4. No Escape at U Mass Amherst

Tom Wood

Located in western Massachusetts, the University of
Massachusetts Amherst is a national research university
recognized for superb faculty, outstanding teaching and top-notch students
who come from across the state and around the world.

About U Mass Amherst

The purpose of this series of postings is to answer the question, "How Many Delawares?" The most recent posting in this series was about the Res Life program at UMass Amherst. I had planned to move on in this posting to the consideration of one or more Res Life programs at other institutions, but got detained by other stuff on the UMass web site outside the Res Life section of the site. So the title of this week's posting could have been: "Before we leave UMass Amherst…"

I have been detained mostly by an investigation of representative courses offered at UMass Amherst on the subject of race, especially (but not only) by what I found about H. Enoch Page. It is important to consider courses offered by UMass on race that are part of the regular curriculum, in order to put the Shaha troupe and the Res Life emphasis and programming on diversity in perspective. The Shaha troupe is not an aberration on the campus. The only novelty about the troupe and the other programs of Res Life at the university is that such views are brought to the students in the dorms, where they live. The same dark and toxic views on race can be found in the regular curriculum at the campus, taught by faculty in long-established departments.


Let us begin by taking a look at the home page of Prof. Helan Enoch Page, who teaches in the department of anthropology.


Enoch H. Page, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
240 Hicks Way
204 Machmer Hall
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003

Phone: (413) 546-4598
Office (413) 545-0935
Fax: (413) 545-9494

Here is Page's account of his personal "Commitments to Anthropology":

With undergraduate majors in Anthropology, Education and Black Studies, Enoch's matriculation in higher education was designed to facilitate his study of racism which he eventually began to conceive of as a mangerial method of organizing white privilege in the racial state. He thereby set out to theorize racism as a set of stratifying cultural practices and to develop the courses and pedagogical tools that would engender among his students both the skills and the desire to eventuate its impending demise. He firmly believes that ending racism requires the dismantling of whitened privilege--how dominant racial privilege has been granted to colonizing and colonized populations.

Anthropology's progressive decision to decolonize itself as a discipline enabled him more readily to discover the representational and discursive properties of racism, the subjectivity of embodiment, the deflections away from consciousness, and the structural intersectionality of gender, race and class. Although class distinctions are implicit in all of his teaching and research, some of his publications on race have definite gender and class implications. While race figured prominently in most of his earlier research, gender and race figures far more immanently in his current work. This latest work is primarily concerned with questions of white cultural practices.

With a keen understanding that sexed, gendered, raced, and classed embodied subjects are differentially positioned in the social orders they must learn to negotiate, his upcoming work extends the combination of these concerns into the most recent development of what he calls 'Antiracist Spiritual Anthropology.' He coins this term and would like it to be known as a form of anthropological research, scholarly discipline and pedagogical practice dedicated to fostering social change through an understanding and pursuit of what may best be understood, for lack of a better term, as 'higher consciousness.'

The bottom of Page's home page provides links to some of his "contributions to anthropology." One of these concerns his "Original Definition of 'White Public Space,'" which goes as follows:

I briefly define white public space as the scope and range of professionally managed public and publicized action organized, in defense of white privilege, as the manipulative, often deceptive, practices of surveillance and patrol that reliably render national, local or private domestic spaces racially public and capable of globally propagating the material embodiments and ideological representations of whiteness that secure the saliency of a dominant racial occupation and redefinition of sub-global spaces fearfully subjected to racial scrutiny and control. Enoch Page 1999©

Prof. Page's Definition of Racism

Much national attention has been given recently to the definitions of "racism" in Shakti Butler's diversity facilitation program at the Res Life division of the University of Delaware. As it turns out, Butler is a relative newcomer to all of this. Page, at UMass Amherst, has been advocating the same views for decades. In 1993, Page wrote a definition of "racism" that was distributed at that year's conference of the American Anthropological Association. To judge from Google searching, it is still the most widely disseminated and quoted definition of racism by those who believe that only whites in the United States can be racists. (Warning to the reader: Be prepared for a lot more word salad):

