Ohio State ‘BIPOC’ Grad Students ‘Feel Disrespected’ by Professor’s Apology for Op-Ed Celebrating Football

A view of the Ohio State university football facilities as the Big Ten postpones their 2020-21 fall sports season, citing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) concerns in Columbus, Ohio, August 11, 2020. (Megan Jelinger/Reuters)
"To say the least, we are very disappointed and feel disrespected," the letter reads.

Ohio State University professor Matthew Mayhew made headlines last week after apologizing for having caused a “deep ache” among students and faculty by writing an op-ed arguing that the return of college football might help unite a deeply polarized nation.

Mayhew, a professor and program director at OSU’s school of Higher Education and student Affairs (HESA), pledged to undertake the “long process of antiracist learning” after his students and colleagues informed him that his celebration of college football caused them “hurt, sadness, frustration, fatigue, exhaustion and pain” by ignoring the plight of African American athletes.

But Mayhew’s self-flagellation was insufficient, according to an October 6 letter titled “A Call to Action for Dr. Matthew J. Mayhew” signed by a group of graduate students who identify themselves as “A BIPOC HESA Collective,” which was obtained by National Review.

The signatories object to Mayhew’s lengthy apology as well as the contents of a subsequent public discussion he had with fellow professor Gilman Whiting, who is identified in Mayhew’s apology as one of the “distinguished academics” who taught him about how damaging his op-ed was.

“To say the least, we are very disappointed and feel disrespected,” the letter reads. “We hold Dr. Mayhew’s comments as a reflection of his casual disregard for racially marginalized students – in general, and in the HESA program.”

Mayhew, who co-wrote the op-ed — titled “Why America Needs College Football” — with one of his graduate students, explained in his apology that he had received an education from his critics after publishing the piece. “I learned that I could have titled the piece ‘Why America Needs Black Athletes,'” he wrote. “I learned that Black men putting their bodies on the line for my enjoyment is inspired and maintained by my uninformed and disconnected whiteness and, as written in my previous article, positions student athletes as white property.”

Armed with his new education, Mayhew promised to design a “plan for change” that would help move “Black Lives Matter from a motto to a pathway from ignorance and toward authentic advocacy.” Relying on his identity “as a learner,” Mayhew further vowed to “center the question: What can I do to unlearn patterns that hurt and harm Black communities and other communities of color?”

But, according to the letter, Mayhew’s ode to college football was just one minor example of his racial insensitivity.

“Beyond Dr. Mayhew’s OpEd piece, there are untold stories of his racist and sexist insensitivity towards HESA students of color – particularly women of color, who have been afraid to voice their experiences in fear of retaliation,” the letter continues. “While we also denounce Dr. Mayhew’s writings in IHE, this longer-standing culture of violence and fear in our program that has grown under his leadership must end. As a self-proclaimed cis-gender, white, Christian, upper-class man, Dr. Mayhew’s performative privileged behavior has been very visible, and even acknowledged by various HESA faculty and staff. Yet, it has been continuously excused, overlooked, and downplayed by those same faculty and staff. This behavior must end.”

The letter does not elaborate as to how exactly the professor fostered this “culture of violence and fear,” and both Mayhew and the letter’s lead author did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

While the signatories consider Mayhew’s promised reforms to be a “nice gesture,” they were “unmoved” by his his plan of action since it was not “directly informed by the desires of those who have been harmed.”

The signatories ask that Mayhew and fellow members of the HESA faculty respond to their list of demands within one week of receiving the letter.

The list of demands reads:

  1. Dr. Mayhew being transparent about the anti-racist trainings in which he participates.
  2. Dr. Mayhew spending class time teaching, not justifying his behaviors to students. 
  3. Institutionalizing student-sourced annual evaluations of faculty performance that go beyond faculty duties in publication, winning research grants, and completing service to HESA. These evaluations should assess how faculty’s actions dismantle or reinforce structural violence through their work in student-facing duties. 
  4. Requiring Dr. Mayhew and the white men that he advises to undertake restorative justice action with the women of color in HESA they have harmed, at the women of color’s discretion. 
  5. Requiring Dr. Mayhew’s College Impact Lab (CoIL) research team and advisees to (a) complete anti-racism and bias trainings, and (b) establish accountability measures against perpetuating white supremacy. 
  6. Requiring Dr. Mayhew’s CoIL to achieve race/gender parity through intentional recruitment of his funded advisees.
  7. Requiring transparency in how Dr. Mayhew’s funding supports students to attend conferences.
  8. Strongly discouraging Dr. Mayhew from writing on topics of race, gender, class, etc. in which he is neither a scholarly or personal expert.
  9. Strongly encouraging Dr. Mayhew to collaborate with and/or elevate scholars of color within the HESA program, Educational Studies department, and College of Education and Human Ecology

Should Mayhew and fellow faculty members refuse to comply with their demands, the students will be denied “their collective liberation.”

“Our collective liberation cannot happen without direct intentional action from our program leadership, which is accountable for its complicity of Dr. Mayhew’s behaviors,” the letter concludes.

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