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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Emory president should resign over essay

Published: March 7, 2013
Section: Opinions

We all know of some of the ridiculously unjust laws that plagued this country in defense of slavery before the Civil War. Take, for example, the Three-Fifths Compromise, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person in their state’s population for federal representation in Congress. The idea that skin color could determine whether or not you were more or less of a person is, today, unimaginable. While racism still exists in this country and is never excusable, it is even more shocking that it is still being heard in the words of top scholars and heads of academic institutions.

Recently, the president of Emory University, a fellow research institution in our UAA conference, is under heavy scrutiny for his praising of the Three-Fifths Compromise in a column he wrote for the university magazine. More specifically, President James Wagner, in his controversial statement, said about the members of the Constitutional Convention, “Both sides found a way to temper ideology and continue working toward the highest aspiration they both shared—the aspiration to form a more perfect union.” I found it outrageous that he could compare an act of clear racism to the ideal of reaching fair compromise. Out of all the compromises out there, the Three-Fifths Compromise was a terrible, terrible choice.

This statement is not something that can just be brushed away without response. Students are well aware of repercussions of what the president said and are taking action. We see response in the form of student protests and an overall negative response toward his statement. Forty five students on the Emory campus protested against their own president. This is promising and continues to garner momentum both in Atlanta and nationwide.

Wagner has since released a statement apologizing for those hurt by his column, writing, “Certainly, I do not consider slavery anything but heinous, repulsive, repugnant and inhuman. I should have stated that fact clearly in my essay.”

Yet, the damage has been done. There are reasons why it is so important to stand up now and fight against this instance of racism. People in power carry a profound effect on their constituency, one that should not be taken lightly. People look up to professors and heads of higher education and assume that they are well-spoken and well-educated. Liberal arts research universities like Emory are well-respected and should promote and provide quality learning and equal opportunities to all. Sure, all people make mistakes, but these head figures know they are role models. Even if what they write, or say is unintentionally harmful, they should take seriously their role as leaders and be careful with the things they write or say. He is in the spotlight, so the way we react can show that his behavior was not acceptable.

If Wagner’s behavior is left to fade memory, it will show others that what he said was OK. We can accept the president’s apology, but keeping him in power of an elite liberal arts institution goes against the principles of freedom and equality. If we let it slide because he is the president of the school, we do more harm than good. Many people were hurt and offended by his statement, but it shows that racism is still alive and we cannot ignore it. This won’t eradicate racism completely, but it continues to move our society In the right direction.

Wagner’s behavior should not be tolerated despite apologizes on his part. While he apologizes for his statement profusely, there is no reason to sanction his behavior and he should without a doubt not be allowed to continue serving as president. Many students have been protesting against Wagner’s behaviors and I think this momentum should continue among other schools. He should not be allowed to get away with such an offensive statement. If more students protest against his behavior, this will continue to fight modern day racism. We as students have to take a role in fighting such acts and move our generation further and further away from racism.

Rather than focus on the apologies that the president states over and over again—for his lack of consideration and saying that he didn’t intend harm—it is important to use this issue to focus on the issue of racism today. Just because the situation is not nearly as bad as it was in the past, the prevalence is still disturbing. There are still many disparities to be worked on among different races.

The world is becoming more globalized and our country more diverse. Changing mindsets is an inherent part of eliminating racism while living in the 21st century. Minorities are expected to be the majority in the year 2050, according to CNN. Educating youth is teaching our future leaders, policy makers and, overall, people who will be in charge of change. The positive influences they receive will be headed by people who are tolerant of all race, ethnicity and genders.