Stop Academic Violence against women of color at Union Theological Seminary, NYC
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#Academic Me Too
My name is In Hui Lee, a South Korea born scholar and activist, residing in the USA.
I am writing in order to ask you to join #Academic Me Too movement by writing letters and sign a petition, on behalf of Professor–for-life, Tara Hyun Kyung Chung, at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
For Professor Chung’s biography, please check:
I have heard Professor Chung’s plight and feel compelled to share her story of #Academic Me Too experiences and to call for actions for bringing justice and peace to academic world, including Union Theological Seminary and beyond.
As Professor Chung’s Manifesto, attached here, shows that it is unbelievable and unspeakable to see what the management of UTS (Union Theological Seminary) has been doing against her. Professor Chung is going through a very hard time at this very moment.
Please read her manifesto and write a letter to those who are responsible for changing the course of injustice, discrimination against a woman of color scholar in UTS.
President Serene Jones
Dean Mary Boys
Rev. Amy Gopp
Vice President of Union Board
Rev. Dr. Rafael Warnock, Union Board Member
Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas
Professor Chung wants to add following points in your letter.
1. Create a Truth and Reconciliation Committee by the UTS board members for discussing on-going racial discrimination and abuse of power. Also about so called “corrective actions” done against those who voice these concerns, including Professor Chung.
2. Stop immediately “Corrective Actions” done to Professor Chung, by President Jones and Dean Boys. These punitive actions are carried out based on false allegations.
3. Compensate Professor Chung for her physical, mental suffering and a great financial loss because of actions taken by the UTS Board, President Serene Jones, and Dean Mary Boys.
4. Hire an investigation team from outside of UTS, such as Ombudspersons, in order to carry out a transparent examination on racial discrimination and financial dealings for proposition of building a luxury condo within the campus property.
5. Bring a conflict resolving help from outside of the UTS management for Professor Chung’s grievances. Professor Chung can’t accept solutions offered from the UTS management because these measures are for punishing Professor Chung further, only.
I believe that we can help Professor Chung, with letter writing and singing petitions. It is critical that we come together in the face of #Academic Me Too. I think Professor Chung’s ordeal is not limited to her; rather her experiences are shared by many women of color in academia.
Thank you very much for your help.
If you have concerns, comments and ideas, please contact me:
with Professor Tara Hyun Kyung Chung’s #Academy Me Too movement
Manifesto by Professor Chung, below:
#Academic Me Too
April 9, 2018
Stop Academic Violence and Let Us Start a Truth and Reconciliation Commission at Union Theological Seminary!
“The Truth Hurts. But Silence Kills.” -- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, South Africa.
My name is Tara Hyun Kyung Chung. I am a professor for life, of Interfaith Engagement and Ecumenical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. I am also a proud alumna of this legendary school, a beacon of truth telling and a cradle of social justice workers around the world. I found my theological voice and life mission as an Asian Ecofeminist theologian and peace activist in this school. Union gave birth to my most authentic and powerful self as a scholar activist. Union is my theological and spiritual mother.
With my deepest love and appreciation for my Alma Mater, today I wish to declare, “Here I stand. I can’t do no other,” like the reformer, Martin Luther has done before me. For my action, I am willing to pay “the cost of disciplinary actions” against me, just like one of our ancestors of Union, Dietrich Bonhoeffer did. This is my Kairos Moment to tell the truth about what is happening within the most progressive theological seminary in the world. This is also, I believe, a Kairos moment for Union Theological Seminary and Academic institutions around the world that have been facing the rise of fascism and the death of our fundamental values of love, truth, and justice, which have been overcome by greed, deception and violence. This is the moment to choose between truth and lies of complicity.
After many months of prayers and meditation, I have made a decision to let you, my beloved members of Union community, and beyond, know about on-going acts of harassment, retaliation and racial discrimination against people of color in our community, by Union’s administrators. I have witnessed these unspeakable actions for the last 10 years and I have tried my best to stand in solidarity with those who have fallen victims in these traps.
Then finally, these acts of violence came to me in the form of “corrective actions” last August, 2016. They framed me with fabricated, false allegations of improper conduct by me in my “Ecofeminism and Earth Spirituality” class last year. Those in administration held no fact checking investigations, held no prior conference with me, and gave me no opportunity to address the false accusations, as stipulated by Union’s own Faculty Guide Book. Moreover, I was told there was no appeal process, and that I was prohibited from discussing this matter with anyone. Thus, circle of oppression was completed.
It happens that both President and Dean in the management capacity are white.
Their fabrication of accusations is outrageous: for example, they alleged that when I took my students to an eco-farm, I “required” students to go into a hot tub with me, and created an environment where a male student could touch a female student’s body. When some students went for the hot tub at the farm, it was after the class and students were left free to do whatever they wanted to. I was nowhere near the hot tub.
