and therefore her premise, that “White people have stereotyped Black people,” is false on the face of it. According to her Twitter report, he tells her that he knows that AU does not have a problem with systemic racism, because he himself has never seen it. When she leaves his office, he calls after her, “You can’t handle it!”

Summing up the encounter, she states, “Anyways. Not only did he disrespect the student-teacher aspect but he also made it a hostile work environment. I talk to the provost tomorrow.” In the following days, the student files an appeal, and her friends on Twitter express anger and frustration on her behalf. Some of the tweets are quite vulgar; other can be construed as threatening to the professor.

I invite you now, Reader, to put yourself in the shoes of the provost. This sort of situation — a clash between a minority student, who feels disrespected and misunderstood, and a professor, often White, over an issue involving race — is a staple on college and university campuses these days, and the fact that they quickly take fire on social media only makes them harder for administrators to deal with. Was the paper unfairly graded based on racial bias? Did the faculty member transgress on University policy to “treat with respect students who disagree with the instructor”? Is the student too sensitive, “playing the race card,” not willing to accept help with sloppy thinking and writing? Is the professor refusing to accept the student’s research and analysis simply because he denies the existence of racism in America? What are the limits of academic freedom?

And the situation is even more complex in this case, because systemic racism on the Andrews University campus is also at issue. The student’s Twitter thread quotes the professor saying that the hiring in 2017 of Michael Nixon as Vice President for Diversity was an example of Black privilege — that he was hired merely because he was Black. Claiming to be a friend of “Nix,” the student comes to his defense, noting that he has a JD and experience as a practicing lawyer.

Nixon was hired, and an Office of Diversity created, as a direct result of the troubles of February 2017, when a Black History Month speaker was understood by some to suggest that anyone who voted for Donald Trump should be ashamed of themselves. A week later, the provost made a public apology for the interjection of politics into the University Chapel service. Then came a video, which received over 150,000 views, 2,000 shares, and 600 comments on Facebook, called “It Is Time AU,” in which Black students demanded that AU deal with systemic racism on campus, making quite a specific list of demands, and ending with “You have one week.”

Seven days later, administration responded with “It Is Time: Listen. Dialogue. Change.” President Luxton and several others, including Pastor Dwight Nelson, say “Thank you,” “I am sorry,” and “We must do better and be better.” A list of promises was made, including the hiring of a Vice President for Diversity, as well as cultural diversity training for faculty and staff, a strengthened grievance process, and more respect for Black worship style and practice. For an official summary of this incident and the list of promised changes, click here. For Spectrum’s coverage of the incident, see here and here.

Now, over two years later, Nixon finds himself at the center of this unhappy situation. He responds on Twitter that same evening, January 30. He begins by defending the student: “I just want to say publicly how much I love and respect [her]. She is an amazing young woman who did not deserve to be talked to like this by anyone — let alone her teacher and employer.”

Nixon then proceeds to respond to the attacks on himself as reported on Twitter: “I’m not the first person to be told I got something just because I’m black…. I have also been called a racist by a co-worker and have been asked ‘what programs do you have that are for white people,’ etc. Hiring me alone was never going to solve some of the deeply rooted issues our school, church, and country has with racism. It all has to be uprooted.”

On February 12, the situation was reported by the conservative website Fulcrum7.[1] The headline was “Outrage Mob Targets Andrews University Professor.” Predictably perhaps, the author is mostly interested in the student’s Twitter thread and the responses of her followers, not the original incident.

“This is how social justice cyber mobs operate. An individual looks for — and finds — ways to be offended, then they broadcast on social media how hurt they are, inviting others to confirm the injustice that was done to them. The issue often takes on a life of its own, with cyber warriors feasting on the reputation of the ‘target’ until the short attention span of the mob moves on to the next ‘outrage.’”

And so now, here we are: Twitter is alight; websites are blazing. Liberals are in high dudgeon; conservatives are enraged. The university, having already spent so much time, energy, and money to try to deal with these issues, finds it must do more. It must find a way to do justly while also embracing mercy for this student and this professor.

Returning to our thought experiment, stepping into the shoes of the provost, how will we respond?

We will call together the designated committee, follow the proper protocols. No doubt we will pray for guidance. Such conflicts over White privilege, systemic racism, and “colorblindness” are fraught with emotion; and in a time of intense polarization, the walls are high and the feelings sharp.

