In the wake of the UT Election Supervisory Board sanctioning Guneez Ibrahim and Hannah McMorris’s campaign for “deceptive campaigning” and colluding with the allegations, as well as personal attacks against these student leaders of being “anti-white,” I’d like to address the undergraduate student body and call into question the logic driving the Supervisory Board’s decisions as a member of this University community and as Hannah’s former teacher. Although the UT Student Government Supreme Court has overturned the ESB ruling, the reasoning behind the original decision and the ad hominem attacks against students still warrant deeper investigation.
As election day approached, I found myself wondering what logic might lead political opponents to attack two young women of color who have engaged in exhaustive labor, dedicated listening and courageous commitment towards more equitably representing those who are (and have historically been) underrepresented on this campus? What logic would support a Supervisory Board to leverage a liked Tweet as “evidence” of deception on election day? What logic would undermine the labor of these two women — and those they seek to represent — on a campus that was built to exclude folks that look like them?
The logic of whiteness.
The logic of whiteness suggests that you not only have a space reserved for you at every table but that the table was built for you. It is a logic that has trained you to believe that your position is at the head of the table and if someone other than you sits in the seat, that it is your rightful duty to remind her that it was yours in the first place. It is also a logic that has taught you to practice your belief in this hierarchy of power through veiled language (i.e. “deceptive campaigning” or “anti-white”) and subtle suggestions (such as other campaigns are addressing “real” issues). This logic is an atmosphere, seemingly as natural as the air we breathe; therefore, no breathing body in this country can escape its toxins.
It seems that in the context of this election and the atmosphere of this university, something must be made clear: To be in support of non-white leadership in a country, or on a campus, that was built for whites at the expense and the livelihoods of black and brown people, by the labor of black and brown people and on the land of indigenous peoples, is not to be “anti-white.” It is to be pro-justice.
As a doctoral student and a teacher at this university, it is my job to teach future teachers about histories of oppression as they relate to schooling. Legally sanctioned, policy-supported, American-made exclusion (and dispossession) of brown and black folks so that white people could maintain the illusion that every table was built for us in the first place. That’s right, I said us.
I am a white woman, I am a scholar of race and American history and I was McMorris’s professor in a class where we deconstructed historic and systemic racism, critiqued the ideology of whiteness and addressed the contemporary currents of education that are connected to these long histories of subjugation leveraged by white leaders in this country to systemically oppress non-white people. I speak from a place of authority when I say that I can assure you McMorris is not “anti-white.” As her professor, what I can say is that Hannah is critical, has an intimate knowledge of the history of this nation and is courageous in her questioning.
I encourage all my students to cultivate a rigor and engagement with the texts we study and to ask why. I invite them to consider which histories haven’t been taught, to examine the ways that ones we have been taught are represented, to have courage enough to grapple and wonder who decides and to ask why. I want my students to have knowledge enough to understand these issues from a historic and systemic perspective and curiosity enough to pursue knowledge beyond our classroom.
Imagine a teacher who changed your life. What qualities did that teacher possess? What types of critical reasoning and grappling did that teacher instill within you? I’ll bet the teacher who changed your life did not ask you to comfortably get along with the status quo and to move like a zombie through a world that has conditioned you away from asking the most important question: Why? I’ll bet whatever new knowledge you gained conjured discomfort, then curiosity, and that your teacher supported and cared for you along your journey to discovering whatever knowledge lies behind the veil.
Hannah possesses not only the qualities of an incredibly compassionate and justice-oriented leader, but she also embodies the character of a world-shaping teacher. Witnessing the conversations undergraduates were engaging in around race spawned by this election, the attacks made against Guneez and Hannah, and the ways in which the Supervisory Board legitimized this logic rather than using it as a moment that could otherwise inspire campus-wide dialogue, critical grappling with this University’s legacy and a depth of engagement in the long history of this historically (and contemporarily) white institution, I am concerned and ashamed. This is meant to be a university where students receive a world class education, and the allegations of “anti-white” indicate that our undergraduate population has been reading only the SparkNotes version of American history. What this university needs is a leader who stands to honor our motto and engage in the certainly difficult work of changing the world.
As a teacher, I am also proud. I am proud of Hannah and Guneez. I am proud of the students who are publicly standing in solidarity with them and supporting their campaign. I am proud of the strength and dignity these women continue to show as they are forced to continue laboring against the historical forces of exclusion and marginalization that inspired them to run in the first place. Mostly, despite the initial outcome of this election, I am proud to have cast my vote for Guneez and Hannah, because it was a vote for transforming the histories that have for too long dictated who sits at the table of leadership. It was a vote for a more justice-oriented campus leadership and one that stands to provide all students opportunities to flourish. And if another election is held after all, I will cast my vote again and again for these same ideals and these young women who are tirelessly working to defend them.
Cook is a fourth year doctoral candidate in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. She researches race, critical whiteness studies, American history and culture in education.
Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect the ESB decision as being based off of a "liked," two-week-old tweet insead of a year-old tweet as previously written.