I know you must be sick and tired by now of hearing about the ongoing Social Justice Warrior irruptions on college campuses, but it is important to keep track of them, at least the worst ones. Over the weekend, a professor (whose ID I confirmed) wrote to me to say:
Have you seen this? These little fascists are going to destroy this young woman’s academic career.
The “this” is “An Open Letter Calling for the Termination of Dr. Andrea Quenette For Racial Discrimination”. It is written collectively by the students in one of her Kansas University graduate-level classes. What prompted it? According to a story in the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World, it all started with a class discussion on November 12:
Inspired by the previous night’s forum, Quenette said, a student asked how they could talk about race issues in their own classes, and the conversation naturally shifted to how the university should address problems.
“I tried to preface everything I said with, ‘I don’t experience racial discrimination so it’s hard for me to understand the challenges that other people face, because I don’t often see those,’” said Quenette, who is white.
She said she pointed out that racist incidents on other campuses, including the University of Missouri in Columbia, have been very visible, and she used the n-word when comparing KU to them.
“I haven’t seen those things happen, I haven’t seen that word spray-painted on our campus, I haven’t seen students physically assaulted,” Quenette said.
Quenette said she could have apologized “in the moment” if anyone had responded but that no one did, and the discussion continued.
On the subject of low graduation rates for black students and whether institutionalized racism is to blame — students in class said it was — Quenette said students who don’t graduate do so for a number of reasons, and from what she’s seen at KU it’s often academic performance. Quenette said she’s on a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences committee studying retaining and supporting students, and that “all students” who come to KU with low academic preparedness are at risk.
Now the students in the class demand her firing. Five anonymous students have filed a formal discrimination complaint against her with the university, and she has requested and been put on leave while she is investigated. (What about all the students she teaches in her other classes? What’s going to happen to thtem, here at the end of the semester?) According to the grad students’ “open letter”:
Those remarks began with her admitted lack of knowledge of how to talk about racism with her students because she is white. “As a white woman I just never have seen the racism…It’s not like I see ‘Nigger’ spray painted on walls…” she said.
As you can imagine, this utterance caused shock and disbelief. Her comments that followed were even more disparaging as they articulated not only her lack of awareness of racial discrimination and violence on this campus and elsewhere but an active denial of institutional, structural, and individual racism. This denial perpetuates racism in and of itself. After Ph.D. student Ian Beier presented strong evidence about low retention and graduation rates among Black students as being related to racism and a lack of institutional support, Dr. Quenette responded with, “Those students are not leaving school because they are physically threatened everyday but because of academic performance.” This statement reinforces several negative ideas: that violence against students of color is only physical, that students of color are less academically inclined and able, and that structural and institutional cultures, policies, and support systems have no role in shaping academic outcomes. Dr. Quenette’s discourse was uncomfortable, unhelpful, and blatantly discriminatory.
Read the whole thing. There’s a lot more to it. Their professor doesn’t agree with them, so these little fascists — the term is apt — are trying to get her fired and destroy her academic career. What on earth would have been wrong with engaging their professor in dialogue and helping to educate her if they thought she was deficient in this area? She wasn’t calling anyone a “nigger”; she said that she had not seen that racial slur written on the walls. Quenette’s sin was not previously holding a point of view her students saw as correct on these matters. Therefore, she is a racist.
These thuggish grad students are using the power that gutless college administrators around the country have been giving them, this time to get a professor fired for disagreeing with them. If the KU administration lets these McCarthyite vandals get away with it, nobody at that school is safe from the children. You will not be free in any classroom to offer an opinion or to use language that the SJWs don’t agree with — or they will call you a racist and demand your firing. You cannot even have a conversation about race with your students, unless you take the line they demand.
I have been advised that there might be more possible legal actions for which we should be prepared. In light of this information, I’m going to increase the goal. Everyone has been so supportive monetarily and in messages of advice. I started this thinking we might just need to run some documents by a lawyer now and again but I want to be abundantly prepared for any event. We are a small family who never wanted to be anything other than anonymous and now Andrea’s name is sprayed all over the internet and news. Please share this as much as you can. 15 years of school and work should not be undone in minutes.
On the morning of November 12, the day after the forum, she attempted to lead a class discussion on how to address issues of diversity in the classroom. In alignment with the design of the course and the law, discussions in this class were designed to be open, frank and honest conversations representing academic freedom for both students and Andrea. She tried her best to help the students realize that it will not always be easy to see racism, especially if they haven’t experienced it firsthand. She also tried to propose practical solutions and give perspective as an experienced university professor. In this discussion she used a racial slur as an example of ugly language, not directed at any student or individual and in the interest of adding to the discussion. She also explained that as a white person, she was ill-equipped to fully discuss racism because she hasn’t experienced it first-hand. She was honest and tried to be helpful.