Reading between the lines of this string of angry posts, we can attempt to understand what this professor was trying to say to this student. One doubts that he was telling her, for example, that she should be ashamed of being Black; one assumes that he meant that race or skin color is not a thing to be proud of for anyone of any color. This message comes through several times, even in a report by a student who is furious at him, the idea that

“not everything happens because I’m black and if it does it’s cause I keep telling people that’s what I am when I need to focus on there only being one race, the human race…. that I will never be able to fight racism while being so racialized and that I will always be contributing to the problem unless I try to fight this with Christ as the center.”

We can assume that the professor approaches this conversation as a conservative Christian for whom Christian unity is the answer — not politicized identity politics. As Fulcrum7 puts it, “[He] reminded her that all nations of men were made of one blood and we should seek to be citizens of God’s kingdom, not glory in a particular race (Acts 17).”

One can assume that from his own point of view, the professor is not belittling the student and her experience — he is trying to teach her to rise above a narrowly racial view of her life and recognize that she is part of the Body of Christ.

But the student has obviously not experienced it that way. She does feel diminished, humiliated, and misunderstood. Her professor is telling her to listen, but she herself needs someone to listen to her. She needs him to try to understand her own lived experience here and now: “Don’t ever tell me to relax or calm down. Not when you keep invalidating an experience you’ll never understand.” She hears his comments as patronizing and mean-spirited. She has received a stone instead of bread, unkindness rather than compassion.

The actual provost, Dr. Christon Arthur, is the one who will need to resolve the situation. AU has begun a “confidential internal investigation…. [during which] both sides have a clear opportunity for input and response,” according to Stephen Payne, the Special Assistant to the President for University & Public Affairs.

And so, for now, you and I can relax. We are not responsible for solving this particular problem. We can rejoice that we are not the provost, not on the committee that must hear the appeal. And yet — we, too, live in this world, where we must try to listen to each other, validate our neighbor’s experiences, empathize with the disadvantaged, and understand what it means to live together in a community where “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The professor declined to comment for this story; the student did not respond by the time of publication.

Notes & References:

[1] Fulcrum7 is a self-described voice for “committed, grass-roots members” of the Adventist church, as opposed to the liberals and progressives who have taken over the educational institutions and conference leadership in much of North America. High on the list of enemies to be fought is “political correctness…. It is the antithesis of truth and thus an enemy of the Everlasting Gospel.” http://www.fulcrum7.com/about

*Update (April 28, 2020 at 4:15 p.m. EDT): The original version of this article erroneously stated that the Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion role was created as a result of events that occurred in the aftermath of backlash toward a January MLK Day speaker. This has been corrected to say a February Black History Month speaker. The author and editors apologize for the error.

Nancy Hoyt Lecourt is Professor of English and Academic Vice-President Emerita at Pacific Union College.

Image courtesy of Andrews.edu.

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10390

I would agree, I have not been discriminated against, so it is very difficult to understand the experience of those that have been. I would even suggest that to say ‘I understand’ would be supremely arrogant.

There are so many nuances to this exchange that never come to the surface. How could an “informed” white professor not understand her assertion: “I am proud to be black” within the context of racial stereotyping? This is 30 years ago when an overwhelming number of incidents in her life sent her overt and subliminal messages she was “less” than white people. Further, the idea that Michael Nixon was hired because he was black is a stupid thing to say. As a college president, I would not think of hiring a white person as a diversity officer since diversity, by definition, includes people of color and not just whites. The fact he is well-educated and understands diversity from the minority perspective, makes him more qualified than almost any white person on the planet. Further, a male authority figure–white, engaging a black, female student who must feel vulnerable because of his authority over her–is absolutely clueless as to how to handle the situation. I’m being very frank here, and judgmental, but based on the transcript and outline of events, I have no choice!


A lot to unpack here.
Some of the comments (and article tone) have been about what I unfortunately expected. As a professor, what is problematic about the interaction is that his dialogue with her went well beyond academic critique and interaction and were purely his personal opinions represented as fact and a position of authority, especially his assumptive “Christian” base and worldview. At best tone deaf and blind to privilege, student-teacher relationship, healthy conversation, and nuance. At worst, racist and malicious (with no place for him in his position.)

Purely from the transcript (and my reading of the original twitter posts when they first occurred), perhaps at some point it should be discussed that the professor’s retort that he lacks the understanding of racism was to exclaim that white people (who he identifies with) invented racism! Forget the problematic nature that he claims it almost as a point of pride or counter argument, but his stance that he as a representative (?) of the demographic group who “invented” it, and is a point of authority and greater understanding of the nuance and context/impact of racism than the target demographic of much of that racism (people of color) is abhorrent and disgusting.

