Issue a public statement declaring that the College does not condone the racism and dehumanization that has come forward in the Facebook post of a philosophy professor at Connecticut College
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On March 8, a philosophy professor who made the above remarks about Palestinians issued an apology in The College Voice for a post on his personal Facebook page (published publicly in August 2014) that caused widespread alarm in the campus community. The professor's apology was in response to three Letters to the Editors published in the March 2, 2015 edition of The Voice written by three current students and an alum.
Since then, two emails have been sent out from the President of Connecticut College asking for our participation in an event that has been planned for March 25th in which the community will “reflect.”
What is missing from all of this is any desire for the senior administration of the College as a whole to develop the competency to identify racism when we see it. This is a vital component of our advancement with regards to inclusive excellence.
For the students who brought the issue forward, President Bergeron has said: "I commend them and many others for their courage." However, victims of racism who have had to publicly fight racism on their own need more than the College's admiration. Commendation is not a substitute for actual, public support or an excuse to leave the work of combating institutional racism to a handful of minority students.
The senior administration of the College has refused to publicly acknowledge the racist nature of what has occurred and has not taken steps to remedy this problem. We demand an end to silence.
We the undersigned acknowledge the professor's apology and hope that it is a sign of enhanced understanding of what precisely constitutes racist speech. We firmly believe and uphold the principle of free speech - free speech, moreover, that entitles one to their racist, homophobic, sexist, bigoted or violently hateful opinions.
We do not believe censoring the professor to be the answer. That we are in disagreement with his opinions does not mean we wish to silence them, because, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union,
“...speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When one of us is denied this right, all of us are denied.”
But if he has his right to free speech, we have our right to disagree with him. Let us briefly explain why his post is racist in no uncertain terms. Here are some of the opening lines of the professor's original post:
“You’ve got a rabid pit bull chained in a cage, regularly making mass efforts to escape. The owner, naturally, keeps the thing in the cage, but being kind-hearted or something regularly feeds it, waters it, takes care of its health needs, etc.”
It is clear that regardless of whom the professor is addressing here, he is indisputably dehumanizing them. Dehumanization is a tool of racism. Dehumanization has been used all throughout human history to justify genocide, colonialism and hatred of many communities.
The College has promised us inclusive excellence, and inclusive excellence demands calling racism by its name every time it is encountered. As the ACLU states, the College must:
“Fight hate speech with more speech.”
But by turning this issue into individual grievances, the administration has effectively silenced the collective demand for counter speech that has ensued. The President said about this incident that,
“Since this has been raised, members of the senior administration have been meeting with those who have brought forward concerns, and have been working to facilitate face-to-face dialogues that will bring greater understanding on both sides.”
We believe that the President's call for “greater understanding on both sides” colludes with racism. It increases the damage caused by racist language and further racializes and marginalizes already marginal communities. Such language flattens and ambiguates the directionality of the assault, places responsibility on the victims of racism to labor over its alleviation alone, and leaves open the possibility that there may be justifications in using racist language that victims of racism need to understand. This is irresponsible and has served to create a hostile educational environment for the numerous victims of racism, their allies, and potential future victims of racism on this campus.
According to the ACLU,
“Universities are obligated to create an environment that fosters tolerance and mutual respect among members of the campus community, an environment in which all students can exercise their right to participate fully in campus life without being discriminated against. Campus administrators on the highest level should, therefore, speak out loudly and clearly against expressions of racist, sexist, homophobic and other bias, and react promptly and firmly to acts of discriminatory harassment...”
We demand that the entire senior administration of College engage publicly in free speech on behalf of its angered and disquieted community, expressly declaring that it condemns the racist sentiments of the professor and asking that the backlash against students who have publicly identified the professor's racism for what it was cease with immediate effect.
The College should recognize that this issue is not limited to the single incident of the professor's statements. Rather, since we as a community inhabit a racist world, the issue lives with us. We demand that the College recognize that any and every experience of racist or bigoted language of any kind warrants swift, decisive and public counter-speech from its senior administration, especially if the College wishes to continue declaring its “commitment to diversity.”
We want to believe in inclusive excellence. But without knowing that the College is publicly able to identify and denounce racism, we refuse to take part in its post-racial fantasy.
We as a community demand proof that all minorities on this campus merit more than just an empty promise.
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