The Malinowski Files: Skin Color, Genitals, and Diversity
After LSU Law Center students called for diversity policy reform in 2014, the school’s faculty and administration internally debated the merits of my October 2014 letter on race and discrimination the Law Center. One professor’s responses shed light on how the mere mention of diversity may spark division and defensiveness.
“Have we really come to this—Is this where we are, where skin color and genitals spells diversity?” – LSU Law Professor Michael J. Malinowski
In early November 2014, Professor Michael J. Malinowski (Yale Law School ’91) wrote to Chancellor Jack M. Weiss and Vice Chancellor Cheney C. Joseph about my letter and the Huffington Post editorial I co-wrote with LSU Black Law Students Association President Andrew Hairston. Malinowski characterized the letter and editorial as an “attack,” which Malinowski said was “unfair, to say the least.” Malinowski implied Hairston and I did not fairly recognize Weiss had “moved mountains to infuse diversity into the Law Center.” Malinowski closed his analysis by asking Weiss and Joseph (rhetorically speaking), “Have we really come to this—Is this where we are, where skin color and genitals spells diversity?”
While I disagree with Malinowski’s conclusion of unfairness, sparking meaningful conversations about diversity and the Law Center’s record was an underlying goal the letter and editorial. It is the legal academy’s nature to debate, dissect, and scrutinize. That is what lawyers do, and it is good for democracy. But personalization and reductionism undermine the integrity of democratic processes and, in discussions relating to diversity, risk further marginalizing victims of discrimination. Malinowski’s rhetoric and its philosophical underpinnings are worthy of discussion among faculty and students. So, too, are administration’s responses—Joseph’s “thanks” and Weiss’s “much appreciation”—to Malinowski’s email without considering the implications of reducing a serious issue to nothing more than “skin color and genitals.”
I reached out to Malinowski, offering to provide him with statistics and educational material to aid his understanding of diversity and higher education. As I explained, “skin color and genitals have, in fact, been two of the primary determinants for access to higher education in the United States, particularly in the South.” Malinowski never responded.
As more than a dozen LSU Law Center professors—not including Malinowski, Weiss, or Joseph—wrote in a letter to the editors of The Daily Reveille and The Civilian, “The mark of an open and inclusive community is not how few incidents of discrimination occur, but rather what happens when they do. A true commitment to increasing diversity recognizes that culture must change and marshals the institution to create spaces where disclosure and deliberation can occur. Indeed, we have work to do.”
* * *
In April and May 2015, LSU Law Center Vice Chancellor Raymond Diamond offered for faculty consideration two proposals relating to diversity and the use of racial epithets among Law Center students. Responding to Diamond’s proposals, Malinowski fired off a series of erratic emails to his colleagues. In the first, Malinowski opened with a serious, meaningful question to colleagues: “To what extent is diversity [a] serious reflection about the substance of actually diversifying in relation to society or how society identifies with one’s skin color, gender.” But Malinowski then proceeded down the similar path of reductionism, finger pointing, and denial he had taken in his November 13 email to Weiss and Joseph. Pertinent excerpts follow. The series of emails from Malinowski to the LSU Law faculty listserv are available here. For background on Diamond’s proposals and the Murchison Report describing troubling instances of discrimination among students, see LSU Law Info.
* * *
Excerpts from the Malinowski Files
Any bold-faced font was added for editorial emphasis.
Due to the emails’ stream-of-consciousness style,
I have elected to let typographical and other errors remain.
The full emails are here.
* * *
“I went to Yale Law School paying my own way where diversity was race, color, sexual orientation, and gender. All of my close classmates, non of which matched me on meeting textbook credentials for academia access (e.g., skipped law review, skipped federal clerkships, never published before applying) but who were women, even Caucasian, had, relative to me, great access to law academia–one has been and is Dean of BU Law School, another got an immediate academic job with University of Washington in Seattle (though she just got by at law school).”