Editorial: Satoshi Kanazawa does not belong on Northwestern’s campus

Satoshi Kanazawa has brought a lot of controversy to this campus. The visiting scholar is on campus for a year while on sabbatical from the London School of Economics, but has already raised anger for his research from a few years ago. Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, has published many racist articles — most notably, why black women are less physically attractive and how sub-Saharan Africans have low IQs that lead to high rates of poverty and disease. Dozens of other scientists in his field have denounced him or distanced themselves from his work, arguing his views are not “objective” at all, and his articles do not properly represent their goals as researchers.

So why has Northwestern fought to keep him?

In an email last week, Provost Jonathan Holloway said he recently discovered the vetting system used for Kanazawa was “weak” and that other professors were “unaware” of the visiting scholar’s past controversial work. The psychology department has resolved to modify their vetting system for the future.

As students, we don’t know what specific systems or criteria are used to accept or reject potential visiting scholars, professors and other faculty members. We don’t even know the extent of his role on this campus — the email failed to clarify the relationship between Kanazawa and Northwestern’s psychology department. However, Kanazawa passed whatever criteria the department required to come here.

Prof. Richard Zinbarg, the psychology department chair at Northwestern who approved Kanazawa’s request, told The Daily last month he was “not aware” of the controversies. Meanwhile, a simple Google search of his name is enough to pull up several articles about his racist views, work controversies and more; many of the pieces themselves are available online as well.

The University is now standing by his presence on campus, superseding whatever failed vetting system used to be in place. Students and community members have thoughtfully voiced their frustration with the email and Kanazawa’s presence: a student-led petition has over 4,000 signatures as of Tuesday, and many spoke about their concerns using social media (even using the hashtag #NU2023 to inform new early decision students) and sent emails to high-level administrators including Holloway. Psychology department faculty also sent a letter to Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph in October, writing that Kanazawa’s level of scholarship is not on par with that of the department’s and his presence makes many faculty members “uneasy.”

Despite all of this, Holloway stated in his email that Kanazawa’s personal views “cannot be a reason to undermine the vital principle of intellectual freedom.” The provost went on to emphasize the University holds the principles of “diversity, equity and inclusion” in high regard.

But this upholds a false idea of “intellectual freedom.” Kanazawa’s body of work — with articles titled “What’s Wrong with Muslims?” and “Are All Women Essentially Prostitutes?” — is yet another example of science being used to discredit and discriminate against people of color, women and those of marginalized identities. It’s a tactic that’s been in the playbook of eugenicists, white supremacists and misogynists for centuries. While those types of studies may seem individual or inconsequential in the big picture, they have and continue to contribute to dangerous and pervasive stereotypes we still see today.

The University must recognize Kanazawa’s work is no exception to these dangerous ideas.

Defending his presence on this campus using buzzwords like “diversity” and “equity” invalidates the hard work students and faculty have done to make this institution a more welcoming and inclusive place. Their activism does not seem to matter — the University has prioritized “ideological diversity” over the actual, tangible inclusion we crave and need. By its actions, Northwestern has shown it prioritizes a troubling image of academic freedom far above the safety and wellbeing of the marginalized students it’s tried to court.

As of now, Kanazawa will continue to get to use the Northwestern name for a year, and benefit from the weight it carries in the research world long after. His stay not only reflects on his personal character, but also demonstrates that we condone racism and sexism as an institution. We urge the University to put its students first and fully by denouncing both Kanazawa’s former research and revoke his year-long stay on this campus. Northwestern: put action behind the buzzwords administrators regularly employ.

This piece represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board of The Daily Northwestern. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members or Editorial Board members of The Daily Northwestern.