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Friday, December 3, 2021

Pressure mounts on professor accused of racism


The statement came after widespread backlash swept Qatari social media over QNRF’s decision to award a massive grant to a professor who had previously made racist comments.

Several professors at Northwestern University in Qatar [NU-Q] have called on their colleague professor Jocelyn Mitchell to withdraw from a research team that was awarded a hefty grant and triggered condemnation.

The staff members at the Liberal Arts Department urged Mitchell, who has been widely condemned for making racist remarks, to opt out for the benefit of NU-Q as well as the Qatar National Research Fund project.

In an email signed by eight professors, the faculty condemned the professor’s comments, stressing that such abhorrent actions do not reflect the community or its members.

“We—a number of faculty within the NUQ Liberal Arts Program—want to state clearly that Dr. Mitchell’s blog posts were abhorrent and unbecoming of a member of our community,” the email read.

“Echoing advice given to Dr. Mitchell by the Director of the Liberal Arts Program, we encourage her to withdraw from the research team for the benefit of the NUQ community and the QNRF-funded research project.”

The NU-Q email that circulate on Tuesday

The statement was sent to all NU-Q staff, faculty, and students to make a firm stance against the 2008 comments, which were only removed in 2015 after fierce backlash, the email read.

“One member of the grant’s team, Dr. Jocelyn Sage Mitchell, had celebrated racist comments—among them comments against the Qatari population that she continues to research—and neo-colonial expatriate privilege online,” the email read.

“While these comments were posted in 2008, they were not removed by Dr. Mitchell until 2015 on request of students, after she had been working at NUQ for several years. They have done great harm to many of our students and to this learning community.”

The email also criticised the American institution’s decision to support the professor’s grant application.

“The university has failed to distance itself unequivocally from her comments. We ourselves waited too long to publicly condemn them in the hope of an institutional response. Dr. Mitchell has issued an apology, although the continued public criticism suggests that it may not have been sufficient,” the email said.

“Because of our combined silences, we fear that NUQ’s decision to support our colleague’s grant application sends the message that there are few if any negative consequences for such behaviour.”

“We recognise that holding members of our community accountable for racist behaviour is inevitably uncomfortable. But we cannot be bystanders because silence allows racism to continue as business-as-usual,” the staff members added.

“NUQ needs to examine structural racism and white privilege within our own institution and develop the necessary policies and procedures to protect all members of our community, in particular non-white faculty, students, and staff, from racial discrimination and exoticisation. In addition, we need to carefully examine and address the Eurocentric and orientalist biases of our own curricula and research programs,” the statement continued.

Doha News contacted Mitchell for a response on the latest developments but has yet to receive a response.

Read Also: Professor who made racist comments against Qataris awarded $700,000 funding grant

Shortly after QNRF announced the awarding of the $700,000 grant to Professor S. Venus Jin and Professor Jocelyn for research into “obstacles and successes of women entrepreneurship in Qatar”, the news was met with furore.

The backlash included concerns over QNRF’s decision to award such a significant grant to someone who previously posted racist comments about the same community she has been paid to research.

Some also questioned why the fund was approved despite it not being led or even involvingQatari women, who are at the centre of the research. 

“Literature and academic studies about Qatari women is already scarce, so future research and publications must reflect an accurate and honest picture and not one that the researcher wants to portray and project their theories on, especially if the researcher does not belong to the community, nor speak its language, and is unfamiliar with its culture,” Reem Al-Harmi, a Qatari senior researcher, wrote in an oped for Doha News that was also published in Arabic.

“We do not want to return to the era of orientalists or orientalism.”

The racist blogs

In 2008, a blog run by Mitchell and her husband published a post entitled: “You know you’re in Qatar if”, which included a listicle of xenophobic and racist remarks.

Among the comments made in the post was “the ratio of ugly women to not so ugly women is 9:1.” The only murders to take place in Qatar are when “an Indian construction worker sleeps with a Phillipino [sic] construction worker’s wife. The [sic] usually slap each other to death in a cat-fight resembling manner,” the post added.

A screenshot of Joclyn Mitchell’s racist comments. The post has since been deleted.

The blog was later removed by Mitchell in 2015, several years after she started working at the Doha-based institute and teaching the same community she once directed racist abuse towards.

When the blog post surfaced in 2019, a student protest movement erupted on-campus demanding the university takes action against several misconducts, including Professor Mitchell’s offensive and racist comments. 

Mitchell then issued a public apology for her actions, saying she was deeply sorry for offending anyone and confirming the removal of the blog. But even with the apology, the local community remained enraged, saying an apology without any discipline or consequences from the institute itself was not enough. 

Following the announcement of the grant, the blog resurfaced, and with it another wave of anger. 

Read more: Combatting racism in academia: Why it shouldn’t be normalised or rewarded

In a statement to Doha News, Mitchell said the blog post, which she denied writing, “does not reflect how I feel about Qatar and its many communities, especially after 13 years living and working here.

“I apologised and deleted the blog in 2015 when students first brought it to my attention, and then publicly apologised to the entire NUQ community in 2019 when the screenshot resurfaced.”

“The screenshot in this post is from a 2008 email I received while moving to Qatar. I entirely reject the words and sentiments of this 2008 email, and I apologise for posting it to my blog in the first place,” the statement said.

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