Several readers have pointed out that 29 people from the Claremont College group (a consortium of 5 schools) signed a letter saying that “objectivity” and “truth” are not real, but are bogus ideas used to “silence oppressed people” and promote white supremacy . The student letter (full version here), addressed to Pomona College President David Oxtoby, is a response to an email Oxtoby sent about Heather Mac Donald’s April 7 talk at Claremont McKenna College’s (CMC) Athenaeum. (MacDonald, who describes herself as a “secular conservative”, talked—or tried to talk (see below)—about her book The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe, which, according to Amazon, makes this argument:
It deconstructs the central narrative of the Black Lives Matter movement: that racist cops are the greatest threat to young black males. On the contrary, it is criminals and gangbangers who are responsible for the high black homicide death rate.
The War on Cops exposes the truth about officer use of force and explodes the conceit of “mass incarceration.” A rigorous analysis of data shows that crime, not race, drives police actions and prison rates. The growth of proactive policing in the 1990s, along with lengthened sentences for violent crime, saved thousands of minority lives. In fact, Mac Donald argues, no government agency is more dedicated to the proposition that “black lives matter” than today’s data-driven, accountable police department.
In today’s political climate, where some argue that all police are racist and nearly all black people killed by cops are instances of racism, you can see why this thesis would be controversial. But it’s not “hate speech,” and it’s certainly worth discussing the data. Mac Donald argues that many black communities want more policing because of the prevalance of black-on-black crime.
When Mac Donald spoke at Pomona (she had to be livestreamed because students blocked the entrance to the auditorium), pandemonium ensued (see below), and Oxtoby wrote an email that inspired the student response. The President, according to the Atlantic (which defended Mac Donald’s right to speak) said this among other things in his defense of free speech:
“Protest has a legitimate and celebrated place on college campuses” . . . “What we cannot support is the act of preventing others from engaging with an invited speaker. Our mission is founded upon the discovery of truth, the collaborative development of knowledge and the betterment of society. Our shared commitment to these values is critical to educating leaders who are prepared to craft solutions to the most complex problems we face.”
That didn’t sit well with the Claremont students, who responded with their ridiculous denial of the concept of “truth” and demanded that President Oxtoby not only answer their letter, but also issue an email retracting his initial defense of free speech. Because only 29 student signed the letter, I won’t analyze it in detail; suffice it to say that this is what happens when postmodernism meets Regressive Leftism, promoting prose laden with jargon and buzzwords, as well as invidious denial of a concept of truth. An excerpt from the student letter:
[Oxtoby’s] statement contains unnuanced views surrounding the academy and a belief in searching for some venerated truth. Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of ‘subjectivity vs. objectivity’ as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth–’the Truth’–is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples. We, Black students, exist with a myriad of different identities. We are queer, trans, differently-abled, poor/low-income, undocumented, Muslim, first-generation and/or immigrant, and positioned in different spaces across Africa and the African diaspora. The idea that we must subject ourselves routinely to the hate speech of fascists who want for us not to exist plays on the same Eurocentric constructs that believed Black people to be impervious to pain and apathetic to the brutal and violent conditions of white supremacy.
The letter goes on to accuse Mac Donald of being “a white supremacist fascist supporter of the police state”, and also demands that if anybody sends hate mail to or harasses the letter’s signatories, the senders be punished, up to expulsion. Finally, it demands that Oxtoby take action against against The Claremont Independent, a conservative student paper, for “its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds.”
But expulsion didn’t apply to those who disrupted Mac Donald’s talk at Pomona, one of the most egregious examples of an attempt to shut down an invited speaker and of a university’s administration and security standing by passively and allowing the censorship to happen. You can read Mac Donald’s account of her talk, a piece called “Get up, stand up“, at City Journal. It also details the fracas that ensued when she spoke at UCLA the previous day. It’s pretty disturbing, and worth reading in its entirety (it’s not very long). As far as Mac Donald and I know, no students have ever been punished for disrupting a speaker, but that has to happen if these disruptions are to stop. As Mac Donald concludes:
We are cultivating students who lack all understanding of the principles of the American Founding. The mark of any civilization is its commitment to reason and discourse. The great accomplishment of the European enlightenment was to require all forms of authority to justify themselves through rational argument, rather than through coercion or an unadorned appeal to tradition. The resort to brute force in the face of disagreement is particularly disturbing in a university, which should provide a model of civil discourse.
But the students currently stewing in delusional resentments and self-pity will eventually graduate, and some will seize levers of power more far-reaching than those they currently wield over toadying campus bureaucrats and spineless faculty. Unless the campus zest for censorship is combatted now, what we have always regarded as a precious inheritance could be eroded beyond recognition, and a soft totalitarianism could become the new American norm.
Finally, in an editorial whose title alone tells you it’s a lie, read “Free speech is not violated at Wellesley“, in the Wellesley News, the student paper at a University rife with Regressive Leftism. You can probably tell from the title that this is a “we need free speech but. . .” piece, with the “but” dealing with “hate speech”. Here’s an excerpt:
Many members of our community, including students, alumnae and faculty, have criticized the Wellesley community for becoming an environment where free speech is not allowed or is a violated right. Many outside sources have painted us as a bunch of hot house flowers who cannot exist in the real world. However, we fundamentally disagree with that characterization, and we disagree with the idea that free speech is infringed upon at Wellesley. Rather, our Wellesley community will not stand for hate speech, and will call it out when possible.
Wellesley students are generally correct in their attempts to differentiate what is viable discourse from what is just hate speech. Wellesley is certainly not a place for racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia or any other type of discriminatory speech. Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech. The founding fathers put free speech in the Constitution as a way to protect the disenfranchised and to protect individual citizens from the power of the government. The spirit of free speech is to protect the suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.
Wrong to a large extent: free speech was put in the U.S. Bill of Rights to allow airing of all views that don’t call for immediate violence but permit a clash of freely expressed views as the best way to find truth and efficacious policies in a democracy. The First Amendment is not there to “protect the disenfranchised”! There are other such protections.
Finally, the Wellesley editorial implicitly threatens harassment or violence against students who don’t get properly “educated” about “hate speech” (shades of the Cultural Revolution!):
This being said, if people are given the resources to learn and either continue to speak hate speech or refuse to adapt their beliefs, then hostility may be warranted. If people continue to support racist politicians or pay for speakers that prop up speech that will lead to the harm of others, then it is critical to take the appropriate measures to hold them accountable for their actions. It is important to note that our preference for education over beration regards students who may have not been given the chance to learn. Rather, we are not referring to those who have already had the incentive to learn and should have taken the opportunities to do so. Paid professional lecturers and politicians are among those who should know better.
We at The Wellesley News, are not interested in any type of tone policing. The emotional labor required to educate people is immense and is additional weight that is put on those who are already forced to defend their human rights. There is no denying that problematic opinions need to be addressed in order to stop Wellesley from becoming a place where hate speech and casual discrimination is okay.
The editorial, very poorly written for a college full of smart students, shows how far this “hate speech” cancer has spread. Let me provide for you Coyne’s Glossary for the words at issue:
“free speech”: Speech that you like because it comports with your ideology
“hate speech”: Speech you don’t like because it challenges your ideology
“Nazi”: Anyone uttering “hate speech” (see above).
“White supremacist”: See “Nazi”
“emotional labor”: Having to argue your case rationally—something to be avoided at all costs when you can simply call people names (see “Nazi”)