A controversial op-ed co-written by Penn Law School professor Amy Wax, which said, "All cultures are not created equal," has generated a firestorm across campus.
The column, headlined, "Paying the price for breakdown of the country's bourgeois culture," was published Thursday on Philly.com and was co-authored by Larry Alexander, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law.
On social media, students and some faculty have erupted in outrage over Wax's op-ed and subsequent statements to The Daily Pennsylvanian, where she argued that white, Anglo-Protestant culture is superior and said, "Everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans."
The pro-union group Graduate Employees Together — University of Pennsylvania, better known as GET-UP, blasted Wax's op-ed as "hateful and regressive" and called on Penn President Amy Gutmann to condemn it.
"As a diverse community, and a community that we strive to make even more diverse, we reject the premise that cultures can be neatly separated and placed into a moral pecking order, with the so-called 'bourgeois culture' of the 1950s white upper middle class at the top," reads the statement, which is also published on GET-UP's website. "We are outraged that a representative of our community upholds, and published, these hateful and regressive views."
Tali Ziv, a GET-UP member who is pursuing a Ph.D in anthropology, said GET-UP felt the need to become involved in the debate over Wax's op-ed, as the organization represents a diverse array of individuals, many of whom felt targeted by her piece.
“We are all the things that Wax says should lead to failure, yet we are at the top of our field,” the statement reads.
Ziv added that GET-UP’s statement, which was composed by the group's central coordinating committee, appeared more necessary given the Penn administration's silence on the matter amid the divisive political climate.
“This is a moment for GET-UP to say, ‘We have a different vision and we won’t stand behind these things at an institution that we call home,’” she said. “I think it’s a really troubling moment, but also an exciting one for us to forge a different vision."
Stephen MacCarthy, a University spokesperson, said in a phone conversation that Gutmann has been traveling on business and would be unavailable to comment.
"The views expressed in the article are those of the individual authors," said Steven Barnes, a Penn Law spokesperson, in an email to the DP. "They are not a statement of Penn Law's values or institutional policies."
Wax, a legal scholar who has written about race, affirmative action and the family's role in the modern economy, identified "single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites," the "anti-‘acting white' rap culture of inner-city blacks" and the "anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants" as "not suited for a First World, 21st-century environment."
Rising College and Wharton sophomore and College Republicans Editorial Board Co-Director Michael Moroz defended the ideas in Wax's piece and suggested that those opposed to her idea of 'ranking cultues' misinterpreted the op-ed.
“[People] have a noble instinct toward parity. They want to say that every culture is equal,” he said. “You don’t have to be a bigot or anything to say that certain cultures succeed more."
For instance, he said, cultures that subjugate women do not achieve desirable outcomes because they block half their constituents from achieving prosperity.
“There are some liberal instincts that could actually justify the argument,” he said. “If you have cultures that are not treating everyone equally and not allowing people to succeed, then that’s a negative thing.”
Moroz said the predominantly liberal political climate at Penn has exacerbated the divisiveness surrounding this issue.
"I do think [the campus news coverage of Wax's op-ed] shows a level of, perhaps, bias — not even intentional — but on a subconscious level, that this seems newsworthy to people who don’t hear these kinds of notions on a regular basis and thus believe them to be some kind of evidence of bigotry," he said.
Nelson Flores, an assistant professor in educational linguistics at the Graduate School of Education, responded to Wax's op-ed on Twitter. (Flores' tweet was first highlighted by Philadelphia magazine.)
"She is correct about one thing," he wrote. "Not all cultures are equal. Some, like 'US bourgeois' culture were built on the exploitation of others."
She is correct about one thing. Not all cultures are equal. Some, like "US bourgeois" culture were built on the exploitation of others.— Nelson Flores (@nelsonlflores) August 11, 2017
Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym, a 1993 College graduate and former DP editor, called Wax's comments "miserable" on Twitter.
Wax, however, was unfazed by what she called "mindless name calling."
"If this is the best Penn professors and grad students can do, our culture really is in trouble," she said in an email.
Correction: A previous version of this article included the word "charity" in a quotation when the actual word said was "parity." The Daily Pennsylvanian regrets the error.