Six white seniors at Desert Vista High School in Arizona took a photo of themselves wearing shirts that spelled “ni**er.”1
Understandably, students of color at Desert Vista are appalled at their classmates’ behavior – see the video at the top of this page for some student reactions. The Desert Vista Black Student Union tweeted that these six girls “do not represent the beliefs of the student body.”
There’s also been a lot of anger on social media – the girls have been doxed, and people are spreading the girls’ unblocked faces and names on social media. There’s also a petition with 17,000 signatures calling for the girls to be expelled and the principal fired.
This brings to mind the reaction to a video posted by the free speech group FIRE back in November, of students at Yale having a public square argument with Yale Professor Nicholas Christakis.2 The argument was three hours long, but a 90 second video FIRE posted went viral. The video shows a young black student losing her temper and yelling loudly at Christakis, including swearing at him.
The Yale student was doxed, and right-wingers rushed to spread her face and name on social media, calling for her to be expelled and even for her to be unemployable. To the right-wings’ credit, there was no petition with 17,000 signatures. To their discredit, the doxing and vindictiveness came not just from random people on the internet, but by respected Conservative publications and intellectuals, like The Daily Caller (which initially doxed the student, including her home address), The National Review, and The American Conservative‘s Rod Dreher, who called for the student to be expelled (twice). The conservative blog Victory Girls gloated “Sorry, Ms. ******, but the internet is forever.”
What do these two things have in common? Although I don’t approve of screaming at people in public, what the Yale student did – which was basically, to lose her temper for a few minutes – wasn’t even in the same league of wrongness as the smirking racism of the Desert Vista students.
But the responses are very similar. And they’re wrong.
Young people should be able to make mistakes without their faces and names becoming a national issue. It’s unreasonable to try to turn a student’s bad act into a permanent scarlet letter.
Whatever consequences these students suffer, should be proportionate to what they did – and should be up to the local community and to their schools. It should not be up to random internet “activists” – or, worse, to the Daily Caller – to vindictively seek to punish students. In both cases, I’ve seen people gleefully hoping that the students’ lives will be destroyed by the publicity. That this sort of reaction is vastly disproportionate to the offense never seems to be a concern.
When I was a teenager attending Oberlin College, I once got into a shouting match in public with Catherine MacKinnon, who was visiting Oberlin to make a speech. Well, not a “shouting match” – Professor MacKinnon kept her tone level. I shouted. I’m a bit embarrassed to think of it now. (In the unlikely event that I ever meet MacKinnon again, I’ll apologize to her.)
But you know what? I was eighteen. I did something stupid. And, thankfully, this was before smart phones and before YouTube, so no videos exist. I was allowed to be stupid and to get past it and to grow. Today’s students should get the same chance.
UPDATE: The “expel them!” petition is now at nearly 50,000 signatures, I’m sorry to say.
- In this post, I’ve blurred the faces and omitted the names of the people I’m talking about; but that’s not true of the other people I’m linking to. [↩]
- There was a little discussion of the Yale situation in this open thread. [↩]
I think you have made Important, fair and reasonable observations here. I agree. The internet has made it very easy to make public comments and unfortunately the consequences of these comments have the potential to go international and be given heavier emphasis than is appropriate. I’m 62 and I cringe when I think about the impact now of some of the public comments I made as a young man if they went viral. It is an essential part of our development as a young person to express strong opinions and have them tested in public; it’s how we learn. It is important for young people today to be fully informed and educated about the consequences of expressing their opinions publicly. Also they will need to learn to think through their actions beforehand. And as you say, society needs to have some patience and tolerance with young people’s mistakes and aee them in context.
Is FIRE a conservative group that uses free speech as an excuse to support right-wing causes? I think I gave them money once after receiving a pitch and asking them if they supported liberals and atheists too (they said yes, but I don’t know if I should have believed them)…
I’d say FIRE is a genuine and sincere free-speech group, but one with some right-libertarian tendencies. There are certainly examples of them standing up for the free speech rights of leftists.
OTOH, they definitely have more passion for opposing threats from the left than for opposing threats from the right; so, for example, if some students are protesting conservative commencement speakers, that is a MAJOR issue for them, something that will lead to dozens of posts and radio appearances and suchlike, even though it’s difficult for me to see that as a free speech violation at all; whereas the South Carolina legislature’s attempt to censor “Fun Home” got a (quite good) letter and a few follow-up comments, and that was it.
So on the whole, I think they’re a good group, and I’m glad they exist. But I also feel their priorities are sometimes mistaken.