Definition of Racism
Written by: Dr. Helan Enoch Page
Racism is a global system of material and symbolic resource distribution management more comprehensively defined, in accordance with each of the following principles:
Principle I. Racism is an ideological, structural and historic stratification process by which the population of European descent, through its individual and institutional distress patterns, intentionally has been able to sustain, to its own best advantage, the dynamic mechanics of upward or downward mobility (of fluid status assignment) to the general disadvantage of the population designated as non-white (on a global scale), using skin color, gender, class, ethnicity or nonwestern nationality as the main indexical criteria used for enforcing differential resource allocation decisions that contribute to decisive changes in relative racial standing in ways most favoring the populations designated as 'white.'
Principle II. The aim of this peculiar post-1492 stratification process has been to aggregate an upwardly mobile and putatively 'white' racial group that is stratified internally and that strives to validate its own ascendancy using a shifting range of 'white' cultural practices which are defined as 'white' not on any presumed biological basis, but on the basis of "ideological whiteness" -- a field of racial discourse and representation.
Principle III. The conceptual content of this historic and politically-charged discursive field is sustained by racial agents who in many ways articulate and justify the suppression of "ideological blackness" (and every form of non-whiteness this may entail) which may be accomplished by many formal and informal means of institutional domination, routinized interpersonal interactions, cultural imperialism, or by any other racialized means of information control.
Principle IV. As a generative principle of racism, "ideological whiteness" refers to a dual behavioral process entailing enactments of identify formation and resource access legitimation, both of which were practices once overtly recognized as aspects of "white supremacy," but which now may be more subtly and covertly reproduced as an observable and routine set of implicitly prescriptive, but explicitly disavowed white supremacist beliefs and practices to which all who identify as 'white' (or who behave as 'whitened') are expected to adhere -- especially white males -- if they wish to maintain their own racial standing as members of these two privileged 'white' groups and assert their negotiable right to privileged resource access.
Princple V. Collectively, the 'white' and/or 'whitened' members of this racially privileged global population tend to bolster their shared political intent to impose patterns of restricted resource access on racially subordinant populations, and aim to preserve their presumably non-negotiable right to prescribe, and even dictate, lessor resource access rights for certain upwardly mobile members of the 'non-white' population whose internalized racism, reliable complicity, and carefully scrutinized willingness to cooperate with racial dominates is always required and rewarded.


[This is an updated and extended 1999 version of a detailed definition of racism developed by Dr. Helan Enoch Page (Associate Professor, Anthropology Department, UMASS-Amherst) and distributed at the American Anthropological Association in 1993. This short manuscript has been cited in several publications including books, dissertations and will be cited soon in a forthcoming book by Pem Buck (1999 or 2000), called: "Work Your Fingers to the Bone: An Anthropological History of Whiteness and the Elite in Kentucky": Temple University Press. Anyone is free to use this definition as long as Dr. Page is credited for its development and for its influence on any analyses or practical program stemming from its use].

Enoch Page on "Whiteness Standards of Professionalization"

To those who might be shocked and indignant that such word-salad prose can be found on the web page of a professor on the faculty of an institution that bills itself as a "national research university recognized for superb faculty" etc., Dr. Page, presumably, has a reply: It is racist to expect black scholars like himself to adhere to the standards of academic excellence set by the white establishment (i.e., power structure).

Consider the following abstract of his paper, "Academentia: Physiological Stress, Toxic Work Sites and the Neutralization of Blackness by the Whiteness Standards of Professionalization," which was presented at the People of Color in Predominantly White Institutions Sixth Annual National Conference (POCPWI) at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln Year in 2001. (Warning to the reader: Be prepared for more word salad.)

Using auto-ethnographic methods, supplementing by current race theories, along with interviews from other scholars, I regard academentia as a form of professionalism most readily communicable to academics of color seeking advance. It can also infect those whose embrace of blackness (widely defined across cultures) is the least tolerant of the racial designs of white cultural practices. Where in the interest of students and colleagues, such academics challenge the whiteness criteria defining academic success, most of their peers adhere to the racial standards of professionalism.

