On Thursday May 22, The Institute of Politics hosted a seminar with Dan Savage, a gay advice columnist who has a history of making numerous misogynstic, biphobic, transphobic, and racist comments. The seminar was moderated by current IOP fellow Ana Marie Cox, a blogger for The Guardian. Throughout the conversation both Savage and Cox used a transphobic slur repeatedly, supposedly in the context of explaining why the word was “problematic”. When this first started to occur, a trans student repeatedly asked them not to use the slur and tried to explain why it was offensive. Cox and Savage then proceeded to argue with the student, saying they had a right to use the word. Afterwards, Savage continued to use the slur despite knowing it was making students feel unsafe and both Cox and the IOP staff did nothing to stop him. This action upset the student to the point that they had to leave the room in a state of distress.
The usage of this slur constitutes hate speech, which is frankly unacceptable. There is a difference between respecting open discourse and permitting hate speech—a distinction that the IOP does not seem to understand. Both Ana Marie Cox, as the moderator, and the IOP staff have a responsibility to stop hate speech in order to maintain a safe and accessible space for students where respectful open discourse can actually occur. They failed to do this. The IOP proudly asserts its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and civil discourse. In order to stay true to these values, we demand that the IOP publicly apologize for failing to stop the use of the transphobic slur during the seminar and assert a commitment to preventing the use of slurs and hate speech in the future.
**((UPDATE: In response to the IOP's statement--Warning that this part is very long; do not feel obligated to read it if you don't still have burning questions/ skepticism/etc :
"Last week at a Fellows seminar, a guest used language that provoked a spirited debate. The speaker was discussing how hurtful words can be re-purposed and used to empower; at no point did he direct any slurs at anyone. We acknowledge that some students found the discussion personally offensive and applaud them for strongly challenging the speaker, which was absolutely appropriate. To exclude or sanction him would not have been."
This is disgustingly misleading. Originally, Cox and Savage used the t-slur in the context of a mix of things: including "how hurtful words can be re-purposed and used to empower" (including by people who they never apply to?! Would Dan Savage have made the same argument about the n-word, and would the IOP have released the same statement in response??), and how they "used to" use the word, etc. They weren't pointing at anyone and saying "you are a [t-slur]" or whatever, so--if we're going to be very, VERY generous--it's plausible that at first they wouldn't have thought that their use of the word in this context was offensive. Ok.
However, first of all: Cox's original use of the word was, "I used to make jokes about [t-slurs]", which is using the word to describe trans people, and is thus an outright use of the slur. If she was merely discussing her past use of the word, she would have said something like, "I used to make jokes about trans people in which I called them [t-slurs]". Secondly, once Savage and Cox started using the word, a trans student in the audience (politely) explained to them, multiple times, that the word--even in the context in which they were using it!--was deeply hurtful to that student (as well as at least some other students in the room). Savage (1) listed off a list of other slurs that he specifically called upon the student to answer whether they were acceptable for him to use, thereby intimidating and targeting that student, (2) directly told that specific student that "if I say the phrase t-slur rather then the actual word, my eyes will roll so hard that you will feel more violated then if I say the word itself", which the student explicitly protested was not the case, and (3) then continued to use the slur anyway, which made the trans student so distressed that they had to run out of the room in tears.
Additionally, no one ever claimed that Dan Savage should have been "excluded", or even that he should not have been able to discuss his ideas about language use/slurs...just that he should not have been allowed to use *actual slurs*--especially when repeatedly asked to stop--which made the event an unsafe space for trans students.
All of which are things we have discussed at length in our meetings with the IOP, to no avail it appears, even though during our original meeting on Friday Steve Edwards and Dillan Siegler overtly agreed with us that the language used at this event was "dehumanizing" and went beyond mere "open discourse" and "spirited debate". This is such a gross and unacceptable response from them....friendly reminder to please sign the petition!))**
- Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago
Denounce and prohibit the use of slurs at IOP events
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