There is much more to say, but let me end with this. If what I saw on facebook is correct, the author of this piece was never in a position to speak on this topic. If this is the same author who appears and “raps” in a painfully laughable and cringeworthy cultural appropriation video on the official PUC youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94pKMDe8uvs&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR01DobemdH6VAL5YUVQ8-m2LhzPkZX08kXFl3cHV6RND8CNhhD72JLPc0E

Look at how they are dressed. Look at this video. Now proceed to reread this article and understand where the author is coming from. A failure on multiple levels. And frankly, many of your comments (from people I respect as a long time reader of this publication!) smacks of “very fine people on both sides.” Sadly, it didn’t even take 5 posts before the conversation narrative swapped to the young lady’s other social media as an instrument to denigrate and question the validity of her point of view. Textbook. Have a good Sabbath.

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Expectations-yeah, those can be problematic, albeit easy to live down to.

Believing that the US is at its core malracist becomes self fulfilling prophecy, but hey, everyone is entitled to their opinions.

Instead of believing We have this hope.it’s easier apparently to cling to all of our preconceptions and biases

I’ve never encountered anything like it. Way to go spectrum.
Were all the deletions @admins actions?
Or were they “community” actions?
In any event, obvious that there is a good reason many people shrink from the topic.)
Shame on you.

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Way to read the first line. Anything for the rest of it? Or does hiding behind the ideals of the gospel without confronting the main issues of the article work for you?

Brother, you’re missing the point with your comment “it didn’t even take 5 posts before the conversation narrative swapped to the young lady’s other social media as an instrument to denigrate and question the validity of her point of view”. You don’t have to imagine how this is playing out in the Adventist Alt-Right (i.e. Fulcrum7 et al - go read it for yourself; it ain’t pretty!); I am merely pleading, begging even, with the young woman to not give them further amunition, precisely because they have used her "social media as an instrument to denigrate and question the validity of her point of view".

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does this sentence perhaps represent a settled feeling among black AU students that white male professors at AU are a problem…why didn’t helga - her twitter name - confine her mental exhaustion to her confrontation with dr. markovic, with whom she actively argued for over an hour, after seeing a mark he’d given her that she viewed as being too low…did it ever occur to helga that arguing with a professor from a student standpoint was inappropriate…what, in her mind, entitled her to talk to her professor with such disrespect, as if he were simply a classmate with a differing opinion from hers…

to me, in reading helga’s twitter feed, she clearly wanted to be a victim of racial discrimination…she wanted to be misunderstood by a big, bad white male professor at AU…what’s more, in egging on markovic to opine that nixon had been appointed because he was black, she seemed to be deliberately laying a groundwork to present this incident, with all its details, as a grievance, with the aim of seeing markovic fired from his 30-yr tenure…

i have to say that i feel disgust for helga…i don’t think she is the recipient of racial misunderstanding, so much as the victim of her own making…if she continues with these tactics in the wider world, after leaving AU, she will spend her entire life in unhappiness…markovic gave her an hour of his time, in which he sincerely tried to get her to see things objectively…but this kind of extension is common only in an adventist academic setting, in which professors generally do make an effort to try to help their students…it won’t be the case with others she encounters in her future, such as prospective employers…in that arena, her self-serving blather will only see doors of opportunity shut in her face…


Well put. I see where you are coming from. But do you concede that Fulcrum 7 and their ilk will find anything and weaponize it? Even if her posts were “squeaky clean” for mainstream sensibilities.

I’m not really sure that anyone owes one sensitivity in academic scope where logic should win over sentiments.

The problem with these kinds of topics is that these tends to judge “the tone” as these overlay it on content.

Could it be possible that the response of the professor was in relation to some damaging stereotypes that someone could make about a group of people? Could it be that the professor attempts to educate someone about the reality that they have more knowledge about, given their age?

Could it be that a student going to AU in 2020 attempts to paint the world on back and white for the sake of preemptively structuring a strategy by which they could dictate right and wrong to the institutions existing today and restructuring them to their liking… Like… In this case:

The problem with Twitter is subsequent “cancel culture” of the mob Justice is that it only lands a voice to the “victim”, without any due process involved.

The student is a victimized hero struggling to overcome the racist professor who, like a James Bond villain that he is, writes a note on her paper.

Come on, guys. This is not what MLK was fighting against.

I’ll give a little anecdote from a friend of mine. He got stuck at a grunt-level position and he hated coming to work. He though everyone at work was racist, and that any and every criticism of what he was doing was because of that unfair treatment. One day, his supervisor sent an email for optional seminar. He decided to attend.

