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.