Below is a note I sent to the SJSU College of Social Science on April 22, 2021.


Dear College of Social Sciences (CoSS) family-

We are all shocked and saddened by the tragic events in Minneapolis, Minnesota over the past few days. As human beings, many of us are overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation and the intense emotions it has created. As members of an institution that strives for social justice, we may feel discouraged and outraged. And, as social scientists, we are wondering how our disciplines and our knowledge can contribute to solutions.

So began a message I sent to the college a few days after George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020. Yesterday – April 21, 2021 – Mr. Floyd’s killer was convicted on all counts of murder and manslaughter. Three posts in my Facebook feed sum my reactions:

“Truthfully, the fact that we HAVE to be so on edge about the verdict, the very real possibility that killing an unarmed Black man in plain view of the world might go unpunished is what makes me sad. And mad.”

“When each count was read I started sobbing, and I felt all of this bittersweet grief, sadness, relief, disbelief, anger – all of it at once. This verdict is so small when you think about it, it should have felt like a slam dunk. The reaction of relief is such an indictment on our country that we have been forced to expect so little. Change needs to come faster. Not another Black or Brown person brutalized by police. Systemic racism needs to be addressed systemically.”

“Actions have consequences. If #DerekChauvin had only complied with #GeorgeFloyd‘s request to let him breathe, or if he complied with the requests of the crowd who told Chauvin that he was killing George Floyd, or if he only complied with the officer who suggested turning George Floyd over he wouldn’t be in jail tonight convicted of murder. So often the victims of police violence are blamed for their own deaths because they didn’t comply. Police officers have the ability to comply as well. They need to comply with their training. They need to comply with the law. They need to comply with basic humanity. They need to comply with their duty to care for those in their custody. I’d only he had complied.”

After reading these posts I decided to get a burger at a Black-owned place in Berkeley to continue to reflect on the day’s events in my spiritual hometown of Minneapolis. [Originally from Atlanta, I now live in Oakland. I am a Black man, for those new to the college who have never seen me while we are in the pandemic]. It was great, as usual, and my heart felt lighter on the drive home. Halfway there, however, I pulled into a left turn lane behind an old Nissan Maxima with temporary tags. Two Black men were the occupants. A new Audi Q3 slowly backed up in front of them when it could not get through the yellow light. The Nissan blew its horn, and the Audi blasted its horn in answer. When the light turned green the cars exchanged horn blasts again. The Audi’s back up lights were still on, so it occurred to me that the Audi would slam into the Nissan when the driver hit the gas. I steeled myself to bear witness and possibly take action if that happened and the police were called. Daunte Wright’s ghost flashed before my eyes. Luckily, however, the Audi shifted into drive, and sped off. I breathed a sigh of relief. At the next light the Nissan turned right, and the Audi and I kept going straight. I let out another sign of relief.

This incident and my reaction connect to a section of a message a BIPOC dean colleague at another institution sent to her college: 

“For the Black members of our community [the verdict and other surrounding events] have deep and painful resonance to every aspect of their lived experience, down to the existential questions they ask themselves every minute that they move through the public sphere and navigate the very real possibility that they will experience violence and even death. 

The verdict today represents a critical turning point in our reckoning at the intersections between policing, public safety, otherizing of Black Americans, racial and social justice, accountability, and the rule of law. But the work is very far from over. One verdict in one case does not change the broken system that is so ingrained in our 400 year history, in the very fabric of American life, and in the daily lives of Black people. There will be more lost, there will be future injustices, and there will be continued pain and grief. 

But I remain hopeful that we are in a new moment in history. The arc of history is indeed very long but today it took one small bend towards justice.”

Let’s all hope that this moment will indeed be a significant turning point in efforts to make the USA live up to its ideals. This includes paying new attention to #StopAsianHate, as well as continuing other efforts to make American society more inclusive and equitable for those who are BIPOC, Jewish, LGBTQ+, and members of other marginalized groups. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and each other, and please do not hesitate to contact me with reactions to this message or ideas for SJSU to hasten its goal of becoming an anti-racist multicultural institution.

In solidarity,

Walt

A couple of postscripts: 

P.S. #1 Shortly after I got home I received a text message about the shipping of advance copies of my new book Sparked: George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion. I co-edited this anthology with SJSU CoSS assistant professors Wendy Thompson Taiwo (African American Studies) and Amy August (Sociology & Interdisciplinary Social Sciences). It will be released to the general public on May 18. It may be of interest to those who’d like more information about the racial dynamics of Minnesota.

P.S. #2 After getting the text I re-watched a digital story by CoSS assistant professor Nikki Yeboah. “Sister, I’m OK” is powerful!

There are 21 essays in the “Wonderful/Wretched Memories of Racial Dynamics in the Twin Cities, Minnesota” special feature I edited in the summer of 2020. Short shareable link: http://z.umn.edu/WWseries.

On Friday, May 29, 2020 I sent the following message to the San José State University College of Social Sciences.

***

Dear CoSS family-

We are all shocked and saddened by the tragic events in Minneapolis, Minnesota over the past few days. As human beings, many of us are overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation and the intense emotions it has created. As members of an institution that strives for social justice, we may feel discouraged and outraged. And, as social scientists, we are wondering how our disciplines and our knowledge can contribute to solutions. I have three thoughts about steps we can take.

First, keep doing the job we are here to do. We are all educators, be we faculty who have direct instructional duties and student mentorship roles, ACCESS staff who advise students about both academic and life choices, or departmental and dean’s office staff who professionally engage the public as well as faculty and students. By continuing to excel in your jobs, you keep SJSU functioning as an institution of higher education that creates and disseminates knowledge about our social worlds and solutions to social problems. Thank you!