What has transpired in the last week has been nothing short of traumatic. The graduate students, offended by her contributions to this discussion have banded together using pressure both on and off campus to wrongfully terminate Andrea without due process. Andrea was advised to go to the next class meeting and listen to the students concerns and apologize for the way the class went. They didn’t allow her to apologize and one student yelled at her. They have mounted a social media misinformation campaign that has made Andrea afraid to go to campus and even pull out of a professional conference. She has barely eaten or slept in 7 days. We have two young children who wonder why Mama is constantly crying. This harassment has been inescapable. The Twitter hashtag #FireAndreaQuenette is particularly disturbing. An open letter has been published full of misinformation and half-truths along with a drastic misrepresentation of the actual class discussion. This was also circulated among Andrea’s colleagues and peers.
Andrea will now need to fight for her job, both at the university level, and possibly in court. We do not know how what our future holds. We came to Kansas with the goal of raising our children and enjoying a town and a university we were proud to be a part of. All of that is now in doubt because of what has happened
Good God. These students are ruining the Quenette family’s life. The cretins who signed that open letter are: Gabrielle A. Byrd, Jyleesa R. Hampton, Benton J. Bajorek, Ian Beier, Benjamin L. Compton, Matthew D. Kay, Abigail N. Kingsford, Adam R. Raimond, Amy L. Schumacher, Talya P. Slaw, and Joshua Smith.
Do not forget their names. Don’t you dare forget their names. Over the weekend, another professor whose identity I confirmed sent me an e-mail, saying in part:
As a fellow communication professor on the tenure track, what’s happening at KU chills me about the future of my profession. As an evangelical with “crunchy con” political leanings, I’ve always had to be mindful of what supervisors or colleagues might do should I make me views too strongly known (though thankfully not at my current institution, in which I feel very welcomed!). But my concern increasingly is not with the higher-ups, but with the possibility of unintentionally saying (or failing to display proper outrage at) something that the wrong student deems triggering, insensitive, discriminatory, or “unsafe.”
What is particularly disheartening is that the students in this scenario are not just run-of-the-mill undergrads looking for a cause of the week. They are grad students in one of the top programs in my discipline. Some of them are going to be newly-minted professors within the next six years or less. I agree with Jonathan Haidt that something has shifted in the last two or three years in terms of the grievance culture among today’s students, and we are only just beginning to see the consequences in places like Mizzou, Yale, and now, KU. Currently, much of the ire is being directed by students against their professors, but what happens when these students *become* the professors?
I love my field, and most of my students and colleagues in the field are wonderful people, even though most (certainly at the faculty level) would disagree with me profoundly on numerous fundamental issues. What I wonder is whether this spirit can last as the mindset we are seeing among today’s students begins slowly trickling into the faculty ranks. I hope my fears are misplaced…
Did you read the Vox essay by the pseudonymous Edward Schlosser earlier this year, in which he said, “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me.” Excerpts:
Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.
Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that’s simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher’s formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.
The universities are taking authority away from professors and handing it over to student ideologues who neither deserve it nor know how to handle it. Is this how it’s going to be on campus for a while? Aggrieved SJW loudmouths abusing target teachers and getting away with it? If KU mistreats Dr. Quenette in any way, I hope the Kansas legislature will make its displeasure known at funding time.
If Dr. Quenette is ultimately vindicated in this matter, she will still carry a dark cloud over her head, one that may ultimately destroy her academic career. In which case I hope she lawyers up and files lawsuits against every one of those scummy grad student thugs. I’m going to make tags of all their names, so in the future, when they are college teachers, future students can google them and find out what they got up to, and know which teachers to avoid if you actually want to learn something.
UPDATE: The Communications Department is throwing its colleague Prof. Quenette to the wolves! They posted this to its web page, four days after the classroom incident that prompted the grad students’ complaint:
Statement in Support of a Safer and More Welcoming KU
November 16, 2015
Dear members of the KU community:
The Department of Communication Studies stands in solidarity with KU students, staff, and faculty who have called for immediate action on and around our campus to address the racism and discrimination inflicted on members of our community because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and/or other identities. We are committed to working with these community members to create a safe and equitable educational environment for everyone.
While some might like to pretend that our nation is free of racism and discrimination, the evidence is clear that far too many people in our society continue to suffer both indignity and physical threat from their fellow citizens. At times, these acts of racism and discrimination can be egregious. From the shooting death of the unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to the mass shooting of nine African Americans meeting at church in Charleston, South Carolina, we have all seen that not everyone believes black lives matter. From the images of a professional football player punching his fiancée to the all too frequent sexual assaults on our nation’s college campuses, we have all seen that not everyone believes women deserve unquestioned respect. And from gay couples denied their constitutional right to marry in Rowan County, Kentucky, to a transgender woman, Keisha Jenkins, beaten and shot to death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, we have all seen that not everyone believes all sexual orientations and gender identities are equal. In such a cultural climate, denials that racism and discrimination continue to permeate our society are deplorable.
