The board of a conference for women historians has condemned one of the event’s founders and apologized for making “racist, homophobic and anti-Muslim comments” in a speech last week.
The Berkshire Conference of Women Historians was published a long statement on Wednesday after uproar over the incident that reportedly prompted several guests to leave the group’s “Big Berks” 50th anniversary gathering at California’s Santa Clara University on Friday.
Lois Banner, a University of Southern California history professor emeritus who co-founded the event decades ago, said onstage that her professional life would have been easier if she had been black. Attendees told The Daily Beast.
Banner, who is white, also reportedly said she wishes she were a lesbian because they are good at community building and organizing.
“Banner was confronted by an onlooker for her racist remarks and refused to apologize or back down,” the conference statement said. “A lot of participants went out. The panel discussion eventually resumed, with moderators providing comments as planned.”
Banner didn’t immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment.
The organization said it “sincerely apologizes” for the incident and what it represents in its space and pledged to “initiate a period of action and meaningful change”.
“The very public racism observed at the 50th Anniversary Plenary is not the only example of this racial harm, but rather illustrates the ongoing racism and inequality in our organization, in the historical arena, and in our society at large,” it says in the statement.
The group said it acknowledged an under-representation of black scientists in decision-making positions “and the ongoing racism they face in our organization and in the spaces we create.”
“We will take concrete actions to address and resolve these issues, and affirm that the burden of these actions will not, as is often the case, rest on our Black and LGBTQ+ colleagues,” the statement continued .
To do this, a four-part plan of action was detailed, including improving opportunities for member feedback, making structural changes to the organization itself, and providing resources for scientists of color to support their attendance at meetings.
In a statement to HuffPost, USC said Banner retired from the university about a decade ago and “any comments she makes are her own and do not reflect the views of the university.”
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are among USC’s core institutional values. Our commitment to excellence in teaching, research and patient care depends on fostering an inclusive environment,” the university statement said.