They also claimed that I lay down crying on the floor for hours in one of our Native American holy rituals, letting a co-teacher massage my body and asking students to affirm me. These allegations are not facts.
I see these accusations as white women’s imagination of “Academic pornography” projected onto the body of woman of color faculty.
They also accused me of not fulfilling my academic teaching units in that academic year. The fact is, I taught one class more than other professors.
They added more allegations: I abused, threatened, retaliated, and forced students to do things. These are more fabricated narratives.
With all my humility and through the students’ evaluation of the faculty in recent years, it is not exaggeration that I am seen as one of the most beloved and trusted faculty members at Union by our students. I see this in most of students’ evaluations. Thus, in their attempt to humiliate me, they attempt to dishonor me as a professor. Indeed, we are witnessing a form of “Academic Honor killing” in every sense of the words.
It also feels like a “Witch Hunting” for me because of these treatments I state below: along with these false accusations, this administration took away my right to hire teaching fellows for next six semesters; withdrew funding for a Special Ecumenical Program I have administered since the beginning of my tenure at Union. Instead, I am required to receive prior approval from the Dean and I create a new course each year for next three years. To harass me more, they took away my sabbatical; required that I undergo personal psycho-therapy and report back to the Dean. To break the camel’s back, they prohibited me from discussing this matter with any one, under the threat of further punishment if I did.
I was, and am, enraged and devastated by such treatment. Here I must draw the “Power of Anger in the Work of Love” which my feminist mentor from Union, Professor Beverly Harrison taught me. I decided to fight to correct these wrongs. Anyone who respects democratic process and basic human rights knows that they must give the accused a chance to tell their truth. Due process includes both a fair hearing and an opportunity to appeal. Imposing a gag order and threatening more punishment should be anathema to an institution like Union Theological Seminary which proudly claims social justice as the core value of its spiritual and educational mission. I see a deep split between what we say who we are and who we really are. If we cannot integrate this split we become a “social justice pimp,” or Jesus would call a “white washed tomb.”
I believe that I became the target of harassment for several protest actions I participated at Union: the administration’s firing of a black woman staff just one day before the Womanist Conference she had spent months organizing; supported two doctoral students who were pushed out to leave due to their activism at Union; joined the public opposition to the sale of Union property and air rights to a developer for building a high rise luxury condo in Union’s quad. And I raised questions of fairness and transparency in their leadership. Watching the state of Union at present, one of our theological ancestors, Reinhold Niebuhr would cry out from his grave, “absolute power absolutely corrupts!”
To address the “corrective actions” I received last fall semester, I spent a lot of money on lawyers to help me protect my rights, but negotiation conditions Union presented by their lawyers was simply not acceptable. During the Holy Week and Easter, I had a prayer and meditation retreat where I realized that I had to trust god more than lawyers. I cried and repented my lack of trust in God.
Therefore, I stand here before my beloved community, to call for creating a Truth and Reconciliation Commission at Union Theological Seminary. We are teachers and students who proclaim the possibility of building peace and justice, reconciliation and forgiveness, beloved community and true healing. I urge the Union community to have the process of truth telling, restoring justice, and reconciliation with the help of leadership specialists from outside, to heal the trauma caused by violation among for members, especially people of color, including myself.
I want to conclude my manifesto with a confession. After agonizing over these “corrective actions” against me for seven months, I sought advice from my mentor, Professor James Cone, who taught at Union for 50 years. He said, “Yes, you have to tell the truth, always. Your soul needs to be free. You will be alright.”
I then recalled a 24 year old female Korean student activist: locked in a torture chamber, refusing to sign the fabricated facts and gag order issued by a military officer serving the military dictatorship, standing over her. As she was about to lose consciousness, she felt a soft, warm hand holding hers. Out of nowhere, she heard the chanting of the Psalm, “ God is my Shepard, I shall not fear....even though I walk through the valley of death..... God will keep me and lead me to the calm water.”
After that life changing experience, I chose to become a feminist liberation theologian who can fight against all forms of torture and violence, guided by God’s unfailing Love and Justice. I have faith that the God who saved me from that torture chamber in Korea will save me again in this academic torture chamber of false allegation and gag order from this institute—Union Theological Seminary.
I trust that by speaking truth against lies and violence by academic institutions, I can encourage others in academia to break their silence and join me in this # Academic Me Too movement. We must decide whether we will become Dietrich Bonhoeffer who fought against fascism, or Martin Heidegger who supported the oppressive system with his brilliant scholarship and silence.
Thank you for hearing me out. May the God of liberation help us tell truth always, wherever we are.
.May peace and justice be with you.
Tara Hyun Kyung Chung
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