H. Enoch Page, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts Studying antagonisms between blackness and whiteness has been rendered unsound in most academic circles, but few recognize this trendy unpopularity in racial theorizing as a defensive product of white academics. Overwhelmed by demands for change forwarded with charges of racism since the 1970s, many scholars have defended the white cultural practices that advance their own careers. They capitulated first to what the law required and, second, they manipulated legal requirements by engaging in versions of diversity politics benefiting the white establishment more than communities of color. Through adjacent surfaces of this prism is refracted the spectrum of academics of color in all its gender and ethnic diversity. Rendered upwardly mobile mainly by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements and thereby freed to pursue their intellectual and educational interests, academics of color, formerly excluded, were installed in the ivy halls of academe. Despite their great success, what remains unexamined are the terms of matriculation and the hidden fees or taxes exacted pound for pound from the flesh of their bodies and imposed on the communities of color from which they hail.
Using auto-ethnographic methods, supplemented by current race theories, along with interviews from other scholars, I regard academentia as a form of professionalism most readily communicable to academics of color seeking advance. It also can infect those whose embrace of blackness (widely defined across cultures) is the least tolerant of the racial designs of white cultural practices. Where, in the interest of students and colleagues, such academics challenge the whiteness criteria defining academic success, most of their peers adhere to the racial standards of professionalism. I explore three interrelated themes:

  • The whiteness standards undergirding academe are taken for granted;
  • Becoming academic presupposes a willingness and an aptitude for propagating white cultural practices; and
  • Opposition to such practices exact a toll on the well-being of dissident academics (faculty, students and staff) who embrace standards of blackness over the prescribed racist (also sexist and classist) standards of whiteness.

Expectations to measure up to whiteness standards are hostile to most academics and inordinately are toxic to the promoters of blackness in academic work and/ or research.

These standards are kept in place through forms of informal and formal discipline imposed by various agents, not only on academics of color, but also on whites. So, the larger significance of this study exceeds the racial dimension to suggest, as well, that many academics who defy the game .are harmed by the whiteness standards of academic professionalism. This harm is normally silenced. Yet, physical and emotional harm can occur when such standards capture and entrain the research attention of academics of color, enslave their academic productivity and divorce them from their communities by requiring them to make academe the center of their lives. I recommend the formation of activist coalitions in opposition to establishment forces, coalitions that open up new space for a full racial range of academic approaches once protected by deference to 'academic' freedom, so rapidly being eroded. No longer can academic unions be relied upon to address the undermining of dissident academics whose preference for blackness over whiteness compels them to supersede diversity responses to racial equality by demanding academic freedom and justice for all. Daily academic injustice moves them to contemplate more eclectic and humane ways of being academic in the 21st century. Privately licking our wounds and sharing our stories only with confidants must translate into coherent action.

Student Ratings of Prof. Page

One wouldn't expect someone like Prof. Page to tolerate fools gladly, and indeed, a very common criticism by students is that he is exceedingly biased in the classroom. Prof. Page gets mixed reviews from students, but even those who like him and recommend him as a teacher tend to give him low marks on being fair, balanced, and tolerant in the classroom. Students do not always see this as a compelling reason to shun his courses, however, since he is an easy grader. Students who disagree with Page's views might have been emotionally bruised by the experience, but their GPAs do not suffer. Here are some evaluations of Page from the web site Rate My Professors:

Over 6,000 Schools
1 million professors
6 million opinions

H. Enoch Page:

He is brilliant and very articulate. It's easy to shut down what he says as crazy, but his thoughts are definitely worth listening to. The first few lectures are very intense and caused some tears, but it's seriously not that bad.

Completely off his rocker. I am very open on almost all topics and consider myself to be moderate in political discussions, but Page is a radical liberal. He will shoot you down on any opinion which does not directly coincide with his. His views on race, politics, any person with right wing views or contradictory topics are completely out of line

I'm fairly left wing, but this guy made me realize why conservatives complain about nutty leftist bias on college campuses. Real nutty. He is so sure of his point of view that no other views make sense to him. It borders on paranoia.

He's a good guy, and has very interesting views about racism and American society. But he can be very bias himself, and sticks only to his own point of view. He is also very critical if you question his beliefs. He always seems to talk to people in a condecending way. So, if you take this class, prepare yourself! (Especially if you're white.)

No Relief in Sight
Five Colleges, Incorporated More of the Same, Apparently, At Least So Far As the Subject of Race Is Concerned...

