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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

This Africana Studies debacle must end. Now.

On Jan. 4, Dr. Kibibi V. Mack-Shelton sent out a letter to a collection of Africana Studies professors, administration leaders and The Mass Media, discussing her “retirement in protest” from UMass Boston. Mack-Shelton detailed ongoing injustices inflicted upon the Africana Studies department and alleged hostile behavior from an ex-faculty member that wasn’t handled properly by the administration. All-in-all, it’s yet another damning indictment on the UMass Boston administration in relation to Africana Studies.

My heart goes out to Dr. Mack-Shelton. I hope her career at the unnamed college where she has decided to continue teaching is fulfilling and free of any emotional pain, harassment and, of course, outright racism. It is gut-wrenching that UMass Boston has brought her all three of these horrible things, to the point where she was forced to take sick leave due to the mental toll of it all. It is disgusting that our university is basically no closer to fixing these injustices than it was then.

I will come right out and say it. I am absolutely sick and tired of this continuing disaster. It has been going on for years now. Years. In trying to cover it, I have been lied to and stonewalled. When asked about the ongoing crisis, the provost has consistently elected to say nothing of much substance. I have never really heard anything about it from our Chancellor.

I’m sick of it, and I’m sure that the Africana Studies faculty members are even more so. The Mass Media is dedicated to covering important issues at UMass Boston, but it is not a dumping ground for incessant drama. Students are not pawns to be either ignored or whipped up into a misinformed frenzy. The longer this goes on, the more drama and abuse of student trust will continue unabated.

The whole situation is a gigantic embarrassment. It’s unbelievable that this is still happening at a university that is supposedly dedicated to anti-racism. It is harming lives, harming careers and destroying our reputation as a university. What is really ridiculous is that our administrators seem to have a chronic inability to solve complex problems, and yet still attempt to implement massive changes—such as the potential academic reorganization—while they flail around and act like petulant children when dealing with departmental issues.

For Pete’s sake, the administration sent out an email to every single student and faculty member, lambasting Dr. Jeff Melnick of the Africana Studies department for making supposedly “racist” comments. It even made its way into the WGBH newsroom. [1] Yet it turns out that the reality was much more complex and nuanced than such a public, knee-jerk response by the UMass Boston administration made it seem to be. This just strikes me as insanely unprofessional and petty, and a profoundly strange and harmful choice.

Now, I know regular readers will be used to my long articles by now. I write long articles because I want to cover all the most important aspects and angles to an issue so that you all can be well informed, though I know many people skim or outright skip such walls of text. This Africana Studies situation certainly seems like a candidate for multiple installments of my patented text walls, but honestly, this is all I have to say about it anymore. I will continue to talk about the situation in the context of new, important developments, but I think we all get the idea about what’s going on. Now it simply needs to end.

I also know readers will be used to my habit of laying out what students can do to get involved at the end of my articles. Unfortunately, I have to do so with a large caveat here. If you truly want to get involved, you should ask the professors at the Africana Studies Department—or even students in that major—what you can do to help. But you have to be aware that this is a highly, highly fraught issue and it is very easy to get in over your head.

This is not to call out the Africana Studies department at all. Professor Jemadari Kamara, who is currently at the head of the Africana Studies efforts, has never given me cause to question his integrity. I have been in contact with some ex-Africana Studies faculty as well, who are wonderful as a rule. However, I have been burned by questionable behavior from third-party sources in relation to the Africana Studies situation. So, be sure to confirm whatever you are told and keep your wits about you if you do decide to get involved.

So, in short, I earnestly hope that this disaster will end this semester. And yes, I mean this semester. If the situation isn’t resolved by the time I graduate—after my summer 2023 course closes—I will certainly tell everyone who asks about my college background that the UMass Boston administration is incompetent and hypocritical at best, and arguably racist at worst. If nothing changes at all, I might even question any recommendations I would make for prospective students to attend UMass Boston, as much as it would pain me to do so.

Look, UMass Boston is wonderful on paper—an affordable, commuter-friendly, ethnically and age-diverse campus with a strong focus on anti-racism. I’ve very much enjoyed my time here and I love our students and faculty members. But in practice, UMass Boston frequently shows, due to the failures of its administration, that it is an incompetent, increasingly commuter-unfriendly university that struggles to uphold its purported anti-racist mission. Ending this horrible crisis promptly would show that things might finally be turning around, and UMass Boston might be on track to become what it’s always striven to be.

[1] https://www.wgbh.org/news/education/2022/03/29/at-umass-boston-racial-tensions-rise-during-search-for-new-dean

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor