Fury erupted this month over incoming Boston University sociology and African-American studies professor Saida Grundy’s tweets about white men, race and slavery.
College student Nick Pappas wrote about Grundy’s tweets on his website SoCawlege.com a week ago with the headline “Boston University assistant professor Saida Grundy attacks whites, makes false statements on Twitter.”
Pappas, who will be a senior at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst next school year, launched the site last fall, intending it as a conservative BuzzFeed-style website.
Grundy, a sociologist who studies race, gender and class, received her doctorate last year from the University of Michigan’s joint program in sociology and women’s studies. She is to start work in a tenure-track position at Boston University — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater — on July 1.
Her personal Twitter account has since been made private, but the Boston Globe reported some of the tweets: “why is white america so reluctant to identify white college males as a problem population?” and “every MLK week i commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned businesses. and every year i find it nearly impossible.”
“Why are young white males a singled out issue to you Ms. Grundy, as opposed to all young males?” asked the SoCawlege article. “If you are going to work at Boston University you have to teach college aged white males eventually no?”
And the Twitter fight was on.
Twitter user @ClairelyParker wrote, “Okay to be a racist professor as long as you target the “white” race @BU_Tweets #BostonUniversity #SaidaGrundy SHAME ON YOU Boston U.”
Another, @PossumAndPintos, tweeted “@greywoolhat Why does Boston University employ bigots? like @saigrundy @BU_Tweets This is what bigotry looks like pic.twitter.com/EC6H61nkNn.”
Her supporters also came out in force.
“I find it deplorable that #SaidaGrundy has been labeled a racist and a bigot for speaking an inconvenient truth. #ISupportSaida,” tweeted @raulspeaks.
“Only in an inherently racist system can YOU be a racist for calling out racism. That’s where we are. #SaidaGrundy,” tweeted @sunnydaejones.
The online petition supporting Grundy has more than 2,000 signatories, while the petition demanding that she be fired has more than 200 signatories as of Wednesday morning.
A few days after the debate went into overdrive, Grundy made a statement to the Boston Globe.
“I regret that my personal passion about issues surrounding these events led me to speak about them indelicately,” she said in the statement. Issues of race “are uncomfortable for all of us, and, yet, the events we now witness with regularity in our nation tell us that we can no longer circumvent the problems of difference with strategies of silence.”
Boston University President Robert Brown weighed in, defending Grundy’s right to express her opinions but expressing “concern and disappointment” about her tweets.
“At Boston University, we acknowledge Dr. Grundy’s right to hold and express her opinions. Our community is composed of faculty, staff, and students who represent widely varying points of view on many sensitive issues,” Brown wrote on the school’s website.
“At the same time, we fully appreciate why many have reacted so strongly to her statements,” he wrote. “Boston University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form, and we are committed to maintaining an educational environment that is free from bias, fully inclusive, and open to wide-ranging discussions. We are disappointed and concerned by statements that reduce individuals to stereotypes on the basis of a broad category such as sex, race, or ethnicity. I believe Dr. Grundy’s remarks fit this characterization.”
Pappas, who is from the Boston area, told CNN via email that he was glad Grundy hadn’t been dismissed.
“I am happy with how Boston University’s President reacted in his letter yesterday,” he wrote. “Firing Doctor Grundy would have been the wrong choice, since everyone has a right to be mean spirited or even hateful. We published the story to expose the bias and factual problems with modern humanities classes, which are many, and common at colleges across the country.”
Efforts to contact Grundy for comment have not been successful.
“Too often conversations about race quickly become inflamed and divisive,” Brown wrote in her Boston Globe statement. “We must resolve to find a vocabulary for these conversations that allows us to seek answers without intemperance, rancor, or unnecessary divisiveness.”
As for Grundy, she says students will be able to discuss those issues “openly and honestly without risk of censure or penalty,” according to her statement to the Boston Globe.
Noting that most students are already gone for the summer, university spokesman Colin Riley told CNN via email that the university plans more conversation around the issues raised by Grundy and her critics.
As of fall 2014, Boston University’s full-time faculty was 2.8% black, 3.6% Hispanic and 1% multiracial, Riley said. The domestic student body was 4.7% black, 9.3% Hispanic and 3.4% multiracial.