Progressive Professor: My Progressive Students Don’t Mind When I Criticize Capitalism, Religion and White Privilege

Mitchell photo

Vox is once again focusing negative attention on its own widely shared piece about terrifying progressive college students. Once again it tries and fails to undercut that piece’s premise.

The original piece about terrifying progressive students was shared a quarter of a million times. Usually if something is that popular an editor will look to do more of it, but Vox seems more interested in tearing it down. That’s probably because the initial piece received an angry response from some critics on social media. In fact, one person whose tweets were included in the article spent the day ranting that using her material without permission was tantamount to rape (thus proving the point of the article). Vox eventually removed her tweets.

Today’s piece represents a second bite at the apple for Vox. It’s title, “I’m a professor. My colleagues who let their students dictate what they teach are cowards,” clearly suggests it is an attempt to rebut or at least reject the premise of the previous piece. Professor Korintha Mitchell writes, “I don’t have the luxury of simply changing my syllabus to make my students more comfortable. You see, I’m also black and a woman.”

As the piece goes on, it becomes clear that Mitchell is also quite progressive. “I have learned to teach students to notice how they are being groomed to join a ‘docile and contingent workforce’ whenever they are not encouraged to think in ways that feel like a challenge,” she writes. That link goes to a Salon article about “Scott Walker’s destructive war on education.” In addition to disliking the Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Professor Mitchell also thinks her students should question their “allegiance to capitalism” and religion as a “corrupting force.”

You can get an idea what Professor Mitchell’s classes might be like by checking out the lectures she offers on her website. For instance, a lecture titled “Flipping the Script: Recognizing Unearned Advantage, Not just Disadvantage” is described as follows:

Dr. Mitchell is invested in equipping audiences to identify the workings of various types of privilege, including white privilege. Americans are taught to believe that “race” is relevant only when discussing people of color, but whiteness very much operates as race. Particular (not universal) experiences flow into white people’s lives because they are white, such as walking into a store and being assumed to be a shopper, not a thief. If we are to create the broad coalition required to resist racism, sexism, and heterosexism, Americans must become more aware of not only the disadvantages that –isms create but also the unfair advantages they funnel to some.

There’s also a lecture one can book on the value of exercise (Professor Mitchell is a runner). This seems like a topic that could be free of politics, but not in Professor Mitchell’s hands:

When those who are encouraged to prioritize everything but their own wellbeing begin to put their health first, the results can be amazing. They realize that making themselves a priority allows them to give others more of what really matters—good energy, optimism, power. The nation will not magically become any less racist, sexist, heterosexist, and classist or any less brutal toward people who are differently abled or whose gender expression resists rigidity. Realizing that, Dr. Mitchell believes that Audre Lorde said it best: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

At this point it should be evident that Professor Mitchell is perhaps the least likely professor on her campus to become the target of terrifying progressive college students. She seems far more likely to be the professor who inspires and encourages her students to lead a campaign against unrepentant reactionaries on campus.

The initial piece, which you can still read here, said a professor never gets in trouble for irritating conservative students. It was only the risk of irritating progressives that struck fear into the heart of the author and his friends. Nothing Professor Mitchell writes undermines that claim. On the contrary, she reinforces the idea that campus is still a safe place for professors to upset conservative students. What she doesn’t do is demonstrate that the same is true for those who upset progressive students.

So let’s grant that if you are a black, woman professor with tenure who also happens to be keen on attacking white privilege and the corrupting influence of capitalism and religion, chances are good you won’t become the target of angry progressive mob. That tells us nothing about what happens to people who don’t share Professor Mitchell’s race, gender, job security, or progressive convictions.