The University of Montana judged contest submissions on content instead of the writers’ race. Big mistake.
The University of Montana asked students, staff and community members to participate in an essay contest on the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. When the school released the results last month, Montana students and race activists across the country accused university officials of racism and disrespect. That’s because all four winners were white. Turns out some would rather the school had honored King by judging entrants on the color of their skin rather than the content of their submissions.
The four contest winners started receiving threats, and the African-American studies program, which had sponsored the contest, removed their photos and essays from its website. A central fact—no black students had even submitted an essay—failed to defuse the racism charge.
Critics blasted “shameful” university officials for holding a contest at all. A lecturer on the college race circuit admonished the university for thinking that “there is a universality around writing an essay,” when in reality blacks express themselves “completely different.” One black student sniffed that participating would have been a “sellout/compromise.” “Having grown up in all white spaces,” he posted on Facebook, “I often avoided events such as this because I knew the purpose was a performative gesture from the administration.” How the student determines when events are not “performative gestures” was left unspecified.
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of the bestselling War on Cops and The Diversity Delusion. Follow her on Twitter here.
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