Response to Professor Amy Wax's Recent Article in Philly.com
In the wake of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and the ongoing controversy surrounding Professor Amy Wax's recent article in philly.com and subsequent comments in the Daily Pennsylvanian, various university departments, offices, and faculty have placed decals in their windows and doors that read "Love @ Penn: Hate has no place here." The idea is presumably to help physically and unapologetically demonstrate that Penn is a space more committed to love than it is to hate.
We are reminded of James Baldwin's observation that "[i]f I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see" because it talks of a purposeful, active, and deeply political love. Members of BLSA love this Penn Law community enough to hold it accountable when it strays away from the values it espouses.
We want to thank the Penn Law faculty who have tried to reclaim this space as one of academic honesty and inclusion; and the Penn Law alumni who have organized across generations to ask for accountability from this administration. We stand with Penn Law's NLG chapter and the individual Penn Law students who have petitioned the Law School to have Professor Wax removed from the mandatory 1L curriculum. We also stand in solidarity with our colleagues at USD who made the same request of their administration regarding Professor Wax's co-author, Professor Larry Alexander.
Professor Wax's August 9 op-ed lack data, historical context, and definitional terms. What is culture? What impacts culture? Why does she choose to point to cultures, rather than specific norms or behaviors of individuals? Wax's use of ambiguous terms forces readers to refer to her prior academic writings to understand what she means by cultures inferior. What we find is that Professor Wax has a history of deriding gay families, low socioeconomic, Black, and single parents-environments that Penn Law students come from, and that Penn Law claims to welcome and celebrate. As such, it can only be presumed that these are the cultures she considers to be inferior to "superior" cultures.
When Dean Ruger comments that Professor Wax does not represent the institutional position of the Law School, he is ignoring the fact that for the 1Ls who have her every fall semester, Professor Wax very much represents the Law School, as do our other professors. Her presence at the head of the classroom is a legitimization of her views and scholarship that are deeply in the belief that white middle class heteronormative values are superior and that those who do not or cannot adopt these values are culturally and morally bankrupt.
Over the years, BLSA has continued to respond to Professor Wax's scholarship and comments because when the carefully coded words are peeled away, we know she is talking about us, the communities we come from, and the homes to which we still go back. Those same communities and families make unimaginable sacrifices so that each of us can walk through the doors of this school for three years. We do them a disservice if we remain silent.
We sit through orientation presentations at the Constitution Center that, in telling the story of this country, highlight Black people only to talk about slavery and civl rights; we walk through hallways that feature hanging pictures almost exclusively of white men who the school honors; we look around the school and see only few Black faces; we read casebooks primarily written by white legal scholars; and we receive instruction from a pedagogy that either completely ignores or minimizes worldviews that are not white, middle class, and western. In very many ways, Professor Wax's views represent the lived reality and de facto position of the Law School.
By refusing to directly address the harm Professor Wax creates in her classroom and in the world at large, Penn Law has chosen to let hate and marginalization fester. Your silence and inaction do not encourage dialogue or prepare students for the "real world." They merely reinforce the oppressive politics that many of us deal with and organize against outside of this school. A real dialogue requires the establishment of communicating principles, an intentional long-term plan, goodwill, and continuous and systematic follow-up. We are not engaged in a dialogue; we are engaged in a power struggle, one in which a professor with privilege, access, and a media platform dominates the discourse while we seemingly have been screaming into an empty room, with our concerns ignored and our experiences minimized.
We ask that Professor Wax be removed from the mandatory 1L curriculum not because we do not understand academic freedom or see the crucial need for it, but because this situation has nothing to do with it. This is a conversation about what it means for an educator to not believe in the worth, intellectual capabilities, or cultures of her students of color. We deserve better and out of a deeply political love for this place, we are demanding better.
-Penn Law Black Law Students' Association