Vassar condemns “the behaviors this document advocates,” and has “identified the students believed to be responsible for its creation and distribution and began the student conduct process”
Students at numerous schools have created a “Disorientation Guide” to be distributed to incoming first-year students to offset official Orientation Guides.
I was mentioned in it, based on my lecture on free speech which generated fabricated campus hysteria and an attempt, endorsed by the Vassar Student Association, to prevent me from speaking.
The campus reaction after my appearance was quite different than the hysteria that preceded the event. One student wrote in the campus newspaper of the “misrepresentation of facts” regarding me that preceded my appearance. Another student wrote in a student publication devoted to political discourse:
“It’s time to acknowledge that H2A and the VSA lied to us.”
[H2A was the student activist group against my appearance, and VSA is the Vassar Student Association which wanted my lecture cancelled.]
Another student emailed me directly:
I attended your event at Vassar last month and I just wanted to say thank you the insightful free speech talk that you gave. This message is a little late, but these thoughts have been mulling around in my head for a while, so I thought that I should reach out you. When I first heard that you were going to give a talk on campus, I was totally swept up in the rumors that you were a white nationalist, xenophobic, racist man with ties to the alt-right (as many of my friends were – literally, students with official administrative positions mass spread these rumors, and the administration did nothing to denounce them). I was surprised to find a reasonable, nonpartisan argument about the importance of free speech. You started an important discussion on campus and you’ve motivated a change within myself.
The Guide referred to me as a “conservative and zionist law school professor.” That’s true, but the lecture at issue was not about Israel, so the need to categorize me as Zionist was a reflection of the pathology of campus politics among the radical left.
FALL 2017: Conservative and zionist law school professor William Jacobson speaks on campus with a lecture titled “An Examination of Hate Speech and Free Speech on College Campuses” Healing 2 Action (H2A) coordinates two really well attended planning meetings to plan some sort of protest of the event. Students established their own campus security force for the day of the event, alternative events were hosted in the library and other spaces around campus, and 150+ students actually attended the event. Rocky 300 was overcapacity, and students asked “tough questions,” but did not disrupt the event. William Jacobson speaks on campus with a lecture titled “An Examination of Hate Speech and Free Speech on College Campuses” Healing 2 Action (H2A) coordinates two really well attended planning meetings to plan some sort of protest of the event. Students established their own campus security force for the day of the event, alternative events were hosted in the library and other spaces around campus, and 150+ students actually attended the event. Rocky 300 was overcapacity, and students asked “tough questions,” but did not disrupt the event.
There also was a section on free speech, obviously a reaction to my appearance on campus. Here’s an excerpt (starting at p. 25 of the Guide):
Like many ‘liberal’ colleges, Vassar has found itself embroiled in claims that free speech is under attack and conservative voices are suppressed. Following backlash to conservative blogger William Jacobson’s speech on campus, he published an article titled “My profree speech views made me the target of a smear campaign at Vassar College”. Jacobson denounced “anti-free speech progressives” and claimed the criticism he faced sent the message “that support for the 1st Amendment and freedom of speech is not welcome”. Other articles like “It’s Tough Being Conservative At Vassar” and “Charlottesville 2.0? Leftists smear peaceful free speech activists” have furthered the idea of the intolerant left at Vassar and stirred up fear of liberal censorship….
The cry that one’s “free speech” is being infringed upon is often employed as a tool to distract from analyses of oppressive structures and promote a reactionary agenda. The far right is quick to draw attention to the seemingly outlandish responses they garner. In doing this, they divert from legitimate critiques of the deeply embedded white supremacy and fascist undertones of their movements. Playing up a narrative of the “intolerant left” and masquerading as victims, they gain space to further grow their organizations and terrorize vulnerable populations. In their call for a diversity of opinions, oppression is masked as just another different point of view. To consider alt-right rhetoric simply another perspective worth hearing out is to give fascism a platform. At a time when right-wing terror is spreading, allowing regressive speech to go unchallenged only spreads danger. As of right now, we are in a struggle for control, not a dialogue. Vassar does need a diversity of thought. It needs to be dismantled. Making room for reactionary voices will further legitimize hate. Instead, let’s start having critical conversations and get to work dismantling power imbalances. Only then in the absence of hierarchy, will we have the equal footing that is fundamental to speech that’s truly free.
That the creators of the Disorientation Guide felt obligated to devote so much space to me reflects that my speech had a positive impact on campus. And that’s good.
But there was a section of the Disorientation Guide which sparked much more controversy. As part of the attack on Zionists and Israel, the Guide called for students to “slap a Zionist” as part of many other actions students could take:
The reference to Ahed Tamimi refers to the Palestinian teen arrested for slapping an Israeli soldier. We covered the Ahed Tamimi case extensively.
Here are the full pages, which include calls to harass college President Elizabeth Bradley:
I have confirmed that after distribution of the Disorientation Guide, the following message was sent to the Vassar community in the form of a Safety Alert from Campus Security:
Dear Vassar Community Members,
Earlier today an electronic document was sent to a number of people across campus. This document, which is similar to documents distributed at several peer institutions in recent years, contains statements and images that advocate certain violent or discriminatory behaviors including overall threats as well as a threat being investigated as potentially anti-Semitic. Vassar College condemns the behaviors this document seeks to advance.
In an abundance of caution we wanted you to be aware of this situation.
We recommend that you utilize the Safety and Security shuttle which runs from 6pm to 2am weeknights and 6pm – 3am weekends. Should you find yourself in need of traversing the campus beyond the campus shuttle hours please call our office for an on-campus escort.
If you feel unsafe, please call the numbers listed below.
In addition we ask you to keep in mind that you play an integral role on campus. The national initiative on safe and responsible by-stander intervention which encourages reporting of suspicious activity is applicable in many situations. You are not encouraged to engage in confrontational behavior or report individuals based solely upon race, religion, gender sexual orientation and/or other characteristics described in Vassar College’s Nondiscrimination and Non-Harassment policy, and as protected by Federal or State law. You are urged to report behavior/activity/situations which may pose a safety risk or be criminal in nature.
The emergency contact numbers for Vassar College Safety & Security and area emergency responders are listed below for your reference.
Amanita Duga-Carroll, Vassar Vice President for Communications, forwarded the following statement from the college:
Vassar College learned Friday that an email was sent to about 400 students. The email was linked to a document on Google that is provocative of violence and anti-Semitism. Many groups are targeted, including Zionists.
We have taken swift action, immediately condemning the behaviors this document advocates, and launching an investigation into who was behind it. By Saturday morning we had identified the students believed to be responsible for its creation and distribution and began the student conduct process.
We have also worked to stop its distribution on our campus through electronic and print means.
We will continue to be vigilant to address these issues decisively and in a way that reinforces our deeply held values of community, respect, and engaged pluralism.
While there have been many actions over the past several years at Vassar to intimidate pro-Israel students and to demonize Zionism, this is the most swift action I’ve seen Vassar take. We will continue to follow the matter.
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