Mental Health Professionals Bring Lawsuit Against Stanford
Antisemitism at Stanford University reveals problems with "wokecraft."
Posted June 28, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
Why are people across the country too afraid to publicly admit that they think Robin D’Angelo’s “white fragility” is nonsense? Or that Ibram Kendi’s version of “antiracism” is the farthest thing from an antidote to racism? Why are so many afraid to support Israel’s right to exist? Or even condemn antisemitism? Or defend those who are unfairly maligned for doing any of the above?
When critical theory replaces critical thinking, it erodes ethics, degrades care, and creates a hostile environment. A recent lawsuit against Stanford University illustrates how.
Legitimate concerns about inequality, discrimination, bigotry, and justice, are widespread, and there are many ways to address those concerns. Regardless of what anyone thinks about the above propositions, no one should fear expressing them. But the culture of free expression once enjoyed in the U.S. has been transformed by a totalizing, cult-like ideology that has an almost magical ability to create popular interpretations impervious to disconfirmation. It appears to have cast a metaphorical spell over various fields, including education, media, journalism, technology, and even psychotherapy and psychiatry.
Building on the now-popular term “woke,” I have come to call this ideology, wokecraft. I use the metaphor of a spell because among believers are people in fields that rely on logic, reason, and science but who nonetheless appear unable to see that many of wokecraft's definitions — including new definitions of racism and antiracism — are tautological, and many of its foundational concepts (such as white fragility, white privilege, and microaggressions) are unfalsifiable.
Science requires its terms to have linear definitions and its premises to be falsifiable — in other words, there must be conditions under which a proposition can be proven wrong. Ideological premises, on the other hand, do not require falsifiability. Baldness, for example, is defined as a scalp wholly or partly lacking hair. The logical proposition that a person is bald can be falsified (proven wrong) by the presence of a full head of hair. An ideology, on the other hand, might redefine baldness as “ideas about baldness that produce and normalize baldness.” Believers might claim that all heads are bald regardless of the presence of long and luxurious hair. In fact, hair might be evidence of a refusal to accept one's baldness.
Despite its unfalsifiable propositions, wokecraft, which relies on cognitive distortions, is making its way into psychological science and clinical practice. And this is corrupting competence and eroding professional ethics.
In 2018, for example, the APA produced its first set of “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men,” which infamously declared “traditional masculinity” to be “harmful.” The APA later clarified that the alleged harm resulted from “extreme stereotypical behaviors.” But that only illustrated the unempirical nature of the proposition. (How and when did “traditional masculinity” come to be defined by “extreme stereotypical behaviors”?)
To make matters worse, the guidelines called on clinicians to develop in their male clients “awareness of [male] privilege and the harmful impacts of beliefs and behaviors that maintain patriarchal power.” I argued then that not only was this countertherapeutic — because clients need to trust that their sessions will not be devoted to their therapists’ ideologies — but that the guidelines violated the APA’s own ethical requirements, including that clinical psychologists “respect the dignity and worth of all people” and respect each individual’s right to “self-determination.”
Now Stanford University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has come under wokecraft's spell. When CAPS initiated a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program, White Fragility was the chosen book, and personnel were segregated into “affinity groups,” each of which met separately. Those who did not fit neatly into wokecraft's non-white categories were required to participate in a “whiteness accountability” group for “staff who hold privilege via white identity” — regardless of whether they identified as “white” or felt such “affinity.”
This included Jews.
Jewish psychiatrist Ron Albucher, MD, and Jewish psychotherapist and eating disorders specialist Sheila Levin pushed back, but were met with antisemitic tropes: Jews, with their wealth and privilege, were hiding behind their “white” identity.
After a zoombombing that included both racist and antisemitic images, Albucher and Levin were informed that only the racism, not antisemitism, was worth addressing. When Albucher vocally rejected the notion that antisemitism should not be discussed in these meetings, staff accused him of being a person with “white privilege” attempting to pull focus from anti-black racism. Even when antisemitic graffiti appeared on campus, their requests to discuss antisemitism were denied.
For expressing concern about DiAngelo’s contention that wanting to discuss one’s ancestors’ struggles contributes to racism and is evidence of white fragility, Levin was labeled a “Jewish, white, cisgendered woman of great privilege and power” who allowed her “fragility” to prevent her from “true self-reflection.”
The child of two Holocaust survivors, Levin had a strong and negative reaction to the experience of being denied the right to define herself. In the 20th century, having been forcibly classified as non-white by non-Jews, “my people were murdered because we were seen as contaminants to the white race,” she said. In the 21st century, when being white is now the morally contaminated category, non-Jews at Stanford forcibly classified Jews as white.
Meanwhile, amid alarming increases in anti-Jewish sentiment and antisemitic hate crimes, rather than Stanford mental health professionals preparing themselves to treat Jewish students struggling with this reality, they are being trained in how to perpetuate it.
Albucher and Levin found private support, but no one else was willing to publicly speak up. Cancel culture, the great enforcer, did its job.
Critics of the “cancel culture” moniker often note that few people are truly canceled. The real problem, however, is the culture. Perhaps a more accurate descriptor is a culture of undue influence.
The American Medical Association’s code of ethics requires medical professionals to refrain from using undue influence. Specifically, they are not allowed to pressure colleagues to participate in advocacy activities and should not punish colleagues, overtly or covertly, for deciding not to participate. What happened to Levin and Albucher appears to be a clear violation of that standard — not to mention a violation of the APA ethical standards mentioned above.
Both Levin and Albucher notified HR, but the antisemitic nature of the DEI program only worsened, eventually explicitly asserting that “Jews are connected to white supremacy.” After more than a year of an unwelcoming and hostile climate, Levin and Albucher finally brought a civil rights case against Stanford.
Stanford's counseling center may lead the pack in breaching its ethical obligations, but it is far from alone. Until either the culture of undue influence ends or enough people break the spell of wokecraft — and are willing to suffer the consequences of speaking up — we are likely to see a continued decline in psychiatric and psychotherapeutic quality of care along with a continued corruption of professional ethics. ♦
Pamela Paresky, PhD, is Visiting Senior Research Associate at the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at the University of Chicago, Senior Scholar at the Network Contagion Research Institute, and the author of the guided journal, A Year of Kindness. Dr. Paresky's opinions are her own and should not be considered official positions of any organization with which she is affiliated. Follow her on Twitter @PamelaParesky, on Clubhouse @Paresky, and subscribe to her Newsletter: Paresky.Substack.com