Trying to be a Savior Can Do More Harm Than Good

We all know 2020 was a hot mess. The pandemic started, political tension, and racial tension with hundreds of protests denouncing police brutality. It was a year that, undoubtedly, stressed a lot of people out. In this particular post, I’m going to talk about an article I read about a UCLA professor being suspended for not giving black students an easier final exam in June 2020. This article displayed the savior complex, society’s newfound understanding of how stressed black people are when it comes to societal issues, and the audacity people had with this newfound information.

A former professor is currently suing UCLA for wrongful termination from his job due to an incident in June 2020. The incident stems from a non-black student emailing the professor asking him to give leniency to the black students during the final exam in the wake of George Floyd’s death and civil unrest.

A snippet of the email,

“We are writing to express our tremendous concern about the impact that this final exam and project will have on the mental and physical health of our Black classmates,” the student wrote, according to Klein. The student, whose name was not released, then requested a “no harm” final exam, meaning that it would only count if it helped a student’s grade.

Newsweek Article

Please note, this email went to one professor and was not a school-wide email. First of all, who is “we” and the audacity to ask a professor to change his grading to accommodate black students.

The professor replied via email,

Are there any students that may be of mixed parentage, such as half black half-Asian? What do you suggest I do with respect to them? A full concession or just half? Also, do you have any idea if any students are from Minneapolis? I assume that they are probably especially devastated as well. I am thinking that a white student from there might possibly be even more devastated by this, especially because some might think that they’re racist even if they are not.

Newsweek Article

The professor thought the discussion would end, but he discovered the students called for his removal and had 20,000 signatures demanding he be fired. UCLA decided to suspend the professor.

I hope the professor wins his lawsuit and kept every email related to the matter. UCLA had no right to suspend the professor over this. Yes, it was during a time when tension was high, but instead of UCLA standing their ground with the professor, they decided to wash their hands of the matter, possibly due to not wanting to seem racist or problematic during a tense time. Whatever their rationale, it wasn’t enough to suspend this professor.

As for the non-black student who sent the email, who did they speak to prior to build up the nerve to send this email and gather 20,000 signatures? Since the article said it was a non-black student, my first thought was the student(s) talked to black classmates and discovered how tired and stressed they were. There was a build up of frustration in the black community with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020, Breonna Taylor in March 2020, and many issues before and after these events. It’s a level of frustration many people will never fully understand but were made aware of last year if they communicated with black friends and associates. I think this student(s) discovered this during that moment of “societal enlightenment” and wanted to “help” the black students.

Some may read this and not see the savior complex, but it’s there. The student(s) felt they could “help” the black students by grading them differently without taking into consideration the harm it could have on the black students AND the harm it could have on the professor. If the professor decided to go along with the idea, the black students may or may not have been aware they were graded differently. Let’s say they were made aware with some kind of announcement. How would the non-black students feel? They’d possibly feel that was unfair. If they decided to go along with it, would the black students feel like they weren’t competent enough to pass on their own? Maybe that’s just me? Maybe the students would have gone with the flow and everything turned out alright.

Let’s say the professor went along with it and replied to the student’s email. The students would have felt like they came to the rescue of their black students and possibly shared the news with others as if it was an accomplishment. Word would have gotten out that the professor granted leniency to the black students in his class. What about the black and non-black students in other classes throughout the school? Would they have gone along with it? Heck no! The teacher would have been in trouble and the black students, who were graded differently, would have to take the exam again.

When someone tries to fix something with a savior complex, they don’t take into consideration how it will impact the people they’re trying to “save” or anyone else involved. They just see a quick fix solution that will often make themselves feel good. This idea of wanting to be nice and helpful would have spiraled into the stereotype that black people aren’t smart and need a boost let alone ruining the reputation of a professor and a school.

The nerve of this student, despite doing it out of good faith, emailing the professor with this request is mindboggling. When I was in college, I was nervous to email the professor to let them know I wouldn’t be in class because I was sick. I feared they would tell me I would miss an important lecture that would impact my grade. I would never think to email a professor and ask them to change the grading for a select few. The nerve. I still want to know what verbiage was on that petition that garnered 20,000 signatures.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading my mini rant.

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