Reed students strike back against disruptors

About a week ago I described—and showed with a video—the disruption of Reed College’s required Humanities 101 class by Offended Students saying that the class perpetuates racism and white supremacy. Many of the students apparently belong to a group called “Reedies Against Racism”(RAR), and are determined to shut the class down until they can fix the supposedly bigoted curriculum. (It actually includes literature from the Mediterranean and Middle East, which, last time I checked, were considered to be areas populated by “people of color”.)

Now, however, a piece in the Atlantic, called “The surprising revolt at the most liberal college in the country,” gives examples of how those Reedies determined to actually get an education—instead of foisting their ideology on everyone else—are striking back, and the RAR group seems to be waning. First, a brief description of the fracas:

A required year-long course for freshmen, Hum 110 consists of lectures that everyone attends and small break-out classes “where students learn how to discuss, debate, and defend their readings.” It’s the heart of the academic experience at Reed, which ranks second for future Ph.D.s in the humanities and fourth in all subjects. (Reed famously shuns the U.S. News & World Report, as explained in a 2005 Atlantic article by a former Reed president.) As Professor Peter Steinberger details in a 2011 piece for Reed magazine, “What Hum 110 Is All About,” the course is intended to train students whose “primary goal” is “to engage in original, open-ended, critical inquiry.”

But for RAR, Hum 110 is all about oppression. “We believe that the first lesson that freshmen should learn about Hum 110 is that it perpetuates white supremacy—by centering ‘whiteness’ as the only required class at Reed,” according to a RAR statement delivered to all new freshmen. The texts that make up the Hum 110 syllabus—from the ancient Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt regions—are “Eurocentric,” “Caucasoid,” and thus “oppressive,” RAR leaders have stated. Hum 110 “feels like a cruel test for students of color,” one leader remarked on public radio. “It traumatized my peers.”

This notion that such classes actually traumatize people is ludicrous, and should be rejected. It is faux outrage. “Trauma” is the new word for “offend”. But I digress:

Beginning on boycott day, RAR protested every single Hum lecture that school year. In-class protests are very rare on college campuses. During the nationwide upsurge of student activism tracing back to 2015, protesters have occupied administrativebuildings, stormed into libraries, shut down visiting speakers in auditoriums, and walked out of classrooms—but they hardly ever disrupt the classroom itself. RAR has done so more than 60 times.

A Hum protest is visually striking: Up to several dozen RAR supporters position themselves alongside the professor and quietly hold signs reading “We demand space for students of color,” “We cannot be erased,” “Fuck Hum 110,” “Stop silencing black and brown voices; the rest of society is already standing on their necks,” and so on. The signs are often accompanied by photos of black Americans killed by police.

As I’ve said before, students have every right to give professors their input into a curriculum, but I don’t agree that they have the right to either demand changes in the curriculum, decide what those changes should be, or disrupt classes that don’t fit their ideological bent.

In the article, author Chris Bodenner interviewed a fair number of students (many of whom wanted to remain anonymous, which says something right there), and found that there is considerable pushback against the tactics of RAR. Despite being bullied on Facebook and elsewhere for ideological impurities, and even doxed, these students simply want to get the education they’ve paid for. And many of the students who are pushing back aren’t white:

This school year, students are ditching anonymity and standing up to RAR in public—and almost all of them are freshmen of color. The turning point was the derailment of the Hum lecture on August 28, the first day of classes. As the Humanities 110 program chair, Elizabeth Drumm, introduced a panel presentation, three RAR leaders took to the stage and ignored her objections. Drumm canceled the lecture—a first since the boycott. Using a panelist’s microphone, a leader told the freshmen, “[Our] work is just as important as the work of the faculty, so we were going to introduce ourselves as well.”

The pushback from freshmen first came over Facebook. “To interrupt a lecture in a classroom setting is in serious violation of academic freedom and is just unthoughtful and wrong,” wrote a student from China named Sicheng, who distributed a letter of dissent against RAR. Another student, Isabel, ridiculed the group for its “unsolicited emotional theater.”

