Prof. William Jacobson, law, launched a database in early February entitled CriticalRace.org, aimed at supplying information to parents and students about the critical race training and anti-racism initiatives seen at colleges across the United States.
The website contains a map of the country, where visitors have access to information about the critical race training activities and actions administrations have implemented at different universities. Jacobson opposes the implementation of anti-racism mandates on college campuses because he says they exploit and perpetuate racial stereotypes, demean and blame certain individuals for historical wrongdoings and stifle free expression.
According to Jacobson, the idea to create the site came about in early September, when a letter detailing a list of demands to create anti-racist action on Cornell’s campus began garnering support from hundreds of faculty, students, alumni and staff. Jacobson attributes the creation of such demands to the summer Community Book Read: Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be An Antiracist.
“[Kendi] artificially divides the world into ‘racists’ and ‘anti-racists’ with no middle ground allowed for people who are merely not racist,” Jacobson said. “This creates a coercive dynamic of compelled activism and crushing of dissent that is unhealthy to an educational environment.”
Cornell Law School Dean Eduardo M. Peñalver ’94 defended his decision to not fire Jacobson in a statement released that June.
“To take disciplinary action against him for the views he has expressed would fatally pit our values against one another in ways that would corrode our ability to operate as an academic institution,” Peñalver wrote.
Cornell Students 4 Black Lives said that Jacobson’s database has cherry picked parts of the critical race theory, presenting it in a way that explains the theory without including how theorists have come to their conclusions about racism in daily life.
“The site points out that it is not enough to be ‘not racist,’ which plants a seed of doubt in the theory, but does not go further to clarify what constitutes ‘not racist’,” wrote C4BL in an email to The Sun. “This falsely traps people into drawing ‘their own conclusion’ that he is passively pushing throughout the site.”
C4BL added that while the information the database dispenses may be important for people to have, the manner in which he presents the information and the implications of the database are also important.
“He speaks to an uninformed audience which relies on his credentials to provide this information, yet it is incomplete, biased and full of misinformation,” C4BL wrote in an email to The Sun.
Jacobson’s database comes months after critical race theory again has entered the national spotlight. In September 2020, the Trump administration called for federal agencies to cancel any contracts with and divert federal funding away from racial sensitivity training and critical race theory training, citing them as “un-American propaganda.”
In response to this action, Cornell alumna and leading scholar of critical race theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw ’81, told The Guardian. “So, what are you saying American is — having structural racism? If contesting it [racism] is un-American, then you are basically a witness to my side. You are confirming why this work is so important.”
Jacobson believes critical race theory sows division in society.
“I consider some of the activities of critical race training to be against the best interests of our society and country by pitting people against each other based on race and creating artificial distinctions that make society less cohesive,” Jacobson wrote in an email to The Sun.
Jacobson said when it comes to anti-racism initiatives, he believes there’s a difference between voluntary study and requirements. Jacobson, a strong proponent of free speech, added that students should have the ability to learn about anti-racism if they choose, but mandating it harms freedom of expression on campus.
“I am focused mostly on the administrative mandates that are under consideration at Cornell and have been enacted elsewhere, as well as campus culture, which impose on and force students to adopt a particular viewpoint,” Jacobson said in an email to The Sun.
In an interview with Tucker Carlson, Jacobson described anti-racism as racist. “It’s current discrimination in order to remedy past discrimination is the ideology,” he told Carlson.
Some student leaders strongly oppose Jacobson’s incendiary comments.
“[Jacobson’s] stance, in particular, the anti-racism is racism — it’s merely another false reverse racism claim,” said Daniel James II ’22, Industrial and Labor Relations Student Government president and founder of the podcast “Black Voices on the Hill.” “I think that his behavior is symptomatic of the fact that there is still a generation of white stoic professors and racist professors who refuse to be educated, and who would rather preserve the white status quo.”
James recounts learning about critical race theory his senior year of high school, and said he thinks Jacobson’s framework misplaces its intent.
“Anti-racism and critical race theory classes, they’re not blaming anyone, they’re blaming whiteness as a social construct, and at the end of the day, whiteness not only harms Black and brown folks,” James said. “Whiteness and white supremacy, in particular, harms white people as well.”
The Cornell Abolitionist Revolutionary Society is an organization that is leading the effort to disarm and abolish the Cornell University Police Department, and supports the implementation of anti-racism initiatives at Cornell.
Angeliki Cintron ’22, a member of CARS, told The Sun that anti-racist work involves dismantling racist structures. Cintron further highlighted some ways Cornell can work toward becoming an anti-racist institution including abolishing the CUPD, divesting from private prisons and taking a firm stance against the prison-industrial complex.
Cintron recalled when Prof. David Collum ’77, chemistry, also faced backlash in June 2020, when he defended alleged police brutality — statements which Pollack characterized as “not just deeply insensitive, but deeply offensive.”
“The fact that they can say all of that and not face any consequences from the administration here is really telling that all of their commitments to anti-racism is pretty performative,” Cintron said. “Anti-racist reforms involve taking some power away from the administration and giving it back to like students, faculty and community members, and maybe that’s something that they just don’t really want to see happen.”
C4BL explained that there is a burden on students of color to bring about change, citing how the initiatives the University is currently working on are a result of the Black Students United demands dating back to 2017.
“We finally reached a place where we have the platform and the pressure to do more, even on a national scale,” C4BL wrote to The Sun. “Now the University is obligated not only to the students, but also to outside stakeholders to make a change.”