I am a proud student of the University of Virginia. It is at this school that I honed the critical thinking skills that enable me to write for The Cavalier Daily. But, to be frank, the argument I am about to lay out requires very little critical analysis. Board of Visitors member Bert Ellis has made himself crystal clear and in doing so, my retort is painfully simple. No man that supports platforming racism thinly disguised as a science should be permitted to serve on the Board of Visitors of any university. I do not believe Ellis deserves a seat on the Board of Visitors.
Over the past couple of weeks, there seemed to be some confusion about what Ellis meant when he said that he opposed diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at the University and that his appointment was the “only opportunity to change/reverse the path to ‘wokeness.’” I must admit, however, that I was never confused. Nor, it seems, were the multitude of student groups that spoke out against Ellis’ appointment. We are well-versed in the reality that opposition to DEI efforts and “woke” culture — as Ellis refers to it — is today’s methodology for upholding structural racism.
Thankfully, being a University student afforded me the privilege of enrolling in courses that have illuminated precisely what structural racism means and how it is upheld. Structural racism includes all the power and advantages — like employment access and wages — used by the dominant societal group to disadvantage the nondominant one. Take, for instance, the following examples. Black women with advanced degrees make seven dollars less per hour than white men with a bachelor’s degree and 17 dollars less per hour than white men with advanced degrees. Latinx and Native women, on the other hand, need a master’s degree to outpace the wages of a white man with even just a high school degree. These sorts of power structures that disadvantage marginalized groups are maintained by those like Ellis who purport to serve the University community yet behave in a way that misaligns with that mission. Through his disavowal of “DEI efforts and ‘woke’ culture,” Ellis is actively replicating existing structural inequalities. What was left to be seen, however — what his comments left out until now — was whether these results were naive or intentional.
Insight into Ellis’ time as a student made the answer to this question apparent. To this day, Ellis hides behind a shroud of so-called free speech ideals. He claims to be fighting on behalf of the noble goal of “open dialogue throughout the University.” Yet, his behavior as a University student proves that for Ellis, claims of free speech and opposition to “DEI efforts” are nothing more than his thinly veiled excuse for racism.
Back in the 1970s, on behalf of a social organization called the University Union, Ellis supported the invitation of white nationalist and eugenics supporter William Shockley to debate “The Correlation Between Race and Intelligence.” The glaring problems in that invitation alone should be evident to all readers now and everyone involved then. Eugenics had fallen out of popularity several decades earlier after Hitler used it to justify millions of murders by the Nazi Party and that many student groups explicitely told Ellis the invitation was inappropriate and unwanted. Yet, Ellis still insisted that Shockley’s presence was necessary. The University community derived no educational benefit from the event — even at the time, Shockley was an outcast in the academic community.
While troubling enough in and of itself, Ellis attitude leading up to the event is also cause for serious concern. Over and over again, Ellis displayed a flagrant disregard for the wellbeing and perspectives of his fellow students. Ellis repeatedly defended Shockley’s invitation by citing that he had “checked in” with the Minority Culture Committee co-chair of the Union. Yet this same co-chair who said she told Ellis that Shockley was an insult to Black intelligence and that she did not support the event.
Ellis’ disrespect was not limited solely to the Union. After reaching out to Student Council to seek their opinion on whether the debate should be held, Ellis promised to “probably” follow the group’s recommendation. Despite a vote recommending the debate be canceled, Ellis decided to ignore this suggestion.
Today, Ellis appears to have returned to the University with the same ideologies as back in the 1970s. While he has remained stagnant, the University has continued to change. The biology department has since denounced its eugenic roots. While former University President Frank Hereford hid from disgruntled students, University President Jim Ryan lists “running toward” problems as one of his central attitudes. Back when the Shockley controversy took place, the first woman to serve as editor-in-chief was still news editor — today, our past two editors-in-chief have been women. This all goes to say that I do not have much hope that Bert Ellis will turn out to effectively serve the University community. What I do have hope for, however, is that those in positions of power at the University will take a stand without mincing their words. Call Ellis out.
Jessica Moore is the Executive Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.