Two days later, a video circulated showing freshmen in the lecture hall admonishing protesters. When a few professors get into a heated exchange with RAR leaders, an African American freshman in the front row stands up and raises his arms: “This is a classroom! This is not the place! Right now we are trying to learn! We’re the freshman students!” The room erupts with applause.

Here’s that video, which also shows the nature of the protests in Humanities 101:

I’ll give one more excerpt, and then wish the counter-protestors well. The Reed faculty seems eager to find some kind of accommodation with the protestors so they can get on with their teaching, but students like the ones above aren’t eager to compromise: it’s their way or the highway. Reed is a very good school, and it’s heartening that the students are aware of what’s happening in society at large. They can protest all they want, but outside class, and if they continue disrupting courses like Humanities 101, Reed will be remiss if it doesn’t discipline the disruptors. They will also lose applicants.

“The movement cannot continue to manufacture an enemy that has agreed to review the syllabus [and] bended over backwards on all accounts to accommodate the free speech of the protesters,” wrote Misha, another freshman, in the first op-ed critical of RAR published in the school paper. Yet the more accommodation that’s been made, the more disruptive the protests have become—and the more heightened the rhetoric. “Black lives matter” was the common chant at last year’s boycott. This year’s? “No cops, no KKK, no racist U.S.A.” RAR increasingly claims those cops will be unleashed on them—or, in their words, Hum professors are “entertaining threatening violence on our bodies.”

For the anniversary, RAR arranged an open mic for students of color. Rollo, a freshman from Houston, described how difficult it was to grow up poor, black, and gay in Texas. He then turned to RAR: “No, I won’t subject myself to your politically correct ideas. No, I won’t allow myself to be a part of your cause.” He criticized the “demagoguery” that “prevents any comprehensive conversation about race outside of ‘racism is bad.’”

Rollo later told me that RAR “had a beautiful opportunity to address police violence” but squandered it with extreme rhetoric. “Identity politics is divisive,” he insisted. As far as Hum 110, “I like to do my own interpreting,” and he resents RAR “playing the race card on ancient Egyptian culture.”

Over at the lecture hall, RAR covered the door with photos of police victims so that anyone entering would have to rip them. Shortly into Ann Delehanty’s lecture on The Iliad, a RAR “noise parade” shut it down—the third class canceled that month, after Kambiz Ghanea Bassiri refused to teach the Epic of Gilgamesh in front of signs tying him to white supremacy. Where Delehanty had just stood, a RAR leader read a statement about how Reed is complicit in “modern-day slavery” because its operating bank, Wells Fargo, has ties to private prisons.

But her words faltered as she watched the freshmen walk out. “The thing that heartens me,” said Pax, “is that most of the student body followed the professor into another classroom, where she continued the lecture.”

34 Comments

  1. dd
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I think the protesters are caught in intersectional traps.

    By “persons of color” they mean Latinos and American Blacks, I am almost certain. Egyptians (who are African) and Middle-Easterners won’t cut it.

    But here is the thing: What literature can be offered for Latinos and American Blacks from 3000 or so thousand years ago? It’s a silly question, but that’s the kind of fix that those student protesters are in.

    In fact, the literature that can be offered for Latinos and American Blacks is largely modern and contemporary. And I can’t help but think that this, which can’t be admitted directly, but is a constant parameter, also drives their religious rage. And religious it is.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted November 5, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      If I were one of these students, truly believed that white people were the problem with the world, and wanted an education, I’d sit down and shut up. If whiteness, and hence westerness, were the problem, you couldn’t deal with it without knowing about it, and the best way to do that would be to start at the beginning.

