Tag Archives: racism

A More Equitable Future

My article for Kogod School of Business

Professor Stacy Merida, Kogod’s new assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, describes her mission to shape a more inclusive Kogod community.

What do diversity, equity, and inclusion look like in a university setting? Who are the stakeholders of diversity initiatives? These are challenging questions, and the Kogod School of Business’s new assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Stacy Merida, is finding answers. Merida, who teaches music entertainment industry classes in Kogod’s business and entertainment program, accepted the position in January 2021. She is leading the school not only in learning what these terms mean to its students, faculty, and staff but also in implementing meaningful changes based on input from the entire Kogod community.

Merida has a broad view of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that not only comprises demographic characteristics like gender, race, and ethnicity but all dimensions of a person’s identity, such as immigrant and first-generation status, economic background, education, and more. Of course, some of these characteristics are more salient to people’s identities, and some, because they are more visible to society, affect how people are treated more than less readily observable traits.

“One of our strategic goals is to cultivate a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive Kogod culture where every individual, regardless of background, has the full opportunity to flourish and thrive,” says Merida.

The daughter of a civil rights leader, Merida has been passionate about social justice since her childhood in Alabama. And that passion has driven her throughout her career. Her PhD dissertation examined cultural competency and proficiency in higher education administration. She serves as a board liaison for diversity and inclusion at the Music Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) and represents American University as a committee member on the GRAMMY Museum’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility affiliate committee. Her most recent initiative was reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic and Tribal Universities to join the MEIEA through free membership.

In her new role as assistant dean, she will implement several initiatives that include creating a DEI task force, DEI fellowships, policy and procedure reviews, ongoing training, and surveying faculty, students, and staff. Her goals include ensuring students and staff reflect the diversity of our global society and transforming the faculty’s makeup to reflect the diversity of the student body. Another major goal is improving the academic outcomes for students from underrepresented, low-income, and other marginalized groups, in addition to securing transparent and more equitable outcomes for staff and faculty.

Diversity, as the word connotes, is about difference. But it is not about eliding or ignoring that difference. Rather, it is about ensuring that difference doesn’t lead to inequitable outcomes.

“There are distinct differences between equality and equity,” Merida explains. “Equity involves giving people what they need to be as successful as non-minoritized groups; conversely, equality is to treat everyone the same.”

Diversity is valuable in all areas but especially important in business. When a company has a diverse culture, it welcomes more viewpoints, allowing it to reach a wider audience. According to a McKinsey & Company report, “Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33 percent more likely to have industry-leading profitability.” Google recently completed a study, Project Aristotle, that identified psychological safety as one of the most important factors of a high-performing team. Employees feeling included and able to be their authentic selves at work frees up their minds and energy to focus on their performance.

“Diversity is extremely important in the business community where different perspectives are and should be highly valued,” says Merida. “Organizations that value diversity and inclusion strive to provide a space where all members are respected. If a system or structure perpetuates inequity and inequality, we should encourage one another to challenge this system or structure.”

Merida is also acutely aware that no one holds just one identity. The term intersectionality, coined by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, describes how individual characteristics like race, class, and gender interact with each other to form how someone sees—and is seen by—the world.

“Our students will find themselves working with employers, coworkers, and clients from diverse backgrounds,” explains Merida. “By experiencing diversity, we are laying the groundwork for all to be comfortable working and interacting with a variety of individuals of all nationalities.

“However, efforts in this space are nothing new as Kogod is ranked no. 9 by the recent Bloomberg Newsweek Diversity Index for its long-term commitment to diversity. I am exhibit A, as the creation of my position only exemplifies the continuation and broadening of Dean Delaney’s and the DEI committee’s visionary leadership. We are intentional in being the guiding example for our students, faculty, and staff.”

Merida’s new role is a testament to the hard work she and the Kogod community continue to engage in to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive business school that prepares students not only for successful careers but to be thoughtful, compassionate, and engaged citizens of the world.

