The final demand of the CARE Now Petition is “the establishment of enrollment options and teaching fellowships in Native Studies, Trans Studies, Disability Studies, and Fat Studies.” Their reasoning goes as follows:
These fields have historically been underrepresented and are absent from intellectual discourse at Williams and beyond. The current political climate on campus attests to student demand for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies challenging the hegemony of traditional systems of knowledge. The Interdisciplinary Studies program at Williams must provide greater tangible support for courses and faculty research that fall outside the backing of departmental programs. The creation of new enrollment options and teaching fellowships in Native, Trans, Disability, and Fat Studies comprises a crucial step toward legitimizing scholars participating in marginalized fields of inquiry and creating experimental epistemologies, as well as providing perspectives benefitting the subjects of those disciplines.
A year ago, a group of three professors dubbed these identity studies “grievance studies” after they famously got a number of bogus papers published in highly regarded journals in social sciences, gender studies, and sexuality studies. One of these papers posited that dog humping at a Portland dog park was evidence of rape culture. Another rewrote a portion of Mein Kampf in the language of intersectionality. The YouTube video series chronicling this hoax is very entertaining; I encourage all to watch.
These three professors sought to show these fields are politically rather than intellectually charged. Beginning from premises such as “whiteness is evil,” it becomes easy to reach absolutely absurd conclusions, and any number of arguments can be encoded in the elite language of these areas of study. The question then arises, If these fields cannot distinguish real scholarship from bullshit, what is their value?
Interestingly, the crux of CARE Now’s demand for teaching fellowships in these departments is not that they have any established intellectual value or success. At best these are “experimental” fields of inquiry, a phrase which could describe just about any discipline ever conceived. Rather, they claim the reason the college should embrace these fields is simply because there is a “student demand” for them. While this is not altogether a bad argument, it does redefine the purpose of the university: Rather than a place of genuine scholarship, under these demands, Williams College merely exists to cater to the interests of its student body.
I would argue that there must exist some external criterion of scholarship that must be met for a field to be recognized by the college. Perhaps one could be, Can genuine scholarship be distinguished from bogus scholarship in this field? Or rather, are the ends of a given field to pursue a real line of inquiry, or to reinforce a preconceived political philosophy?
Of course, subjects can be valuable for other reasons (namely, vocational)–music and business come to mind as examples. And if the proposed subjects truly are experimental epistemologies sincerely interested in unbiased inquiry, then I welcome them. I merely suggest that the premises of these fields be addressed with greater scrutiny. Ultimately, however, the demand for enrollment options in native studies, trans studies, fat studies, and disability studies is unrealistic at this time for Williams. There are already greater demands for more enrollment options in pre-established fields of study on campus–for example, the expansion of the computer science department or revitalization of the linguistics department. Currently, CARE Now’s demand is not in the best interest of the student body or the college’s legacy, and if administration appeases this group (which is doubtful), it will create a dangerous precedent for how college resources are allocated.