Of course, not all forms of racism and discrimination are so outrageous. As scholars committed to the study of human communication, we are well aware that everyday words, gestures, and social interactions can also do serious damage. Commonly referred to as microaggressions, these seemingly innocuous moments of communication routinely insult and marginalize individuals and groups. Whether it is a group of young men referring to behavior deemed uncool as “gay” or a teacher turning to the lone minority student in a class expecting her to respond to a question about racism, these words and behaviors have negative consequences for the way people perceive themselves and their place in our community. While often unintentional, these microaggressions have no place at KU.
Unfortunately, as Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk and others have made abundantly clear, such behavior does happen here at KU and far too many of our students feel unwelcome. Through their protests, use of social media, and engagement in forums, these brave students have reported microaggressions inside and outside the classroom, explicitly racist and sexist language on campus, and even sexual assault and physical intimidation. Given such a reality, demands to better train everyone on campus to be more inclusive and to do more to hire diverse faculty and staff should be welcomed at KU, with one of its core values being to foster “a multicultural environment in which the dignity and rights of the individual are respected.” Indeed, such demands are most certainly welcome in the Department of Communication Studies, where we continue to work on hiring for diversity, recruiting and retaining minority students, and training our faculty, staff and students to be more inclusive and respectful.
Therefore, we join our fellow students, staff, and faculty in calling on the University of Kansas’ administration and governance to act swiftly and deliberately in addressing the racism and discrimination on and around our campus. As a department, we are listening intently to the concerns of those who have been marginalized and are working on doing everything we can to ensure that all the undergraduate and graduate students who attend any of our classes or departmental events find a safe and welcoming environment. And we stand ready to assist others in helping to fight and eradicate racism and discrimination. Through the power of intentional dialogue and open communication, we believe that we can all, even those just now coming to realize the severity of this problem and their own role in it, work together toward making the University of Kansas a model for the inclusivity and acceptance of all people.
UPDATE.2: You have got to read this comment from a reader:
I’m an alumnus of the graduate program in question. I’ve been in touch this past week with graduate students in the department and have tried to get some info from my professors, but the latter are maintaining a pretty strict radio silence (understandably). From what I can tell, no one expects Dr. Quenette to survive this. The campus radicals have been calling for the chancellor to resign (a black woman, by the way) because of some perceived failure to combat the usual litany of problems (real and otherwise).
I was in the department when Dr. Quenette was hired, and she is a wonderful and kind person. Her kids are adorable. She’s a good presence in the building. It’s incredible that she may be fired for using a racial slur in a discussion about racial slurs and racial incidents. I don’t know any of the students who wrote that shallow and vile letter, but if they cannot distinguish between hateful language and a discussion about hateful language, then I’m embarrassed to have been admitted to the same program as them.
The Coms program at KU is among the nation’s oldest and probably among the five most highly regarded in the country. And that is precisely why she will probably be fired. If she isn’t, it will decimate an already underfunded department (like many places, KU is shifting virtually every resource into engineering and medicine). What graduate students will come to the place that kept a “racist” professor? What prospective faculty members will want to join? What grant funding would come our way if this woman is not ejected from the “safe, inclusive environment”?
The most disgusting and deplorable part of this entire story is that the precious students demanded Dr. Quenette read aloud in class the letter calling for her own termination. Have these students never read about the Soviet show trials? The forced guillotine-platform confessions?
There is a new kind of intellectual tyranny spreading on campuses, and any of us who care about traditional conservatism need to care about it. The idea starts on campus but will spread through society. Things that we hold dear — tradition, faith, community — will be denounced as racist, bigoted, irrational, and so on, and will be deemed unworthy of expression and thus prohibited. When Rod says “they are coming for us,” he is not being hyperbolic. As an academic, I can vouch for this. They are not just coming; they are here. You can say, “Oh, I’m not a professor, this doesn’t affect me.” I promise you that if you are a believer, a traditionalist, or even just slightly skeptical of the Willed-Self project, then they are coming for you next. “Silence is Violence” is their mantra. If you do not declare fealty to them, they will destroy your career, your reputation, and, eventually, intellectual freedom.
UPDATE.3: Amy Schumacher is a grad student in that class, and one of the signers of that letter. From the comments on her Facebook page:
Dan Singleton: It’s unbelievable that someone so offended by another person speaking a word would so readily type the same word without immediately being engulfed with the realization of their own hypocrisy.
Amy Schumacher: For clarification, this was a collectively written letter and because it is not appropriate for me or any of my white colleagues to write the word (even in attempt to be absolutely specific about what occurred), we were not the ones who wrote that part.
Josh Hill: You don’t even feel you can write the word when it’s a quote, because you’re white? Would you be unable to transcribe a Carl Sandburg poem as well? This is why crazy right-wingers have a point when they talk about political correctness!
That’s right: the N-word is so toxic that white people in graduate school cannot even type it, even for the sake of condemning it. These people are mentally ill.