Let The Fire Burn Movie Review

My Review Of Let The Fire Burn

Let The Fire Burn is an incendiary documentary on the tragic standoff between MOVE, a “radical” black group and the city of Philadelphia in the early 80s. Director Jason Osder eschews narration in favor of weaving together archival news footage, city hearings footage, and a MOVE film to create a visceral, eloquent, yet even-handed portrayal of events on the day of May 13th, 1985.
The film is a trenchant look at how a series of incredibly bad political decisions resulted in a fiery fiasco that claimed the lives of six adults and five children and led to the destruction of 61 homes in West Philadelphia. Let The Fire Burn is a subtle exploration of race tensions, police action, and terrorist labeling—the audience is left to draw its own conclusions, although answers as to how something so egregiously grievous came to pass are hard to come by.
MOVE’s first incarnation in the mid 70s is as progressive political organization concerned with issues impacting the black community. They do not espouse violence; they are not a religious cult. In fact, they come across as benign as any other hippy-dippy commune with their rhetoric of unity, love, and harmony. Their kids do not wear clothes and only eat raw food and the community does not believe in using modern luxuries, but that might well be the extent of their singularity. The heavily dogmatic component is definitely not present, especially in a religious sense. They all take the last name of their leader, John Africa, and while concerned with “the system” and its corruption, they are a far cry from the militant organization the city seems hell-bent on portraying them as. One cannot help but feel that had conservative Mayor Frank Rizzo not made it his tenure’s goal to dismantle MOVE, this story would have read rather differently.

In a particularly chilling interview, he says “we’re backing off too much,” clearly referencing and the handling of the Black Panther movement, which he derides as not being authentic. He openly mocks its members who upon moving to Africa, Cuba, and China, he claims, were all too quick to want to return back home, where they would still have more freedom than elsewhere. Rizzo’s bellicose stance culminates in a raid on the MOVE compound in 1978 that claims the life of one police officer and as a result nine of MOVE members are convicted for murder. Three police officers go on trial for brutally assaulting one of the MOVE members and are found innocent, despite evidence to the contrary. It is not hard to see that MOVE’s claims of police persecution and brutality are not merely victim-posturing and hold a good deal of truth—in fact, much of the rhetoric employed by city officials in the movie will have you scratching your head, feeling like you have fallen into some sort of an anachronistic time warp back to the 50s.


MOVE soon regroups in a new compound in West Philadelphia and they are radicalized as a result of events in 1978 and the now escalated all-out-war between them and the city. They build a “bunker” on the roof of a house, which the police keep referring to as some sort of a “tactical advantage,” though one would be hard pressed to see that in a structure more akin to a ramshackle wood cabin. They set up speaker systems and harass the neighbors by blaring messages day and night—as one neighbor ruefully points out, “we are pawns, caught in between.” On May 13th, 1985, the police and Philadelphia’s first black mayor, Wilson Goode, move in on the group. What happens next is unfathomable—after dropping explosives on the roof of the house and water-cannoning it for days (a water cannon drops thousands of gallons of water *a minute*) and pumping tear gas, a 10 story high blaze erupts. This is when we get to the most macabre quote of the film: “There was a decision to let the fire burn.”
Let The Fire Burn does not offer any explanations for how things went so cataclysmically out of control, but MOVE’s story is as relevant today as it was two decades ago. How a city could wage war against its own citizens and endanger the lives of adults and children with so little consideration is shocking but also not as outlandish of a possibility as one would think, the film shows. The painful public self-appraisal Philadelphia went through in the aftermath of the tragedy was necessary, yet the audience is able to understand how the perfect storm of truculent politics precipitated volatility and ensuing violence of immeasurable magnitude.