Second, many of you are very interested in racial and economic justice issues, which are at the forefront in the developments in Minneapolis (and in other cities around the country in protest of George Floyd’s death). There are many resources on the web about what you can personally do to help. Here are a few links, but there are many other groups and ways you can get involved. Feel free to send me a note if you would like to discuss anything of interest.

Finally, you can continue to educate yourself. Ibram X. Kendi provides this reading list, and certainly others in the college have additional suggestions. In particular, I recommend the article “Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay — Chances Are They’re Not.” It articulates why this has been an especially tough week for those of us who identify as Black or African American. You may want to send a note of support to Black/African American friends and coworkers.

Some of you know that Minneapolis is my spiritual hometown. I lived there for 14 years while on the faculty at the U of Minnesota. Although a Southerner by birth and resident of Atlanta, GA from age 2 to 22, I eventually developed a strong identification as a Midwesterner, and now specifically see myself as a Minnesotan…even though I’ve now lived in California for five years. [My Facebook page lists my hometown as Minneapolis.] I’ve been checking in with Twin Cities friends all day today. They are all doing OK, and are working to support each other.

I am also doing OK, as I am energized by helping others get through the difficult times caused by COVID-19 and various social instabilities. And we WILL get through this disheartening period, and then redouble our efforts to make the world a more just and democratic place.

Be well, everyone!
Walt

I started writing this blog on May 13, 2013. In the “Welcome” post I noted, “On July 1, 2013 I will become Professor and Founding Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Before the move I will write about preparation for assuming that position, and after July 1, 2013 I will chronicle my first year in the creation of a new unit.” In the July 1, 2014 “One Year In” post I wrote,

Today was my one year anniversary as a new dean. It’s also my 100th post to this blog. I wish that I could say that this coincidence was part of a grand design…

My original plan was to just write the blog for the first year as a new dean, but I’ll keep going with occasional entries. Thanks for the comments on posts in the first year!

I didn’t have any additional entries until March 25, 2015, when I noted that I was moving to San José State U. On July 12, 2015 I resumed making regular blog entries.

Now, however, is probably a good time to end the blog. The “About Dispatches From a Dean” description notes, “A sociologist, this blog chronicles [Jacobs’] journeys in collegiate administration, where he applies his view of academic leadership as both a social science and an art.” I definitely did that in many of the 291 other entries, but in the last year or so the entries have mostly been links to online articles that I thought were interesting. Yesterday was the College of Social Sciences’ spring 2019 commencement, and today is the spring 2019 “Black Grad” commencement for Black students. In the spirit of commencement being the end of one stage of an ongoing journey as the launching point of the next adventure, I’ll end the 292nd blog post by stating that I’ve enjoyed writing this blog over the past 6 years, and I look forward to sharing my experiences in other avenues. Thank you for accompanying me!

Today (Wednesday, May 22, 2019) marks the start of commencement season here at SJSU: three college ceremonies are on tap today, followed by two each tomorrow and Friday. Then on Saturday special ceremonies are held, such as “Black Grad” for African-American students. Graduation ceremonies are mostly fun, but they can also be nerve wracking. The College of Social Sciences ceremony on Friday should be fine…if it doesn’t rain. Send good vibes!

Before becoming an administrator I was an “open-door storyteller” who authored a book on undergraduate media literacy. I dusted off my copy of the book after reading a Pacific Standard magazine article on media literacy for Generation Z. The author notes that we have a very tall task ahead of us. He closes with, “[u]shering the [media literacy for children] curriculum into the 21st century will demand of us—the adults—to undertake the educational equivalent of the Manhattan Project.” My book was very positive about the media literacy abilities of students, so I guess that if writing it today it would have a very different tone. Wow!

The website for The Guardian has a very interesting new entry in its “Walking the City” series: “The art of noticing: five ways to experience a city differently.” The article advises us to:

  1. Look for ghosts and ruins.
  2. Get there the hard way.
  3. Eat somewhere dubious.
  4. Read the plaque.
  5. Follow the quiet.

Awesome! I’ll have to follow all five steps the next time I’m in a new city…

Slate magazine has an interesting story about how the United States has not elected a president with previous experience as a city mayor in almost 100 years. Republican Calvin Coolidge was the last, serving as president from 1923 to 1929 after being mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts from 1910 to 1912. Several politicians who are or were mayors are currently vying for the Democratic nomination. It will be difficult for them to succeed, as “the sphere mayors operate in is largely subservient to state and federal government. Power resides with state and federal officials, who tend to take credit and deflect responsibility when it comes to urban affairs. A governor might score points for a tax cut, for example, but leave it to a mayor to figure out how to maintain after-school programs with less revenue.” Current national trends, however, are producing questions about cities and/or issues driven by urban life. “We may not get a president who ran one of the country’s cities, but at least, for a change, we’ll get to talk about them.” Indeed!

Today is Earth Day. CityLab has re-posted an interesting article from 2015, “How the First Earth Day Changed How We View Cities.” Check it out!

When hiring faculty or staff one of the final steps of the process is checking references. One frequent question is, “does the candidate have any weaknesses?” Recently an answer to this question when I called a reference was “when younger, she tended to take on too much responsibility — but always met her obligations! As she gained more experience she learned to strategically say no to requests when appropriate, or to delegate tasks more effectively.” That “weakness” is actually a strength…I’ll have to use it the next time I’m serving as a reference for someone!