He showed up early and set in the corner back in an empty room. One of the top managers showed up still cranking away her schedule, and she set right next to him… in an empty room. Soon enough other managers showed up, and to his surprise they sat next him too, and began chatting him up until the room filled up and the presentation began about improving functional efficiency about one’s work schedule.

It was done in 40 mins. People left, but the execs commended my friend for showing up an learning, and asked him what path he’d like to take in the company, and provided him with info about getting around.

His perspective changed after this seminar. Where he thought that the entire company was against him, he saw a clear path of getting what he wants, and the fact that there are people who would support him in doing so. So, his racial assumptions likewise changed. He recognized that in functional environment of modern commerce the value rests in efficiency and skills.

It doesn’t mean that, given the historical trajectory of racial issues in the US, that there will not be people who negatively stereotype other people. It does mean that percisting in the very narrative that was invented by colonialists to politically exploit population they conquered … only hurts the racial groups that keep on with that identification as some sense of pride, and seek out discrimination patterns as some norm which can only be correlated to some systematic oppression, and not parallel cultures that result in different outcome.

While, the inception of certain cultural detriments could be adequately blamed on some aspect of past “whiteness”… today the multicultural aspect of “whiteness” as some prejudice and advantage over “blackness” is very difficult to defend, given that “whiteness” is not a monolith, and neither is “blackness”.

And, in context of what we are talking about in this particular article, a sociology professor (I’m assuming it was sociology) would likely have a broader understanding of the group dynamics nuances than a student that merely “connects the dots” in this broad “white privilege conspiracy”.

But, then again, you can keep arguing that a professor in a religious institution is likely an inensitive racist than someone who may try to broaden perspective on reality of this issue. But in doing so, I would argue that one cripples the batch of the next gen students who will run to some groupthink and power movements instead of focusing on developing their skills which can’t be denied in any economic competitive environments.

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This is an incredibly ironic statement, because the opposite can be true in context of “virtuous victim”, in which no matter how logically sound ones argument may be, the fact that it’s somehow insensitive to pain of someone’s past wins over the reality of what they need to do to overcome it and feel empowered.

If someone hit me we a car and drove off in a bit and run, I’m not starting the group of victims of careless driving, and then throw in speeders and people who roll through stop signs into the group of people who hurt people in my group .

The argument is that the social dynamics in modern society requires us to look as at broader range of variables than merely corelating race with economic status, while ignoring that there are ethnic and racial groups that do far better than “whites” in many aspects of societal dominance.

We are not doing any justice to young people by pinning them against each other through the lens of the narrative of the “racial diversity game” that has nothing to do with merit, and everything to do with checking some statistical equality as some dubious virtue.

We should fight for opportunity for all people. But firing someone who tells you what you do not like to hear based on some viable personal experience as a professor… isn’t a solution to the problem of opportunity. In the strictly business world where productive output is what matters more than sentiment… such young people wouldn’t be prepared, since they would be quick to look as to why and how some productive “race” , like let’s say Asians , will outperform them because their upbringing was different and better prepared them for the modern economic participation.

And yes, not everyone starts in the same place in the economic context, but the mobility potential is not unilateral. People can slide up, just as much as people may slide down. If one wants to feel empowered, then arguing this case with a racist professor (if that’s the case) is probably the last thing one should waste one’s time on.

You think that black students in PUC come from the world described in those lyrics? Lol.

Well, it’s called a spectrum for a reason. The way we gain contextual understanding is by engaging in discourse and testing the viability and coherence of our opinions.

I don’t think spectrum should be engaging in Soviet-style censorship to only pick the opinion pieces you or I can agree with.

Likewise, in context of a college atmosphere that parodies pop culture to provide a viable and alternative passtime for students, I hardly think that your concerns are viable.

I can pick a dozen of our cultural behaviors that could be attributed to some offensive context in the past. If you are looking to be offended at every turn, then you shouldn’t participate in culture. No culture promises you existence in which your ideas about what’s normal, viable, and sacred will not be challenged. It’s not the job of other to guard your sensitive psyche :slight_smile:

How many of us ‘know’ the facts of what took place? How many of us were party to the original conversation between the two people? It’s sort of like the ‘alleged’ victim of rape being in court with both accused and victim trying to make a case for themselves. But in this case, we have even less information, but a lot of speculation!


Indeed, I concede that point; sadly, you are correct.

This article is pablum. States an issue, and equivocates all along and then reaches no conclusion as to who is right or wrong. Obviously one party is incorrect but as typical for church workers the writer blames them both.