God Loves Uganda Film Review

My Review Of God Loves Uganda

God Loves Uganda, a documentary by Roger Ross Williams, turns its lens onto a new kind of Western exploitation taking place in Africa. Spearheaded by American Evangelicals, the cultural exploitation is no less damaging or disturbing than the plundering of resources and people that has decimated Africa for centuries.  The film is about much more than what caused Uganda to be the first country to introduce anti-gay legislation into Parliament that makes homosexuality punishable by death, although it makes the link between America’s hate-filled religious right rhetoric and the spread of homophobia in the country. God Loves Uganda is really about the insidious way in which something as seemingly well-meaning as missionary work has chilling implications for a country still attempting to shake the shackles of Western exploitation. It also is a very probing look into the workings of a mega church.
The film introduces us to International House Of Prayer, a.k.a. IHOP, a religion-in-a-box mega church that would surely match the pancake franchise in its customer outreach. Led by Lou Engle, IHOP is the prototype of the modern-day Christian fundamentalist mega church—in one word, a corporation no different in its methods, resources, and structure than a Fortune 500 company, except in that its media machine would surely be the envy of any corporation. Jono Hall, IHOP’s Media Director, explains he has over 1,000 full-time staff, split into 80 departments; IHOP broadcasts 1 million video hours a month to a 117 nations. No activity goes undocumented on film; millions of dollars go into messaging alone.
What exactly is the message, you might ask? Couched in nebulous and euphemistic terms like “spreading the good news,” or “The Call” campaign (12 hour pray-a-thons to put an end to abortion, for example), the message goes far beyond a merely religious one. This is where the genius of God Loves Uganda really comes through: it reveals the blatantly jingoist language used by the missionaries themselves. The missionaries in Africa keep referring to themselves as an “army” and this kind of rather violence-connoting ethos is scarily illustrated in the scene where firebrand anti-gay preacher Martin Ssempa is literally rolling on the ground, punching the floor, as his disciples all scream, “No to Obama!” for his “pro-gay stance.” A young missionary describes her mission as “imparting a DNA of prayer and worship,” and like DNA, she explains, she wants to “replicate values.” In another equally hair-raising quote, the missionaries explain how the fact that Uganda is nation where 50% of the people are under 15 years old would allow them to “multiply ourselves.” Words like “strategy” and other rather militaristic language only serve to dispel the myth that there is anything particularly spiritual or elevated about IHOP’s goals. At best, this is pure jingoism and all God Loves Uganda does is point a camera at it, without any commentary.
The jingoism also expresses itself in the way the missionaries  hone in on specific communities. Engle calls Uganda, “a firepot of spiritual renewal and revival.” Reverend Kapya Kaoma, a priest and former Ugandan now residing in the U.S., who cannot return home because his research into the influence of the religious right there has made it dangerous for him to do so, calls it preying on vulnerable communities and enforcing values on them at the cost of receiving aid.  Kaoma explains how the mega churches seek out especially neglected communities, ones unreached by anyone else, and turn them into “dumping places for extreme ideas.” By building schools, orphanages, and hospitals, the American Evangelicals are becoming all-powerful in Uganda and reliance on their help makes any sort of dissent an impossibility. As Kaoma very poignantly states about the young missionaries, “All they know are the Biblical verses they have memorized, but people listen to them because they are white and American.” And even worse, extremist preachers like “the gay agenda is to make your children gay and destroy the world” Scott Lively, who as Kaoma points out, is literally a nobody in the US got an audience in Uganda’s Parliament where he was directly instrumental in urging PM David Bahati to introduce the anti-gay bill. The damage is done in other areas too. During the Clinton administration, HIV reduction was hugely successful; with the advent of Bush’s abstinence-only programs, HIV rates once again began to creep up. Abstinence-only programs were the only ones receiving funding so adhering to the religious right party line was the only choice Uganda had.
God Loves Uganda is a daring film and a look into what happens when religion is used to fan the flames of hatred and violence. There is no “good news” to be found in the message of IHOP and others of its ilk; one either goes along with their message of intolerance or one is heading towards sure damnation. It’s a highly ironic given that the West has plundered Africa to the point of making it hell on Earth.

Geography Of Hate

My post for the Ministers Of Design Blog

How do we measure racism and homophobia across the United States? Humboldt State’s Dr. Monica Stephens teamed up with Floating Sheep, the same group that mapped post-election Twitter hate speech to broaden the scope of the study and give a more panoramic view of America’s bigotry. The Geography Of Hate map was created by geo-coding 150,000 hate tweets between June 2012 and April 2013, dividing the tweets in three categories–racist, homophobic, and disability-hating, including the words “chink,” “gook,” “nigger,” “wetback,” “spick,” “cripple,” “dyke,” “fag,” “homo,” or “queer,” amongst others. You might argue, however, that context is everything when it comes to these words so how did the research control for that variable? They used humans (probably woefully underpaid or even unpaid Ph.D. students, natch) to analyze and code the 150,000 tweets, eschewing machine inability to read tone and coding the usage as negative, neutral, or positive.
To add more rigor to the study, the researchers accounted for tweet density by creating a scale, essentially measuring something akin to per capita hate, accounting for population density.
So, what can we conclude from all this? On a micro level, there are some rather surprising results–click on the n word, for example, and you will see for yourself…the Deep South is not the hotbed of racism it is often stereotypically cast as. On a more macro level, hate speech is clearly alive and well-spread across America. In addition, the study demonstrates that Twitter has become a really vibrant (and vociferous) platform for the spreading of hateful ideas and even recruiting people with that sort of rhetoric. Now you might argue that 150,000 tweets is not a wide enough sample to make conclusions on, but this is a prime example that Twitter *can* have scholarly utility (don’t worry, consider me as shocked as you are).