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COMPLAINT! by Sara Ahmed


by Sara Ahmed

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-4780-1771-4
Publisher: Duke Univ.

A scholarly critique of the difficulties encountered by those who file formal complaints in the world of higher education.

In an era of Black Lives Matter, MeToo, and a host of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, you might think that there would be more transparency in dealing with charges of discrimination and harassment, particularly at the university level. Not so, writes Ahmed, an independent feminist scholar who left her post at a British university over its treatment of sexual harassment. “To be heard as complaining is not to be heard,” she writes. “To hear someone as complaining is an effective way of dismissing someone. You do not have to listen to the content of what she is saying if she is just complaining or always complaining.” The author, who has gained notoriety in academic circles for Living a Feminist Life (2017) and other books, presents a strong argument that power in higher education tends to protect itself, that diversity initiatives are often nothing more than window dressing, and that those who file complaints about a hostile work environment often face accusations of disloyalty or troublemaking. Charges of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, Ahmed argues, are similar from institution to institution and ubiquitous because the conditions that spark them don’t change. Those who wish to file formal complaints often find it difficult to navigate the complex procedures, only to find their paperwork buried in some cabinet or their cases adjudicated behind closed doors. Those who go public, meanwhile, face withdrawal of funding, lack of institutional support, and being passed over for promotion. In most cases, the bureaucrats who run universities are more concerned with protecting the institution than with correcting transgressions. Most of the charges here are broad and general, but anyone who has worked in higher education will recognize much of what Ahmed brings to light.

Sharp criticism of an overlooked systemic problem in higher education.