The University of Massachusetts is part of a non-profit higher education consortium, formed in 1965, called Five Colleges, Incorporated. The four other participating colleges are Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith College. The participating institutions cooperate in a variety of ways, "ranging from two Five College Departments, interdisciplinary programs and certificates to Five College centers and standing committees or councils that work to coordinate the curriculum in some disciplines." The Interchange or Cross Registration program allows a student at any of the five institutions to interchange, for credit, any of the 6,000 undergraduate courses offered at the five institutions, "so long as the course falls within the field of liberal arts as defined by the students' home campus."

A page on the Mt. Holyoke web site is designed to be a "resource for students in the 5 College area of Western Mass who want to learn about, understand, make visible, deconstruct, and dismantle white privilege," which is defined in the expected way:

White privilege is a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people's conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.
A page on the Mt. Holyoke web site is designed to be a "resource for students in the 5 College area of Western Mass who want to learn about, understand, make visible, deconstruct, and dismantle white privilege," which is defined in the expected way:

A smorgasbord of course offerings like the one available through the consortium ought to be able to provide a wide range of informative and intellectually stimulating views on race and ethnicity in America, but there is no evidence that it actually does. Instead, the wider, consortium-wide syllabus appears to be just more of the same, along the lines of Enoch Page's courses. Consider the following listing and recommendations (by the students of Professor Arlene Avakian's class, and from the same Mt. Holyoke/UMass Amherst site). I believe, on the basis of my own investigations, that it can be taken as representative of course offerings on race and ethnicity in America in the wider academic community in the Amherst area:


Five-College Course Catalogue 

UMass Mount Holyoke Hampshire Amherst Smith
The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women: WOMST 397L The Psychology of Racism: PSYCH 213  Human Biological Variation: NS 0123 Seminar On Race and Nation In the U.S.-Mexican Borderland: HIST 87  Seminar: Melodrama, Horror, and Cultural Theory: ENG 396
Race, Gender, and Social Class (SBD): SOCIOL 106 Whiteness and the Construction of Identity (first-year seminar): EDUC 109  Culture and Biology: NS 0254 The Social Psychology of Race: PSYC 44  Approaches to Visual Representation (C): Negotiating Difference in Image and Space: ARH 101
**See below for a more thorough description of some UMASS courses.  Race, Class, Culture, and Gender in the Classroom: EDUC 205     Race and Public Policy in the United States: PPL 250
Race/Ethnicity Dialogue: EDUC 397L Effective Antiracist Classroom Practices for All Students: EDUC 414      Colloquia in Writing: Diversity, Community, and the Complexities of Difference: ENG 118
  Gender, Race, and Science: WOMST 235      
   Political Economy of "Race" in the U.S.: ECON 306      
  Seminar: Race Representation on the American Stage: THEAT 350      
  Interdisciplinary Seminar Gender, Race, and Science: WOMST 333      


**"So you've looked around the website. You've read the essays, seen the images, but what now? We recommend that you incorporate an analysis of whiteness into your studies. One way to do this is by taking classes that talk about whiteness in very specific, analytical terms." 

>For starters, the UMass sociology department offers Soc 106-2N with Professor S. Model. It's titled, Race, Gender, Class and Ethnicity. One of the more interesting things I could find with this course's syllabus was that students are required to write a paper on one of three books. One of these book choices was "Honky" by Dalton Conley. Linked to the professor's web site was a page explaining the book as well as an interview with the author.



The explanation provided background on Conley; in his book, he tells his story of how he grew up in a predominantly black and Hispanic area of Manhattan's Lower East Side and dealt with racialized injustices.

The link also questions Conley on his thoughts on the impact of race in America. Conley responds in this interview with: "Overt expression of racism is corrosive to everyone, but the unspoken structural inequalities benefit whites. Just look at the job market. Ask anyone 'How did you get your last job?' They didn't just blindly answer an ad -- they had connections…The way we get jobs through connections makes sense, because an employer would tend to trust a person they had previously heard about. Whites are more likely to recommend a white person to a potential employer. The way we get jobs, even if it isn't openly or even consciously racist, does perpetuate racism to the benefit of white America."

>Also in the UMass sociology department is a class not currently listed in the department's online course catalog. I took the class, Soc 340 taught by Professor Mike Lewis, in fall semester 2001. It was called Race Relations, and I recommend you keep an eye out for it to see if it surfaces once more.

