Philosophy professor makes statement against lack of representation
Philosophy professor Naomi Zack had two minutes to respond to receiving the University of Oregon Martin Luther King Jr. award honoring those excelling within diversity, inclusion and equity.
“At present there are only two full professors who are women of color throughout the entire University of Oregon. I am one of them. Given this situation, I am neither thrilled nor honored to receive an award in the name of Martin Luther King at this time, here at the UO,” Zack said in her response. “I am embarrassed.”
Zack said she received a positive reaction from the Black Student Union and from the administration. When she met with President Schill, Zack said he seemed to be enthusiastic about doing everything he can toward increasing the number of black faculty.
“I’m not taking credit for these things, I’m just saying that these are things in the works,” Zack said. “What I said in my reaction in getting the award was the reaction to how things are now. We need to be optimistic about how things could be better.”
Kevin Marbury, director of Physical Education and Recreation, also received the MLK award, responding in his speech by uplifting male black students performance at the UO. Marbury said Zack’s speech made a statement many were not surprised to hear.
“There’s no doubt that there should be more students and staff of color, particularly African American,” Marbury said. “Keeping things in people’s conscious is important in moving the needle, but at some point action needs to happen.”
Marbury said he does not consider being a support system for black male students work, as encouraging students is something he is passionate about doing. Several of Zack’s previous students also said passion and enthusiasm solidified her approach to teaching.
One of her graduate students, UO 2012 alumnus Al Frankowski, said Zack came to conversations with her students with a “can-do” attitude.
“Many conversations with Professor Zack was really just her saying, ‘Explain to me what you’re writing about,’ and it went from there,” Frankowski said. “She treated me like an intellectual.”
Zack is also a writer, as she said she writes almost all of the time. According to her UO Philosophy Department webpage, Zack has six published books and many more scholarly works, with one on the way this month.
“When we think about how accomplished Naomi Zack is, and how little the university appreciated that, then we see the injustice here,” Frankowski said. “We have to recognize that there is a person of color who has published at such a rate is being compared to someone who is publishing far less.”
However, both 2011 alumnus Grant Silva and graduate student Celena Simpson said they decided to go to the UO because of Zack’s critically acclaimed status.
“I think students can draw from her experience and make her feel more valued,” Silva said.
Simpson said it means a lot to her that Zack is a multi-ethnic woman, as Simpson identifies as a multi-racial woman as well.
“She wants to be able to give us the tools to fight for racial justice while also criticizing the categories that support that injustice,” Simpson said.
2012 alumnus José Mendoza said having more black faculty on campus will help include more black students at the UO.
“If you’re black and you’re a graduate student, you’re alienated at the University of Oregon,” Mendoza said.
Zack said as a writer, there are two issues that a person writes about.
“One is what you actually live in your life and the other is what you live in your work life and your work life is not the same as what you’re writing about abstractly,” Zack said. “This was an opportunity to say something about not just things I would say in my scholarly work, but to say something about my workplace.”
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