You’re basically taking sides because you see one as racist (bad) and one as anti-racist (good). But it’s not about the merits of their opinion. It’s about the scale of their actions. Whether people should be able to post racist comments on the internet for their friends amusement (yes) vs should people able to involve themselves in overt political interventions without pushback (no).
In terms of what they did, one is a bunch of kids joking among themselves, and finding attention thrust on them with it going viral when posted to instagram, and the other is a deliberate intervention in a political campaign. They merit different responses. (Incidentally, the Yale action has been largely successful and made it impossible for the Christakises to teach, with one resigning and the other going on sabbatical. Good news for people who want to police appropriate halloween costumes, as I guess there’ll be a bit less of a debate next time. Less good news if you wanna learn about public heath or early childhood education, but them’s the breaks.)
And the idea that what happens at Yale is only the business of Yalies and the masses should keep their noses out is nonsense, it’s not a High School and that’s exactly the attraction for people who attend. (And the idea that social justice advocates will be harmed if conservatives criticise them on the internet is, um, uncertain to say the least. Let’s not pretend that there isn’t an area of non-profits and journalism and academia where it would be an enormous boost for your prospects if they googled you and discovered you were a political activist loathed by the right.)
One was having a giggle at arranging letters to be a naughty word; immature sure, but ultimately harmless. The other was launching a torrent of verbal abuse; causing what would appear to be a fair amount of psychological distress in another human. I agree they aren’t in the same league, but I do find it interesting that you find verbal abuse such a trivial matter.
I’m pretty sure we need a actual custom rather than just “this is too much”. Any thoughts about a well-defined rule for how much people’s reputation’s *should* be damaged for minor-to-moderate misbehavior, especially if they’re young?
“smirking racism of the Desert Vista students.”
That’s a bit of a stretch, to say the least. Do you really believe that if two kids wearing an “F” and a “K” stood around the two kids with the asterisks and noticed the coincidence first, they wouldn’t have gone for “F**K” instead? Re-arranging letters into bad words is an unbelievably common teenage pastime. The fact that they made the worst word of all to entertain one another with some petty transgressiveness should surprise nobody. It certainly shouldn’t be used to assume there’s a larger ideology behind it.
Assembling a bad word from a bunch of letters for sh*ts and giggles among the participants is miles away from one individual directly berating another in an effort to get them fired. But hey, let’s not let that get in the way of that sweet, sweet performative outrage.
Nancy: rather than a line in the sand re: internet harassment, I’d like to see consequences other than internet harassment. For any bad behavior. There’s never really a time when internet harassment is in any way just.
Amp: To me, and to be fair this impression mostly comes from seeing you and the Popehats quote them, FIRE seems to be unabashedly libertarian partisan academic free speech group. Thus, anything that’s perceived as leftist gets the four alarm treatment, anything that’s perceived as the values-religion (like Fun Home) wing of the right coalition gets quietly thrown under the bus for the sake of consistency, and anything that supports libertarian ideals (such as global warming gag orders — libertarianism being aggressively pro-polluter) is not mentioned or addressed at all.
In terms of academic free speech, gag orders on researchers is pretty much as bad as it gets. I don’t think that they should be let off the hook for their silence about that.
The global warming gag orders are obviously both wrong and anti-free speech – but as far as I’ve seen, they’ve been applied to people working for government agencies, not to on-campus researchers. Googling around just now, I couldn’t find an example of an academic institution being affected by a global warming gag order, but of course maybe I’ve just missed it.
Seriously? I agree with Amp (and I’m guessing all of you I’m quoting agree with him too) that these teenagers shouldn’t have a scarlet letter on them for the rest of their lives. But your descriptions trivialize what they did to a ludicrous degree. “Kids joking”? “A naughty word”? “Bad words”? Nigger is justifiably one of the most offensive words in American english, for obvious reasons given our history. What they did isn’t the end of the world but it’s sure worse than “joking” or “naughty words”. They didn’t spell out “shit” or “motherfucker” – they spelled out a racial epithet tied to one of the worst aspects of our nation’s history.
A point that’s been made many times before is that in the internet age the bad shit we do can become immortalized, and that’s not fair to anyone, including these teens (thankfully my adolescence pre-dated the ubiquity of internet uploads). But at the very least they deserve harsher criticism than “joking” and “naughty words.”
The allure of spelling out “motherfucker” is not due to suppressed anti-incest sentiment. The allure comes from spelling out a very forbidden word. The same is true here. The existence of a taboo matters much, much more than the definition. If you built up a taboo around the word “mulch,” you’d start seeing it scrawled on bathroom stall walls from coast to coast.
I suppose it’s a kind of human sacrifice, a low-grade one, but just the same. We want certain things to be off-limits, not just wrong but beyond the pale. But daily life shows us people doing them on a regular basis. So, the one thing we can try to do is make sure that those who do pay as dearly as possible. If that means some young kid gets a good portion of their life trashed for a moment of indiscretion, then so be it.
The internet is better at rallying the troops than welcoming black sheep back home.
Could someone please Photoshop a swap of the first * and the N?
About the girls… I agree that the taboo was the allure. Presumably they were not taunting classmates or the like, but it shows how little they understand about the experience of minorities because they do probably lump the n-word in with other “naughty” words without the recognition that it carries with it a history of oppression and violence that makes it a million times worse. What should happen? I think that privately the girls should have people of color tell them the truth about why that word is more emotionally charged than ‘motherfucker’ or ‘shithead’ or ‘cunt’. But I have to admit that now my anagram/puzzle loving self kind of wants to figure out all the other words that could have been spelt out. Probably the same impulse they had but when a word appeared to them they needn’t to understand why acting on that impulse was not a good idea. These girls don’t deserve to be shamed. Their actions simply show their ignorance and that we have work to do before they mature to adulthood.
Unrelated question what does ‘dox’ mean? I’m unfamiliar.
You just said “n-word.” How is that any better than “ni&&er.” (Sorry, my phone has no asterisk.
I agree though. You make any word taboo and kids will use it whether they know why they shouldn’t use it or not. But, they did not use it. So, what is everyone bitching about.
And northierthanthou, you probably would have burned witches. Good for you: sacrifice a few humans for the greater good. There will always be a place for someone like you in society.
I’m pretty sure that Northierthanthou wasn’t saying he approved of the attitude he was describing.
It seems to me that this is a cousin of the “intent is magic” argument: that because you think the kids were ignorant of the severity of the word, this is indistinguishable from other taboo words as they perceived them.
And, to some extent, that’s true if you’re right that they didn’t really understand the word (though I think you’re underestimating what high-schoolers know). Intent doesn’t matter for outcomes, but it does in terms of how we treat the actors. Doxxing in this instance was clearly not okay regardless of how much the students meant it or not. But a more severe reaction from parents/teachers than there would have been for “motherf**er” was clearly warranted, either to teach them for the future or to address the fact that they did know but did it anyway.
But, for what it’s worth, I can remember discussions with my peers about various taboo words when I was that age, and unless things have changed a lot in 15 years, I would expect they had at least some understanding of how the word they chose was different from motherfucker.
And, for April: to dox someone is to reveal personally identifying info such as name and address about people who have not revealed it themselves.
I forget why you were yelling at MacKinnon. Was she too doctrinaire or not enough?
Heh. It’s all very obscure stuff now; she was in favor of the MacKinnon-Dworkin ordinance (which she co-wrote, hence the name), which was basically an attempt to censor porn through the civil litigation system. I was against it.
As I said, it’s mostly forgotten now, but in the late 1980s this was a huge fissure in feminism.
Thank you Ampersand. I wasn’t.
It’s weird that there are several people here disagreeing with me, but I can’t tell if any of them disagree with me on the actual central point of the post or not.
So does anyone here disagree with me that doxing, etc, was wrong in both of these cases?
Nancy Lebovitz wrote:
The only rule I’d suggest is, when it comes to reprisals for young people, keeping it local. If we’re not part of their school or their community, then it’s not our job or our business to punish these young people.
Let the schools – who have a responsibility to care about the well-being of all their students, including the ones they punish – give sanctions, if appropriate. (The students in the Arizona case were suspended for a week.) Let their local communities, who have to look them in the face and hopefully recognize that they’re human, respond.
If we value compassion and mercy and people getting second chances, then it’s a problem when young people are punished by strangers who have no responsibility or need to care about their well-being. That’s as true for the Yale student as it is for the Arizona students.
Not that local communities are guaranteed to do anything well. But they’re more likely to do it well than ten thousand partisan-raging internet strangers.
Pretty much, what Harlequin, Lee1 and April said.
Your response is a variant of saying “well, if the white people weren’t evil in their hearts, then that’s all that matters.” Nope, it’s not all that matters. Thinking that the only important thing about racist incidents is whether or not the white people had evil hearts leads to racist outcomes, because it ignores the possible harms caused to non-white students.
Do I think these six teens are evil or junior KKK members or were motivated by a desire to do harm, or by malice? No, I don’t. I think you’re right – they were experiencing the thrill of using forbidden words. Do I think they acted with total indifference to how their joke would affect their Black classmates – an indifference which comes from white privilege? Yes, I think they did.
(Of course, I can’t know their motivations for sure, but neither can you; this is all just speculation).
But really, we don’t have to go into motivations. Motivations are too-often used as an excuse by apologists for racism, as you’re doing here, and as JutGory and Desipis are doing. Making the word “nigger” into a fun, harmless prank that white kids play is racist because it can harm Black students. The racist harm of this doesn’t magically go away just because the three of you don’t think the white kids meant anything bad by it.
I’m not saying that intentions don’t matter at all. Intentions do matter. But they are not all that matters.
I agree with your point. In terms of the individuals involved, punishment should be duly handled by the educational institution. However, I’ll note I haven’t heard about the Yale student being disciplined for her abusive behaviour.
Alternatively, people could stop trying so hard to teach black students to actually be hurt by a mere word, and teach them to be upset at the presence malicious intent instead.
Desipsis, you are banned from the thread for your last comment. Please feel free to comment elsewhere on the blog.
Amp @ 16:
Ooops. My bad.
Amp, I don’t think we are as far apart on this as you do. Contra the Internet outrage dox-and-destroy culture we both decry, being offended or hurt is not a binary state.
If these students made those shirts to wear to greet the new kid from the other side of town, or to taunt a visiting sports team, the reasonable reaction from people who saw it IRL would be rightfully more severe than the situation we have here. That doesn’t mean that nobody felt hurt by it, but it should be taken into consideration when determining punishment.
Intent doesn’t right wrongs, but it does matter. The fact that a fire was due to faulty amateur wiring from a DIY home improvement project won’t un-burn-down your house, but it will keep you out of jail on arson charges. Similarly, using the n-word’s de facto second definition as “the nastiest word anyone can think of” can’t un-offend the people in the community, but it does weaken the argument that it was a racist action in and of itself.
I really have to say that I find a lot of the comments in this thread to be perfect examples of why I’m so skeptical of so much “free speech” rhetoric that I see online in response to things like the Yale dustup. There are a ton of people who see the Yale student’s actions as a threat to free speech, are indifferent if not actively approving of the treatment that said student received in response to yelling at Christiakis, and also seek to minimize the seriousness of, you know, publicly broadcasting racial slurs. Amp has a long history of being consistently principled on this topic, but outside of him and a few others, it’s hard not to be convinced that a lot of people are just viewing complaints about “political correctness” stifling complaints as a rhetorical weapon against the left, or even an excuse to normalize blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, et c.
This is an ongoing pattern; see also handwringing over protests of commencement speakers mentioned upthread, or how often which folks find ways to carve out exceptions for Adria Richards for the general rule that you shouldn’t be fired for things you say online.
So, yeah, these girls shouldn’t have their lives eternally ruined for being racist morons when they’re 18, but I shouldn’t have to pretend that they aren’t racist morons, or that would be somehow terrible for their lives are ruined, but not even worthy of mention is a black college student a year or so older then them has her life ruined for losing her temper on camera.
 Because yelling isn’t free speech, I guess.
 The cure for bad speech is more speech, unless the person uttering the bad speech agrees with right-wingers and more speech is complaining about them receiving an award.
 Seriously, kids that age shouldn’t have their lives ruined for actual crimes.
Similarly, using the n-word’s de facto second definition as “the nastiest word anyone can think of” can’t un-offend the people in the community, but it does weaken the argument that it was a racist action in and of itself.
I think this argument is bizarre.
The reason it has that second definition is because of its long racist history and present, and it’s not like understanding this requires any deep insight. Using it just to show cool and edgy you are shows real contempt for the people who will be justifiably hurt by it. “Let me say something that will upset you because of a history of racist abuse targeting you and people like you, because it’s funny to hurt your feelings!” seems pretty goddamned racist to me.
For what it’s worth, there are no black classmates in either photo (which incidentally you don’t have copyright over and your publishing is legally questionable, even if you blur the faces). I can see why the school reacted as it did, because it looks like the photo was taken on school property and there’s press to manage. But basically if people want to be racist on their own instagrams, they have every right to, and people don’t (bluntly) have a right to nick photos and use these to harass them.
As for Yale. This wasn’t some random student screaming. This is a very important debate about free speech on colleges. There was a conference about free speech hosted by Christakis which the FIRE president Lukianoff attended. Christakis was then on leaving accosted by a bunch of students, who were trying to get him fired for an email his wife sent, and engaged him in a public debate. Lukianoff recorded this. This is a deliberate public intervention instigated by the students, she’s not just screaming, she’s making a public argument and if she’d gotten the better of Christakis it would have had a public impact. There’s no right to anonymity. In fact it helps the debate to know, when she asks “who the fuck hired you”, that she served on the search committee that hired him. It puts a different perspective on things.
Now, I don’t support doxing as in “Here’s the bitch’s phone number, let’s hope no one threatens to kill her”. But I think IDing someone is totally legitimate in that circumstance.
I’m not sure why you’d think this is relevant. Whether or not any Black classmates were there when the photo was snapped, they are on social media.
As I understand it, my usage falls safely in “fair use” territory – Section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976 says “The fair use of a copyrighted work … for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”
I didn’t say there was. I think that the Daily Caller and other outlets which doxed her were acting like assholes, and either eagerly looking forward to or showing a depraved indifference to the abuse this student would receive as a result of their doxing, but I’m not saying they infringed on any legal rights. (I’ve heard it argued that Yale has a policy against filming people on Yale property – which this was – without permission of those being filmed, but I don’t know if that’s true or how the case law works in a case like that, and it’s not an argument I’m making.)
What is the “different perspective” that puts on things, specifically?
And, for that matter, why couldn’t the Daily Caller have simply reported that she was on the hiring committee (which they did report), without publishing her name, or linking to her family’s home address? What value did her name and home address provide?
In a case like this – where hundreds of conservatives on social media had already nicknamed her “shrieking girl” and were talking about how horrible she was before she was doxed – obviously doxing her is going to lead to abuse, most likely including death threats, death wishes, rape wishes, and racist abuse. (The girl has since taken down all of her social media and tried to become impossible for strangers to contact). Don’t favor doxing her if you’re not going to admit that the death threats are a completely predictable and likely result of the doxing.
So what? If this justifies singling her out for punishment–and Amp linked to Rod Dreher calling for her expulsion–then surely the Christiakis’ decision to involve themselves in public arguments would justify singling them out for punishment. National Review was gloating about how she had to erase her social media footprint after being doxxed.
Unless, of course, the real issue is that she made an argument which you disagree with, which is not a compelling standard, or that she lost her temper, which hardly seems worse than edgy-for-the-sake-of-being-edgy racism.
But basically if people want to be racist on their own instagrams, they have every right to, and people don’t (bluntly) have a right to nick photos and use these to harass them.
There’s no right to anonymity.
There is a right to require people to pretend you didn’t publish racist photos on your Instagram feed? Obviously there’s never a right to harass people, but if singling them out for posting those photos is tantamount to harasment, so is singling out that student from Yale for yelling at Prof Christiakis.
Okay, I’ll do some replies but you lot are going to have to start thinking a bit as I feel some of this is wasting my time.
I think it’s relevant because using that word in front of black people is awful, using it when someone in the team photo may walk down the corridor and see it is awful, but using it among yourselves and sticking it on personal instragram page is less awful. That’s because anyone exposed to its awfulness has to deliberately seek out your personal website first, rather than being imposed upon. What’s the complaint: “I wanted to see what she did with her friends, and it was horrible” vs “Someone called me that word when I was minding my own business”. Kinda obvious.
I think maybe criticism in this context means something higher than reproducing an obvious piece of racism and saying “That’s racist”. I’m not a lawyer, but think perhaps they’re reaching for something more transformative than a 100% reproduction accompanied by the most obvious commentary possible. In any case the doxers can’t even make that thin argument, there are plenty of people who reproduced it for the explicitly stated purpose of IDing these girls and making their lives miserable, which is certainly not a justification in the 1976 Act.
Look, Ampersand just published this racist photograph. Loads of people are publishing this racist photograph. I wish people were outraged by publishing racist photos, but they’re not. There’s a cottage industry in reproducing racist imagery for an outraged audience. Publication is not the offence, the offence is that these girls are racists. Fine, call them racists, but what you can’t do is thieve someone else’s racist photo and use it to whip up a storm against them.
The difference between “I am a poor PoC, cruelly at the mercies of institutional racism and lorded over by masters granted their rank by force of which I know not wot” and “Oh, I actually helped give this dude his job, but let’s pretend that didn’t happen and he was just mysteriously put there by a process I don’t understand, have no control over and am a victim of”. Also kinda obvious.
I mean moral right. If you go out of your way to intervene *in person* in a public debate which has national implications by openly instigating an argument, it seems bizarre to the argue for a moral right to anonymity (and they absolutely knew they were doing this, they doorstepped him outside a free speech conference). You literally stepped up yourself and put yourself in the spotlight. I mean, I think she even introduces herself.
It’s an argumentum ad feminam. You take someone complaining about privilege from a position of victimhood, and you demonstrate that they have institutional power (their hiring role) and their wealthy background (familial wealth). It undercuts their credibility with the masses.
Yes, the real issue is she made an argument – anyone actively involving themselves in person in that debate has made the deliberate choice to get involved in an non-anonymous way.
I suppose my question to you all is – at what point it is legitimate to name someone who involves themselves in person in public debate? Obviously, it’s higher than institutional hiring committee membership. What level are we talking about?
Of course it is. So what?
If they didn’t want people to know they were racists, they should have not published a photograph of themselves doing something that was racist as balls. Now, since they’re, you know, kids I think that both the original idiocy of the racism and the compounding idiocy of publishing it are not the things that should wreck their lives forever, nor would anything justify the tide of harassment they’re no being buried under…
…But it’s ridiculous to pretend their conduct wasn’t public. So I won’t.
Yet here we are.
If you’re going to be insulting, then please do save your time, and ours, by no longer responding.
Every election cycle, a candidate says something which sounds idiotic or horrible taken out of context, which partisans twist to fit their pre-existing narratives – like Romney saying he likes to fire people, or Obama saying “you didn’t build that.” In context, there’s always an more sensible reading, which both intellectual honesty and the principle of charity should compel people to favor.
A similar thing has happened with the “who the fuck hired you?” quote.
Since both the student and Christakis knew that she was on the committee that interviewed Christakis for the House Master position, it’s not plausible that she meant “let’s pretend that didn’t happen and he was just mysteriously put there by a process I don’t understand.”
When she said “who the fuck hired you?,” the most reasonable interpretation is that she was reminding Christakis that she and other students hired him and, in a sense, he works for them. This makes sense in context, since she had just told Christakis that his job as House Master is to make a comfortable home for the students, and Christakis responded that he didn’t see his job that way.
The debate was over the proper duties of the House Master of Stillman College – which is hardly an issue of national concern. Like many local debates, it has national “implications,” but that’s not a catch-all excuse for doxing and cruelty, nor does it excuse people responding in a disproportionate manner.
We should also acknowledge that insofar as the video does have national implications, who she is matters less. If this is a matter of One Evil Yale Student Who Must Be Punished, then it’s not a national issue – it’s just one student. If, on the other hand, this relates to a national pattern of lefty students being strident and harsh in their political disagreements, then making it about the name and home address of this one student is completely pointless, because she’s just an example.
That said, I don’t want to go along with the way you’re redirecting this discussion to be about her behavior. It’s not just about her. It’s about, once a student (or students) has screwed up in public (or had a private screw-up made public), what’s the reasonable, moral response to that? Criticizing what went down at Yale, or in Arizona, insofar as they relate to issues of national concern, is reasonable and necessary. Doxing the students and trying to attach a scarlet letter to them is not; neither is calling for them to be expelled. Your rhetoric here has the effect of putting her on trial while letting vindictive doxers off the moral hook.
I’m generally in favor of mercy and forgiveness – but I think that it’s obvious that young people have an even stronger claim on our compassion than people-in-general.
Punishment unrelieved by mercy or responsibility is not justice; therefore, justice will not be achieved by thousands of strangers on the internet.
All of which the Daily Caller could have done without printing her name and linking to her home address.
(I’m dropping the “fair use” argument. I’m 90% sure you’re mistaken, but neither of us are lawyers and it doesn’t seem like a productive argument to continue.)
Great post. I’ve never taken part in a public shaming campaign, and posts like this one help convince me that I should never give in to the temptation.
Sometimes I hear ideas that make me want to go for the jugular of those who voice them. The first time I saw that FIRE video, I was angry at those students for being so sure of themselves while spouting such silly rhetoric. Strangely, I was more annoyed at the students who snapped their fingers or applauded in response to “shrieking girl,” and her allies. How could they not see how silly that woman sounds compared to the calmed and reasoned response coming from her adversary. I thought to myself “Well, I know I wouldn’t want to associate with people like that. I imagine many others like me feel the same. If it takes doxing to get her name out there and warn people like me, then so be it.” After all, I wouldn’twant a person like her working for me, or hanging out with my group of friends.
Then I thought back to some of my old work mates. I thought about some of the moronic and racist facebook posts I see from people who I had a great working relationship with. I used to live in Ohio, where I worked as a pipefitter and welder with mostly blue collar white guys. I wonder how many Confederate flags adorned the pick-up trucks on the job-site parking lot? If I had to guess, I would imagine nearly 25% of the trucks sported that flag. How many of the journeymen who I apprenticed under thought that the book of Genesis was complete and accurate history of planet earth? Certainly several of the men teaching me were evangelicals. These ideas are very dumb, dumber than questioning a culture of free speech on campus, but I couldn’t have gone through a 5 year appenticeship if I had shunned these men. I’d rather live in a world where I have many working relationships, even if some of those I associate with have bad ideas. The alternative is a world where I hate almost everyone but myself.
Something Jeffrey Gandee’s comment reminded me of – when I was in high school I worked as a janitor at an old folks home. This was well before Facebook, so I didn’t have to worry about that. But one of my co-workers said such virulently racist things that one day I told him he sounded like a card-carrying member of the KKK. He then proceeded to open his wallet and take out what he told me was a KKK membership card. I didn’t know they did that – giving out membership cards. But I guess why not…? In any case, I kept my distance from him after that – I was frankly pretty terrified of him because he was absolutely huge and I was scrawny and he knew what I thought of his beliefs. Not long after that I changed jobs to become a waiter at a Pizza Hut, where I got better pay, free pizza and salad, and no overtly racist colleagues. Glad I had that option.
Like the Ford thread, there is a lack of proportion in the responses (which magnified even further by the internet).
A student who yells at a teacher in a debate doesn’t need to get expelled. That is just ridiculous. Honestly they don’t need to have anything worse happen to them than to get laughed at, or pulled aside by their compatriots and told they are being a disservice to their cause.
The students who took the Ni**er picture don’t need to be hounded the rest of their lives either. Yes it was rude and insensitive. Take a breath.
I’m not convinced that it is a question of students very much. It is a question of internet craziness. Internet pile ons aren’t being dealt with well. I don’t know what to do, but the pile on norm sucks.
It’s ridiculous they haven’t been kicked out. The campaign has successfully subverted the educational mission of the college, and the teacher is currently unable to teach because of their actions. What more do they have to do? Of course the college should act to protect itself and the ringleaders should be made an example of.
I’ve already explained this is not what happened. They were picketing a national free speech conference, of course it isn’t a local debate. That’s their decision, not my spin.
Look, it’s not a screw up. She made an argument for her cause: online listeners didn’t like it, but her fellow students lapped it up. Has she retracted it? No. Has the Yale campaign stopped? No. Has the national campaign stopped? No. You’re treating this as a mistake, but they don’t see it like that. It’s part of a calculated and ongoing campaign, and in 10 years time students could be looking back with her side having won and saying she was vindicated.
Your technical point, that if she had switched sides there would be no point pursuing the argument, is right – but that’s not what happened.
@ Pete Patriot 41
I may be misunderstanding you – are you referring to the situation with Nicholas and Erika Christakis at Yale? I wasn’t aware of either one of them being unable to continue to teach, or of the overall educational mission of the college being “successfully subverted.” In fact, my understanding is that the faculty came out very strongly in support of the two, and as far as I know they received no punishment from administration, but I could be wrong about the facts. Do you have a link about them being unable to teach or somehow being subverted in their teaching or research roles?
Re-reading my post, I realize I shifted the goalposts a bit at the end going from the educational mission of the college to the educational mission of the two individual instructors – that isn’t what you said, although I think most people would consider them to be very closely related. Having said that, I also don’t see how the educational mission of Yale was subverted by a student throwing a temper tantrum at an instructor over a controversial (to some at least) email his spouse sent, the faculty strongly supporting the instructors, and no negative action (that I’m aware of) being taken against them by admin. But as I mentioned, there may be facts I don’t know.
@ Pete Patriot 44
Thanks very much for that link – I had completely missed that information. I might quibble a bit with the wording of them being “unable” to teach, but that’s a minor semantic thing and I don’t know what the environment on campus is actually like, and they obviously do.
I imagine campus atmosphere is so toxic they would find it difficult running an orderly lecture, which after all basically requires 100+ people who are willing to respect your authority, cooperate, listen and be quiet. You’d get the sort of pushback in the videos. The faculty has supported them in the rote sense of reiterating their right to teach, they’ve not supported them in a practical sense – i.e. showed any willingness to throw troublemakers against the wall.
That’s not really the job of the rest of the faculty to get rid of troublemakers in the Christakis’ classes, it’s the job of admin and campus security. As a faculty member at an R2 university in the midwest, where I teach classes of well over 100 students, I’m very confident that sort of disruption during classes (as opposed to at other times on campus) would quite quickly be stopped, and the student(s) involved removed from the course, if not from the university. But again I don’t know what the environment is like at Yale. I hope it’s not really so bad; if it is, it’s hard to understand how the university can function.
Yes, but as far as I can tell there is no problem of students acting like that in Yale classrooms. Are you literally just making this up? If not, some citations would be in order.
No. You’re literally incapable of finding out the most basic facts about the actions you’re defending.
That link doesn’t support your assertion, Pete Patriot, that:
The link is an article about the disruption at a symposium in November. There is no mention of disruptions in any classes.
As I mentioned in my last couple posts I take some exception to how Pete Patriot framed the situation, and he clearly fucked up in his link @49 (hopefully he’ll acknowledge that, like I acknowledged being uninformed). But to my mind there’s clearly some truth to what he’s saying – if one of the instructors took a week off due to the intensity of outside-the-classroom protests then decided to stop altogether the next semester, she may not have been “unable” to teach but it doesn’t sound like a good academic environment at all*.
If Yale gives the slightest hint of a shit about its term instructors (as I believe she was) they wouldn’t let any disruptive protests go on during lectures any longer than it would take for campus security to get there. (And at least at my university we have a phone handy in all the classrooms if needed – usually for tech support, on very rare occasion for security.) Hopefully that’s the case for both term and tenured/tenure-track instructors at Yale.
*I say that not knowing anything about either of them personally; maybe most instructors would’ve reacted differently – I don’t know.
Pete – Your link, as others have pointed out, doesn’t support your claim.
I don’t think there’s any question that the environment on campus created by the protests (although also, by the fact that the students felt, possibly correctly, that extreme rhetoric was their only way to be heard) has been harmful to the environment for debate and discussion – and probably worse for the Christakises than for any other faculty. Pete’s specific claims are, it seems, not backed up by reality; but just because Pete is wrong about the problem, does not mean there isn’t a real problem. Of course it’s a problem for the campus environment that some of the protests were harsh and unwilling to productively dialog, and it’s a problem that the Christakises feel they need time off from teaching.
A rigid, unforgiving attitude towards those who disagree was harmful in (some of) the Yale protesters, and it’s also harmful in the people who are treating this girl with vindictiveness and hatred.
Finally, I don’t think the dichotomy you suggest – either Yale cracks down instantly on hypothetical in-class protests with campus security, or Yale doesn’t give the slightest hint of a shit about instructors – is correct. For any pragmatic and reasonable administration, such one-size-fits-all-circumstances thinking would be a mistake.
@ Amp 52
I should have expanded on my thoughts more, but you’re definitely right that I went too far with my comments about disrupting lectures. They can be disrupted for any number of reasons, from political protests to mental illness to short-term external stresses to something as pedestrian as vociferously complaining about an exam grade (the last of which I had happen in one of my classes).
What we were told to do as instructors at my university is 1) very clearly tell the student they’re disrupting class and ask them to stop (which I did in my case, and he did stop); 2) if they aren’t willing to do that, ask them to leave the classroom/lecture hall and then follow up with them later on their behavior, in person or via email (and inform the dept head so it’s on record); 3) if they aren’t willing to do that, call campus police and do what you reasonably can to make sure other students are safe if there are any concerns about that. If it gets to #3 I think some pretty significant consequences are in order, but you’re right that it should be handled case-by-case. That may mean medical treatment, removal from the course, expulsion from the school, or in some cases (not too many in my opinion, but I can envision some) just putting the fear of God in them about what will happen if they do it again. In any case it needs to be significant and clearly documented.
I certainly agree that the girl in that video shouldn’t be subject to such hatred and attempts to destroy her future livelihood.
As an aside, since it doesn’t apply at all to the Yale situation, one faculty member who’s been at my school much longer than me told me a story about a student being threatening and suggesting violence in a big lecture hall. Can you imagine some student 20-30 rows up in the middle of a big lecture hall doing that, and you’re the one ostensibly in charge of the situation? Thankfully it hardly ever happens; I hope it never happens to me.