    • rvoss
      Posted November 6, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      I live about 3 miles from Reed and follow the news stories closely. Here is a response (push back)from an assistant professor at Reed and a woman of color. “Nuance in speech is not oppression.”

      http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/11/nuance_in_speech_is_not_oppres.html

    • Posted November 7, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      That depends. Some unfortunate people have tried to claim that the ancient Egyptians were “black” so they can then (also dubiously) claim that Aristotle (or sometimes Plato) stole his philosophy from “black people”. (This makes no sense at all, for any number of reasons, but …)

  2. Sarah
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    What these kids haven’t quite realized is that education is a unique commodity that you buy but can’t try out first. You don’t know what it is until after you’ve got it. They don’t know how ridiculous it is to think you can make demands and pronouncements about a process you don’t yet understand. Do they think they will end up better educated because they are ignorant of Homer or Sophocles? Frankly, I don’t think they deserve higher education.

    • Posted November 5, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      This comports with a view that I have long held, which is that students are not in a position to Demand what it takes to earn a degree until they have earned that degree.

  3. Posted November 5, 2017 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Obviously, another trick of Putin – using his social media Russian trolls he is organising these class protests. 🙂

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    To the parents of these Reedies, you have failed miserably. Also parents, who are paying the way for this, congratulations in wasting your money. Ask the kid for a refund.

    • BJ
      Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      I have to say, this behavior often is not the fault of the parents. Many people like these highly offended students learn this crap from other “activists” and the internet, and once your kid starts acting out, it can be very hard to stop it after a certain age. I know that I was a real shit in my teenage years, and my parents were always present, loving, and trying to stop me from being so awful. It was only when I got older that I realized just how misguided I was and how wrong I was to have opposed everything my parents tried to do for me. There was really nothing else they could have done to change my behavior.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        I was a kid once myself spare me the idea that parents have no part in this. Somebody pays when it comes to college. To have influence on a kid to act like this involves more than just being suckered by other kids. They have a larger problem. At the end of it all, next time these kids want to be treated like adults, just remind them of crap like this. Nothing they could have done to change my behavior….you must be kidding.

        • BJ
          Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

          I’m not kidding. All the punishments, the groundings, the consequences they doled out when I acted poorly, did not change my behavior. Teenagers don’t have fully developed brains. “Remind[ing] them of crap like this” the next time they want to be treated like adults won’t change the behavior or thought patterns of many teenagers because most teenagers don’t have the capacity to think that far ahead, or to think through the consequences of their actions when they’re in the heat of the moment. The act on impulse.

          Like I said, there was literally nothing else my parents could have done. They tried every trick in the book. They tried being loving, they tried punishing and being hard-asses, they tried everything. Nothing worked because I wasn’t ready or able to understand or respond to their treatment. Even psychologists and teachers who stepped in repeatedly couldn’t help.

          Do you have kids?

          • Craw
            Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

            So, no tasering?

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

            Thankfully no, I do not. Did your parents ask for any professional help? Did they consider removing you from the house? Did they consider a special school? Some kids need more than going to bed without super or grounding. If you were as bad as you say, you would not have been living in my house and I sure as hell would not be paying for your college. They have today, lots of these special high schools for juveniles and their parents send the kids to these schools where they stay permanently. It is kind of a last chance before they would enter the adult criminal world.

            • BJ
              Posted November 5, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

              The problem is I still got great grades because I was smart. I was on two varsity sports teams. I got into a good college. And yes, as I said, I saw multiple psychologists.

              I don’t know if you can really understand how hard it is if you haven’t experienced trying to raise/control a teenager, but it’s harder than you think.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted November 5, 2017 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

                My parents raise four so I kind of know. I also have know lots of kids, bad and good. My thought concerning your situation is that you were an exceptional case. Most kids who are acting up and out of control are not getting good grades. Lucky if they are even going to school. So the best I can say is, don’t put all these kids in the same basket you were in.

                Possibly it is age but the idea that I would have got up and disrupted a class in any school, like these kids are doing simply would not happen. And I never saw it happen during any of my grade school, high school or college. That type of behavior simply did not happen.

            • Posted November 5, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

              There are many things parents can be blamed for in child rearing success or failures. There are so many variables affecting the outcome on both sides. But, not all parents pay for college educations for their kids. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have so many college graduates drowning in student loan debt.

