On December 9, the Racine Journal Times published an op-ed (“Appalling Indoctrination of Wisconsin’s Students”) by Mount Pleasant Village trustee and Gateway Technical College trustee, Ram Bhatia.
In his editorial, Mr. Bhatia makes a number of inaccurate and inflammatory statements that Racine Women for Racial Justice categorically rejects.
In alleging that University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students are required to “agree that whiteness means privilege,” he is apparently referring to a mandatory webinar that graduate students must take to become informed about campus polices and resources around sexual misconduct.
Here are the facts* about the webinar to which Mr. Bhatia objects:
- One training slide states that privilege feeds institutional power that, combined with prejudice, can create harmful systems such as racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. “People in dominant groups use their institutional power to control people in marginalized groups,” the slide says.
- The same slide notes that critical race theory and critical race feminism can help students understand “how a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in America.”
- Another slide labels Whites, Christians, men, native English speakers and citizens as privileged groups.
This webinar was developed by the University in response to a 2016 study by the American Association of Universities that revealed UW-Madison graduate students were not adequately informed about sexual misconduct.
Racine Women for Racial Justice commends the University of Wisconsin-Madison for taking action to promote the safety of its students and for acknowledging the role that privilege plays in contributing to sexual abuse, particularly of Women of Color. That Mr. Bhatia objects to the legitimate dissemination of this information that is critical to understanding why Women of Color are significantly more likely to be victims of rape and other sexual crimes than White women**, reflects a level of ignorance that is unacceptable for a public official.
Mr. Bhatia also goes on to attack the Wisconsin Technical Colleges System (WTCS) for taking action to protect its staff, students and faculty from inequities by stating that its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts are “creating divisiveness by focusing on racial profiling to create solutions and look for problems.” He accuses our taxpayer-funded Wisconsin educational system of “indoctrinating our students” and “planting seeds of division in the society.”
Let us set Mr. Bhatia straight. Our society is already divided and has been for over four hundred years. DEI policies are fundamentally necessary to address centuries of systematic racial discrimination that continues to this day in all of our institutions, including education. These racial divisions are already “baked into the system” and DEI policies such as those put in place by WTCS are an important first step in recognizing and rectifying the very real harm that students of Color have suffered at the hands of institutionalized power.
Ironically, the existence of uninformed people like Mr. Bhatia underscores the continued need not only for these policies, but for more aggressive action to root out the racism that he so casually dismisses.
Next, Mr. Bhatia takes aim at a familiar scapegoat, former NFL player Colin Kaepernick. In a ludicrous rhetorical statement, he asks the reader to “name one black person or black family whose life was changed for the better because [Kaepernick] started taking knees during the national anthem.”
It would seem Mr. Bhatia is completely unaware that Mr. Kaepernick’s protests were not about income inequality, but about police violence that is disproportionately inflicted on People of Color. We submit that every Black person and family is better off because of the attention drawn to this issue. It is appalling that Mr. Bhatia ignorantly trivializes the very real professional sacrifice made by Mr. Kaepernick who used his celebrity to call out the epidemic of police violence against People of Color. Yes, Mr. Bhatia, Black people are better off for Mr. Kaepernick’s courage.
Finally, Mr. Bhatia trots out the tired falsehood that “more than skin color, the root cause of discrimination is economic disparity, economic disadvantages.” He gives a few examples of successful Black folk: famous athletes and politicians who he believes never experience discrimination and goes on to reference those all too familiar red herrings: “education” and “broken family structures.”
All of this to preface his absurdly naïve “solutions.”
In a nutshell, professional athletes, Hollywood and media elites, together with common citizens, churches and other organizations should fund nation-wide programs for broken families and disadvantaged kids.
And if you just start sports programs at technical schools all those otherwise n’er do well students of Color would magically want to go to college.
But wait, there’s more. Housing assistance programs would also help remove barriers to education “for those willing to invest in their own life.”
The face-palm emoji comes to mind.
Seriously, Mr. Bhatia. This idea that the private sector can magically come together to root out centuries of poverty, racism and discrimination is a fantasy that has no bearing in reality. The intentional structures that keep People of Color mired in poverty and disadvantage are embedded in every system that impacts our collective way of life: Education, banking, housing, health care, criminal justice, government and the private sector. And those elements of society that you casually suggest could solve these problems? They are the beneficiaries of the inequity!
Yes, we are divided. And we will remain that way until every one of these fundamentally unfair systems is re-engineered to eliminate the racist underpinnings that hold People of Color back.
As a public official, Mr. Bhatia has the opportunity to effect meaningful change should he choose to do so. Sadly, he has demonstrated that he is a simplistic thinker who does not understand the real issues. Accordingly, we encourage the citizens of Mount Pleasant to replace him with a Trustee who recognizes the scourge of systemic racism and has the courage to demand transparency and accountability.
In November, we urged the Village of Mount Pleasant board of trustees to implement training in implicit bias and multicultural sensitivity in response to another matter before them. Mr. Bhatia’s glaring lack of awareness of the deeply embedded racial inequities in our society makes this training all the more necessary and we renew our call to Mt. Pleasant officials to prioritize this critical education.
We also call upon Gateway Technical College to immediately remove Mr. Bhatia as a Trustee. For an institution that has prioritized creating a culture and climate of safety for ALL students, Gateway should understand that attitudes like Mr. Bhatia’s are unacceptable and diminish the college’s otherwise excellent reputation as a place where students of Color feel welcome.
*”GOP Leaders want answers on UW-Madison training that references critical race theory,” Wisconsin State Journal, Nov. 18, 2021
**National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010 Summary Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention