January 2024 Newsletter: Claudine Gay and The Oppression Playbook on Full Display

Claudine Gay and The Oppression Playbook on Full Display

The systematic takedown of Harvard University president Claudine Gay that led to her resignation last week was gutting, but not surprising nor was it unique in the way it was done. 

Every step comes from a playbook that has been frequently used to vilify, discredit, or deny power to leaders who, by the nature of their social identities, threaten the existing power structure created by and for the dominant identity group (e.g., White, cisgender, Male). Note the following: the three university presidents brought to testify before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about antisemitism on college campuses in early December were all women, one being the first Black person and first Black woman to run the nation’s most well-known university. As Katherine Knott stated in an article in Inside Higher Education, it’s not entirely clear why these three particular presidents were called to Capitol Hill, considering that many campuses across the country have grappled with protests, rising tensions and finding a balance between promoting free expression and keeping students safe.” 

I do not believe it was a coincidence. This follows a historic moment in which six out of eight Ivy League institutions hired female presidents after years of stagnant numbers of women in leadership positions across academia, not to mention significant efforts to make progress toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in these institutions. 

These women were marked as easy targets. They were damned no matter how they responded to their interrogators. Conservative leaders publicly made it clear their intentions were to take each of these women down, with Congresswoman Elise Stefanik stating, “One down…two to go,” following the resignation of Liz Magill at UPenn. In the instance of Dr. Gay, conservative activist Chris Rufo publicly stated on X, “we launched the Claudine Gay plagiarism story from the Right. The next step is to smuggle it into the media apparatus of the Left, legitimizing the narrative to center-left actors who have the power to topple her. Then squeeze.” He went on to say he and co-author Chris Brunet “waited for the precise moment of maximum impact,” and “the plagiarism scandal could be the final nail in Gay’s coffin.

No matter that Harvard found no willful wrongdoing, or that most of the authors whose work Gay is alleged to have misused do not see it as plagiarism, or that her academic work has been broadly recognized for its contributions to her field. The narrative was now complete. A Black woman who dared to rise to a seat of power was now marked as an inept leader, a subpar scholar, and a cheater. 

Again, this is the playbook in action and those using it are not disguising their intent. Rather, they are gleefully showing us every part of their strategy.

Unfortunately, when accomplished scholars representing minoritized groups like Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ibram X. Kendi speak out to expose this wrongful vilification for the systematic racism and sexism it represents, their arguments are dismissed and they are labeled racial grifter” and “historical fiction writer” by conservatives, which summarily denies the extensive (and widely acclaimed) research these individuals have done to unveil the deep historical roots of inequity and oppression.  

However, when members of the dominant identity group, such as Mark Cuban, speak up, people pay attention. We must have more White people, particularly White men, speaking openly about the systems of oppression that continue to put a mark on the back of women and minoritized leaders. We need White men to use their positions of power to continuously push for DEI as a strategic imperative in our institutions. I would suggest they go even further. White male leaders like Mr. Cuban should validate and amplify the voices of minoritized leaders like Dr. Kendi and Dr. Hannah-Jones. 

The Oppression Playbook has been in use for so long that we often find ourselves feeling helpless to fight it. It is only through a concerted, collaborative effort with those who have benefitted by the Playbook but are willing to recognize its harm and fight against it that we can combat these forces.


Maria Morukian
Maria Morukian
Founder and President



MSM Global Updates

Private Screening of Ava DuVernay’s film ORIGIN
MSM Global Consulting will host a private screening on January 20th in Washington, DC of Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed new movie ORIGIN, based on Isabel Wilkerson’s bestselling book Caste: The Origins of our Discontents. Not only is the film a masterpiece, but all proceeds from this event will go toward the ORIGIN Social Impact Campaign, providing opportunities for underserved youth to see the film free of charge.  If you are in the DC area and would like to attend, go to https://pp.events/a8o96wlQ and RSVP! (Space is limited so sign up TODAY!)

In December we launched the pilot of Ember: Igniting and Sustaining a Community of Equity Practitioners! The vision for Ember is to ignite and sustain a joyous and liberated community of individuals committed to facilitating deep connections, fostering healing, and enacting change by engaging in and living out social justice, equity, and inclusion. We welcomed 12 participants for an intensive three day experience at The Pew Research Center in Washington, DC. Participants hailed from across sectors and industries, and all agreed on one thing. This experience was deeply needed and life-giving to all of us. Stay tuned for upcoming announcements of Ember dates in 2024!

Trends in Employee Perspectives of DEI- White Paper
As questions continue to arise around what is truly needed to make progress toward DEI, we turned to our clients and their employees to see what they think. We’ve just published a report based on data gathered since 2020 as part of MSM Global’s DEI culture assessments. This white paper shares the common themes that emerged from surveying over 3,400 respondents across industries and sectors.  It highlights the crucial role of DEI in shaping organizational culture, and delves into the common gaps employees perceive between leadership’s stated support and actual action toward DEI progress. The paper provides well-tested and practical recommendations to foster a culture of DEI in your organization.
Read the full report here

Celebrating the Two Year Anniversary of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Trainers: Fostering DEI in the Workplace
Maria Morukian’s first-of-its-kind book, published by ATD Press in 2020, has just turned 2! This book equips training and talent development professionals with a comprehensive guide to not only design and deliver effective DEI training, but also to embed DEI concepts and practices into the learning and development fabric of the organization. Learn more and order here!  

Engage For Success Radio Show #522: Better Communication to Foster Competent and Respectful Workplaces
Maria was invited to be a guest on the Engage for Success Radio Show, a UK-based show hosted by Andy Goram, that provides global HR and talent development professionals with insights into how to boost employee engagement. Maria and Andy discussed the global forces that are impacting diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and Maria shared promising practices for international leaders to build solid and sustainable efforts for DEI to foster more engaged teams. Go listen to it here.

Culture Stew

2023: A Moment with the MSM Global Consulting Team
In the last episode of 2023, Maria and Roger are joined by the rest of the MSM Global Consulting team.  The team shared what they are grateful for and the high moments from the past year at MSM Global Consulting. Tune in for a candid and inspiring discussion on preserving joy and commitment to the work of DEI in the face of pushback, complacency, and burnout.
Listen to the podcast here.
(Remember to write a review on your favorite podcast platforms.) 

MSM Global Gallery 

In “I’m Still Here,” Austin Channing Brown recounts her lifelong journey of navigating America’s racial divide, beginning with the realization at age seven that her name was chosen to deceive employers into assuming she was a White man. Growing up in predominantly White environments, Brown shares her quest to understand and love her Blackness, exploring the complexities of America’s social fabric from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to middle-class suburban schools and corporate boardrooms. The book offers a detailed examination of the challenges to achieving racial justice in institutions that claim to value diversity, inviting readers to confront apathy and recognize the transformative power of embracing Blackness.

In “White Fragility,” antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo offers a vital and beautiful exploration of the phenomenon of White fragility, shedding light on how racism is not limited to “bad people.” DiAngelo describes white fragility as the defensive reactions, including anger, fear, and guilt, that White individuals exhibit when confronted with racial challenges. These responses, such as argumentation and silence, work to maintain White racial equilibrium and hinder meaningful cross-racial dialogue. DiAngelo thoroughly examines the development of White fragility, its role in perpetuating racial inequality, and provides insights on engaging in more constructive conversations about race.

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 Content For Your Down Time

Here are some recommended videos, articles and books for your down time.

“All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely explores the lives of Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins, one Black and one White, forever altered by an extreme act of police brutality. Written in alternating perspectives, the story delves into the complications that arise from this violent incident, impacting their families, school, and town. As Rashad grapples with his role as a symbolic figure in the community’s response to police brutality, and Quinn confronts his place in a racially divided town, the narrative weaves together, offering a poignant exploration of healing and understanding in a country still plagued by racial injustice.

In “The Color of Law,” Richard Rothstein presents a masterful and essential history of the modern American metropolis, challenging the myth of de facto segregation by exposing how federal, state, and local governments actively enforced and reinforced neighborhood segregation. Rothstein details the systematic imposition of residential segregation through racial zoning, purposeful segregation in public housing, subsidies for whites-only suburbs, tax exemptions for segregation-enforcing institutions, and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods. This groundbreaking study has transformed our understanding of twentieth-century urban history, compelling readers to confront the obligation to remedy the unconstitutional past.


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