              Another thought I have about RAR. They more than any other students at Reed are desperately in need of the education they’re shutting down.
              They all need to be immersed in history, which most of them haven’t been. If they had, they
              would realize that the history of the Middle East is not “Eurocentric” or “Caucasoid”. Are they aware that Numidia was once part of Egypt, and that Numidians and Egyptians mixed? In addition, Egypt drew people from all over the world since it was once THE center of knowledge and learning. Native Egyptians were not white folk at all, but mostly mixed race, as most of us are.

  5. BJ
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe RAR managed to disrupt over 60 classes, harass and doxx multiple students, and show aggression toward their own professors while facing zero disciplinary action. The Reed College administration and faculty should be ashamed, having let the rest of their students down by allowing a group of extremists to get their rocks off by signalling their outrage and looking for something “woke” to do at the expense of everyone else. Additionally, the fact that many of the students who have spoken out about this issue wished to remain anonymous tells us, as is so often the case, that the members of RAR aren’t just disrupting the education of their classmates, but creating a purposefully intimidating and hostile climate. People like these activists are very good at creating an environment in which anyone who opposes them can be labeled racist and ostracized from certain social groups.

    Why should the faculty attempt to accommodate these idiots in any way? They have repeatedly violated the school’s guidelines. Stop emboldening these purposefully offended, pathetically performative “activists.” Stop giving them even an inch.

    I’m very heartened to finally see students on a campus in the throes of this BS standing up to the bullies. It helps greatly that many of the students responding are minorities (though that says some very unfortunate things about the current state of college education, academic freedom, and standards of epistemic credibility). And the student who said RAR is engaging in “unsolicited emotional theater” has a wonderful way with words!

    “The texts that make up the Hum 110 syllabus—from the ancient Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt regions—are ‘Eurocentric,’ ‘Caucasoid,’ and thus ‘oppressive,’ RAR leaders have stated.”

    I can think of few better examples to demonstrate that people like the students in RAR are simply looking for things to perform their outrage and bully others than calling ancient texts from these regions “Eurocentric,” “Caucasoid” (really?!?), and “oppressive.” They’re trying so very hard.

    • BJ
      Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      I forgot to add, I really fear what’s going to happen to the students who stood up to these protesters. People like the members of RAR regularly doxx, harass, threaten, and attempt to get fired with lies people who oppose them. I hope the administration protects the students who stood up for what’s right, but I’m not confident in that considering the administration’s handling of this situation so far.

      • Craw
        Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        At TESC we saw roving gangs with baseball bats, thugs posing for photos with baseball bats.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Off topic just a bit but there has been a mass shooting inside a church in south Texas. Dozens killed and dozens injured. The gunman has been killed as well.

  7. Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand why an instructor would not call campus security to remove students (or anyone) that are disrupting a class. Sure, you can give them the benefit of the doubt and try to reason with them to begin with, but if it becomes clear that their goal is simply to disrupt class, then why shouldn’t they be removed?

    Maybe this is naive of me, thinking that this wouldn’t simply escalate matters. But if someone is disrupting class and refuses to stop or leave, then wouldn’t this be a reasonable course of action?

    • Craw
      Posted November 5, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      It requires moral courage. The protestors are really demanding a form of submission. The way to oppose them is to state, flatly, that they aren’t entitled to it. But the the tactics and games and mau-mauing. They pretend that you are “exercising privilege “ to deny their “lived experience” etc. behind this is the constant threat of violence and doxxing, harassment, and so on. It takes a brave soul, like Brett Weinstein, to stand up to it. And you saw what happened there. Aside from his wife exactly ONE other faculty member spoke up for him, one. So who wants that?

  8. Posted November 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    No one would object to see students trying to get their Humanities or History curriculum to include more courses about under-represented culture and history. An effort to have this in a Demanding way, with petitions or protests, is also fine. Better than fine if there is an inadequate response. But this means is simply sickening.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Would that the world had many magnitudes more Rollos!

