In the weeks following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, the Cornell Black Law Students Association received an outpouring of support from numerous faculty members, colleagues, and alumni. It is a great shame that during this time of mourning, one faculty member has chosen to weaponize these tragic losses at the expense of students of color.
In recent weeks, Professor William Jacobson has written multiple posts on his blog in a futile attempt to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement. He has gone as far as to declare that the movement seeks to “tear down our society to achieve their Marxist goals.” This is a clear attempt to “red-bait” Black activists with McCarthyist rhetoric while refusing to acknowledge the tangible harm caused by structural racism and oppression. By painting the movement with a broad brush, he conveniently ignores the individual circumstances giving rise to cases like George Floyd’s. Furthermore, Professor Jacobson reinforces the construct of “otherness” in many of his posts when he suggests that some ill-defined “we” needs protecting from “them.” If it is “anti-American” to demand more of the officials who are sworn to protect and serve their citizens, then whose America are we really protecting?
Professor Jacobson’s habit of attacking vulnerable communities of color is not limited to Black and brown people. He has constantly referred to the COVID-19 pandemic using the racial pejorative, “The Wuhan Virus,” and wrote an article pushing the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that the virus was created in a lab in Wuhan. Both narratives came at a time when violent racist attacks on the Asian community were on the rise. BLSA stands in solidarity with the Asian and Asian-American communities, and we are sickened that a post from a Cornell professor has added to the danger they face.
Although the law school recently released a statement regarding Professor Jacobson and his blog, we further urge the administration to critically examine the views of the individuals they intend to employ. Faculty members who challenge students to debate them on the motives of those fighting to preserve Black life are clearly more interested in amplifying their own agendas than engaging in thoughtful and reflective discourse. Professor Jacobson has claimed no expertise nor any specialized training on matters of race and racial justice, rendering any future discussions on the matter entirely unproductive. We are not interested in subjecting ourselves and our community members to dialogue that reinforces the false dichotomy of “right” versus “left” when it comes to our humanity.
By mentioning BLSA by name on his blog and suggesting that we are somehow the cause of some unwarranted vitriol he is receiving, Professor Jacobson invites a hostility that we cannot ignore. Accordingly, the BLSA Executive Board will refrain from participating in the Securities Law clinic that Professor Jacobson supervises. As the course selection period approaches, we encourage our membership and our allies to reconsider studying under an individual whose views perpetuate hatred towards their fellow students. Thinly veiled racism under the guise of “intellectual diversity” has no place in our law school.
While Professor Jacobson will undoubtedly use this letter to further his crusade on Fox News, we will continue to use our voices as Black law students to amplify those like us who do not share the same privilege. Our Black brothers and sisters are dying in the streets, and we refuse to sit idly by without acknowledging the insidious effects of his anti-Black rhetoric. We can only hope that our allies unite with us as we continue to condemn racism in all its forms and ensure that our institutions can be a safe space for all.
The Executive Board of the Black Law Students Association