On the modern campus chock full of microaggression bureaucracies and monitoring, no gesture no matter how small escapes scrutiny.
An excellent Open Letter to the President of the Vassar College from a Vassar alumnus, published in the student newspaper, is a must read as to what happened when I spoke at Vassar on “hate speech” and free speech. President Elizabeth Bradley’s response is here.
That letter exchange was the subject of my post, Alum to Vassar College President: “You owe Professor Jacobson a public apology”, which has even more detailed background.
That letter exchange also caused me to go back and look at a letter from the Executive Board of the Vassar Student Association (the student government) to Vassar’s President, demanding my appearance be cancelled. After lodging a series of accusations against me, the VSA letter concluded:
…. We strongly urge you, on account of students undergoing serious and real pain, to take our words and ideas seriously, and work towards breaching the contract, ultimately preventing him from coming to campus on Wednesday. On account of the timeframe under which we are operating, we urge the College to undertake speedy and urgent action, as outlined in the beginning of this communication, for the wellbeing of our community. We also urge you to denounce the sentiments and ideologies underlying these types of events, instrumentalizing the language of“free speech” to allow a platform for hate .
We urge you to think critically about these things. Rather than just engaging the abstract, we urge you to understand how these ideas have physical implications for the safety and well-being of real students on this campus . Ideas are not merely esoteric concepts; they have historically (and presently) been used to silence and justify extreme violence. William Jacobson’s rhetoric and worldview is an illustrative example of where we locate this violence; this is not “free speech.” This is sanctioned violence hiding behind the veneer of liberalism.
The VSA Executive Board
The letter was widely circulated on campus. To her credit, Vassar’s President did not cancel the appearance.
I’m not going to publish the entire VSA letter, since it contains numerous inaccuracies and distortions. But one accusation was so absurd as to be worthy of highlight to illustrate the intolerance that has swept so many campuses.
The VSA and/or other student groups put together a research team to scour my writings at Legal Insurrection to back up their argument that my appearance should be cancelled. One of the examples they used in their letter to the president referred to my post, All is proceeding as dreaded — A follow up to my DREAD-ful 9th Blog Anniversary post.
The post utilized the image that is the featured image to this post.
It was a selfie I took at the Cornell “Take A Knee” Faculty Protest. When I took the selfie, I intended simply to show that I was standing while others knelt, my way of protesting the protest without disrupting my colleagues doing their thing.
But when I saw the selfie, I realized that I captured two white people standing behind me with their fists in the air during the moment of silence and kneeling. I have no idea, and don’t care, who they are or whether they are faculty, staff or community members. But it struck me as somewhat humorous to have two obviously “woke” “virtue signaling” not-exactly-young white people raising their fists this way, as if they were Tommie Smith and John Carlos, with me in the foreground.
Referring to that post and featured image, I stood accused by the VSA Executive Board in their letter demanding my appearance be cancelled of cultural “appropriation” and disrespect for the civil rights movement:
“He utilizes a picture in which two white people appear to be raising their fists in the same symbolic manner as the Black Panther Party, this is clear appropriation and disrespect of the Civil Rights movement”
Of course, there’s nothing about the photo that is a cultural appropriation by me, or disrespectful to the Civil Rights movement. I wasn’t the one with my fist in the air, it was the two “woke” attendees participating in the protest.
And even if I were the one raising my fist, who’s to say raising a fist in the air is the exclusive property of the Black Panther or Civil Rights movements? We all share symbols and speech and mannerisms from others. It’s what happens in a healthy, tolerant society. But on the modern campus chock full of microaggression bureaucracies and monitoring, no gesture no matter how small escapes scrutiny.
But there’s a bigger picture here.
It’s something we are seeing more and more on college campuses. The intent of the speaker or alternative explanations don’t matter. It’s the feelings of those hearing or seeing the speech that controls. If students seeing that image view it as appropriation, then it’s appropriation. It’s a way of enforcing ideological uniformity.
A comment to the Open Letter put it succinctly:
… I don’t know what happened to Vassar but the situation is out of control and scary. The intolerance for others who do not hold the same beliefs is frightening.”
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