The premise of the class is to answer: What accounts for the heart of social injustice in current American society? Is it a) racial prejudice, b) class inequalities, or c) class inequalities that are the result of racial prejudice? Through journal entries and then a final paper, you discuss your opinions and back them up with historical examples. 

Whiteness plays a key role in this class during lectures that describe how European immigrants became considered white. Also covered in detail is the rational behind reparations for slavery. Lewis's detailed breakdown of the economics of white and black people of the south during slavery, in the years right after slavery, in the decades to follow, and all of its ripple effects on today's society all over the country are put into the clearest terms I have ever heard. He also goes into a bit of history about certain times when white political administrations did attempt to look into paying reparations and the opposition they faced.

This is a completely what you make of it class, and while basic knowledge obtained during it proved useful during taking Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, I find my hindsight reflections are much more insightful now. My recommendation would be to take this course as a capstone, where you could put all your research on race relations in America, leaving nothing left unsaid about whiteness' role in all of it, into one paper.

>The class affiliated with this site is the above-mentioned Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, taught during spring semesters at UMass by Professor Arlene Avakian. The course is probably best taken in conjunction with Professor Alex Deschamps's class Theorizing Black Feminisms, also taught during the spring. Both classes are part of the UMass women's studies department.

>In the UMass anthropology department, Professor Enoch Page teaches The Anthropology of Whiteness. Page looks at how whiteness can be dismantled and in whose interests. The origins of whiteness are discussed, as well as asking a fundamental question, as described in the class' descriptive blurb: Is whiteness an antonym, synonym, or metonym of multicultural diversity?

>The UMass German department and Professor Susan Cocalis offer during spring semesters the class From the Grimms to Disney, which looks at the fairy tales. Again, it's up to you to pull out certain aspects of these tales, but whiteness is always prevalent to the discussion. Through your work in the class, you can begin to shatter the silence surrounding whiteness.

Delivering the Education at Home

Res Life at UMass Amherst touts the ability of its program to "deliver the education at home." The Shaha troupe, for example, "increases the opportunity to impact the students who wouldn't go out of their way to attend events related to diversity issues." This can seem rather charmingly disingenuous, until one realizes that courses of the kind described in this posting are clearly what Res Life wants to deliver "at home" (i.e., in the dorms themselves) to the UMass students.

If a student living in university housing at UMass wanted a different view of race in America than the one represented by the Shaha troupe, she would have a hard time finding it on the UMass campus, and quite likely could not find it at all. Nor would she be likely to find it at any of UMass Amherst's five locally affiliated colleges.

In fact, as the "deliver it to the home" slogan makes clear, the aim of Res Life programming at UMass, including the Shaha Troupe itself, is to get the message of critical race theory to students who are either uninterested or too busy to actually take courses for credit of the kind outlined above.

That would seem to be the whole point. At UMass, students shouldn't be able to escape such indoctrination: it is regarded by Res Life and the entire administration there as an absolutely essential part of their education. If they can't or won't get it in the classroom, Res Life will see to it that it is delivered to them in their living spaces.

POSTSCRIPT: This posting has been an attempt to substantiate the claim that there is "no escape" at UMass Amherst from a very one-eyed, ideologically imbalanced view of race and ethnicity in America. I have attempted to be fair, and to do honest canvassing of course offerings and other materials available on the UMass Amherst web site. I found nothing to suggest that a countervailing or more balanced, thoughtful, or nuanced account of these matters is available at the campus. However, I cannot claim that the search has been exhaustive, partly because some pages I wanted to view were password protected, and I had no access to them. It was particularly disappointing to be unable to view the most recent syllabi for EDUC 258 and EDUC 291E, which were discussed in the previous posting. A page on the Ed Department web site says: "For description of courses numbered from 100 to 499, go to SPIRE on the University's website: www.umass.edu. But the SPIRE link there leads to a secured HTML page (https) that asks for a password. There is also a web page listing six courses taught by Dr. Page. There is a link to a description of one of these, but it too was blocked: "Forbidden / You don't have permission to access /anth697d on this server. / Apache/2.0.52 (Red Hat) Server at courses.umass.edu Port 80."

Page and the School of Ed might have reasons for blocking general access to this information, but none are given on its web site.



Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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