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Minority Report: Sans Jews

I recently returned “home” to Indiana from spending the summer at Cornell’s School of Criticism and Theory. Basically, SCT is like the ultimate nerd camp, where young intellectuals (mostly professors and advanced PhD students) attend seminars and lectures—on literary theory, … Read More

By / August 16, 2007

I recently returned “home” to Indiana from spending the summer at Cornell’s School of Criticism and Theory. Basically, SCT is like the ultimate nerd camp, where young intellectuals (mostly professors and advanced PhD students) attend seminars and lectures—on literary theory, philosophy, political theory, postcolonialism, and everything in between—all day, everyday, and with a smile. Fortunately, evenings were devoted to reclaiming our cool-ness by going out to all the Ithaca, NY hotspots and drowning our livers in whatever libations the all-too-eager-to-close-at-1am bartenders would pour us (seriously, last call was at 12:30!).

But what does any of this have to do with Jews? Nothing. And, everything, it seems.

In addition to the public lectures and colloquia that all participants (approx. 60) attended, we were each enrolled in one of four seminars that we attended twice a week. I chose a seminar led by Eric Cheyfitz called “What is a Just Society?” On the last day of the seminar, we were asked to fill out evaluation forms. One participant in my seminar, a lusty Latina, was openly angry, groaning and mumbling as she filled out her form. Later, as a few of us sat outside, I overheard her complaining that there was no diversity at SCT—that all of the seminar leaders and public speakers were white, that there was no minority representation. The few people around her seemed to agree.

Leave it to me to infiltrate myself into a conversation where I am not wanted. “Uh, what about Gayatri Spivak?” I said. Spivak, a heavy-hitter in the world of literary theory, and a South Asian woman, had given a public lecture that was rather bizarre, and in which she relayed too much information about her physical ailments before demanding—ahem, requesting—that the air conditioner be turned off. We were all sweating in sync by the end of her talk. A regular diva, that one. I hope to emulate her one day.

In response, one participant did one of those half-laugh, half-snort things, and said, “Spivak was the token minority.” I was confused. And I was confused because I had counted at least two or three speakers who were Jewish. And Jewish is a minority, right? White Anglo-Saxon Protestants are not minorities. But Jews are minorities. Right?

Apparently not.

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