It would have been better as a journalistic piece than an opinion that tries to draw a moral from the story but ultimately lacks the guts to do anything other than conclude that it, essentially, *Sucks to be them."

In reality the professor should never have engaged the student on the issue of race. Especially if you don’t share the student’s racial background. To do so in today’s environment requires the skill of a military bomb dismantling tech. Given the experience at Andrews in recent years, he should have known better and because he went forward anyway he loses this debate and may lose his job or at least have a very miserable time. He may be the only person on campus to so welcome the quarantine.

Never challenge a student’s notion of his or her own racial experience. So he loses before it even gets to the nut of the matter which is the paper itself. And there I don’t know what the paper said so it’s hard to comment on who was right. But the professor walked into a minefield and got blown up. The moral of the story should be, “Just… Don’t.”


Spectrum should publish this response written by Tim Nixon.

Forgive me if I may sound insensitive to your plight here but I have to ask. Would you have done the same thing if the professor would have given you an “A” but put the same comment on the paper?

Is it because of the grade or is it because you want to get the attention of your Professor to a much needed and continuing conversation?
What was the purpose to publicize it in Social Media other than to gain supporters to your views and shut down the Professor?
Did it ever occur to you that when we want to be heard it is important we listen first?
Were you looking for a fight or were you trying to bring awareness? (based on your announcement in Social Media "Cause I’m going to file a formal complaint.”)

I am trying to understand the purpose and intentions because often we use a controversial theme to project ourselves and “prove a point”. I have been and continue to be guilty of that but working on changing so I can understand more so than being understood. Unfortunately Social Media has instantaneously turned into a breeding ground for discord, assassination of character, and the perfect place to bring people into the net of ideals, causes and division. In mindful speech anger has no place. Remember this always, is it kind, is it true, is it necessary. God bless.


Full disclosure: I don’t know the white professor and have not taken a class from him. But as a black student at AU I am enraged that he would dare to challenge a black female student’s perspective on race. It doesn’t matter who was yelling at whom. He should have no voice on the topic of racism because is doesn’t know anything about it. Who does he think he is? And why is AU employing a white male professor to teach classes on racism? How can he possibly understand anything about discrimination, prejudice, and racism? I’m glad I haven’t had to sit through his courses.

I’m not afraid to state that a black person by definition would be more qualified for that job. I’ll take it a step further and state that a black female would have the highest qualification since black women are at very bottom of society and have experienced racism. Anybody who argues otherwise is speaking from a position of ignorance.

Thank God for Michael Nixon. He is in his position by providence. Since he was hired there have been less white faculty and more black faculty on campus. It’s called diversity and is a good thing. I know Nix and he is highly qualified for his job. He has provided me with encouragement when I am fighting racism and am being belittled by white professors. His mission is biblical.

One more thing. There is a lot of confusion in some of your comments. Some of you people seem to think that his job is to provide a level playing field or to arbitrate disputes and conflict. That’s not why he’s there. He is not there for white people! He is there for black people, brown people, LGBT people, and transpeople. Those are the groups of people that need representation and that’s why he is here. #ItIsTimeAU

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Ms (I assume Kamia is a feminine) Kamia has brought up the office and reason for a “Diversity VP”. There is a very interesting article by First Things on this that I would recomend the whole article to you all. The title is “Who wants to be Diversity Dean?” First Things, May, 2019.

Here is a excerpt:

Finally, the diversity dean assumes that racism and homophobia are widespread problems in American society, colleges, and workplaces. If that weren’t true, no complaints would arise, and those offices wouldn’t exist. But they do. That means the anti-hate officer has much more than a job—he has a mission. A campus diversity officer monitors the social climate of the school, but his actions reverberate beyond the walls, at least in his mind. Reacting to a racist graffito incident by putting students through sensitivity seminars contributes to a worldwide movement of anti-discrimination.

It’s a heady role that suits only certain kinds of people. It favors suspicion over generosity, resentment over gratitude, and empathy for victims over due process. It cultivates self-righteousness, too, and the self-confidence that permits one to take on Robespierre’s nickname, “ l’Incorruptible .” The entire system of anti-­discrimination rigorously selects people like this. It is a magnet for grievance hounds with identity politics viewpoints.

(Emphasis mine)

If there is racism behind every corner and in every heart, we are lost.

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So am I to understand that whatever the issue, right or wrong, this individual is to take the side of the “minority”, justice be damned?

(Or am I to believe that in every such situation the “minority” is right?)


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