  10. Daniel Villar
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Oddly enough Misha, who is quoted here, is actually my best friend from back in high school. Lest anyone think that this is some sort of rightwards reaction, Misha is a communist, and a Marxist-Leninist (Trotskyite variety, not Stalinist variety). We often compare our two campuses (I attend the University of Oxford), and I must say that our experience is similar; it is the years two or three years ahead of us which are most concerned with this sort of noncery.

  11. wendell read
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I’m a Reed graduate, class of 1957. Delighted to see the sensible students revolting against this absurd nonsense!

  12. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 5, 2017 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    The key sentence here is: “Yet the more accommodation that’s been made, the more disruptive the protests have become—and the more heightened the rhetoric.”

    • Craw
      Posted November 5, 2017 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

      Yep. Because there is really only one demand: submission. They demand A not to get A but to get submission. Once they get A then to extort more submission they must demand B.

      • mrclaw69
        Posted November 6, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        “…there is really only one demand: submission. They demand A not to get A but to get submission. Once they get A then to extort more submission they must demand B….”

        I think you may have got to the nub of it! All the performance seems to have little to do with achieving real-world change: these guys never have any (realistic) policy that might actually make anything better for the groups they so fetishise. Instead it’s all attention-seeking/virtue-signalling rhetoric, sloganeering; scoring points in a game of intersectional lexicon bingo.

        Mark Lilla has argued that identity politics is really a form of “Reaganite libertarianism for Lefties” given its almost total preoccupation with the self. I’d add to that, as you’ve said, an all-consuming power-tripping narcissism.

        In a way, and even though they claim to hate him with every fibre of their being, Trump is very much *their* president.

        • mrclaw69
          Posted November 6, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

          BTW – I meant to say: “…given its almost total preoccupation with the individual”. Perhaps I should’ve added “…and their level of oppression” to the sentence too…?

    • Michiel
      Posted November 6, 2017 at 4:08 am | Permalink

      Indeed, when are these college admins going to learn that continuously giving ground without a fight only emboldens the “activists”. There is no end to their “demands” because there is a limitless amount of grievances that they can (and do) come up with.
      And I understand individual professors don’t want to be the ones to stand up to this movement, certainly not without the explicit backing of the administration. It’s first and foremost the job of the administration to be very clear about what will be tolerated and what won’t, and then back their profs if they call security on protestors disrupting classrooms. It’s heartening to see some strong-willed students standing up against this insanity. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of more pushback.

  13. Posted November 6, 2017 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Last week I listened to a “diversity literature” program on our local NPR station.

    One of the panel of guests was an African American woman professor (I think of writing) at a local liberal arts college.

    At one point she says, “I picked up this book by [a young, white, man] and I thought, ‘what am I going to learn from him?!'” and laughs.

    And that pretty well tells you what you need to know about the SJW. We will only lsiten to our echo chamber. [Turns out she did learn some things from that guy.]

    I’ve read Ta-Nehisi Coates. His first book, about growing up in Baltimore was interesting.

    I’ve read Damon Tweedy’s book, Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine and found it well written and interesting.

    I’ve read Booker T. Washington and have W.E.B Dubois and Frederick Douglass in my queue.

    Tell me a good story and I’m interested.

  14. Smegma
    Posted November 6, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    “Ancient Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt regions…”. As far as I know being a white man is that those regions aren’t “white”, per se. Rather, they were racially quite cosmopolitan areas. I think that they are conflating western with white, which is just stupid. Maybe they should listen first and protest second; they may learn a thing or two.

  15. eric
    Posted November 6, 2017 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    The texts that make up the Hum 110 syllabus—from the ancient Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Egypt regions—are “Eurocentric,” “Caucasoid,” and thus “oppressive,” RAR leaders have stated.

    So they’re not just enraged, but geographically challenged too.

    BB from comment #1:

    By “persons of color” they mean Latinos and American Blacks, I am almost certain.

    Well the ‘latin’ part of latino refers to historical roots in Spain and Italy, which last time I checked, were part of Europe. So I’m not sure how adding latino literature to the curriculum makes it less Eurocentric.


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