Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Entitled?

The newspapers are awash with stories of the Mizzou protests. Little coverage on the ivy league campus Yale as well they are a group who prefers to lobby in the house of Congress then on the campus or streets. So I find the silence more telling than the voices of Mizzou and when I read this young woman's experience (among other students as well) there I wanted to be surprised but alas no.  I see and hear ignorance from both sides on a daily basis. And some of that is ignorance and some of it is racist. But how do you know the difference? I have no clue as I again the level of ignorance is not color blind in the least.

Racism and prejudice are double sided coins and not so exclusively limited to the colors of black and/or white.   Even the young woman admits to the same with the use of the ubiquitous pronouns, "them" and identifying people by race. It becomes quite easy to fall upon the most extrinsic of reasons to dislike people and color and gender are always reliable. Yet in reality, in the world outside of Fox News, the reasons to dislike become more complicated. But in the world of the media it is he/she who speaks loudest seems to be the most the heard. I can assure you that in a classroom of angry teens that this is not true.

I see this time and time again. The shouting the yelling versus the dulcet tones of those in charge. It becomes at first patronizing with a touch of condescention then quickly turns into accusations and blame making. So do I think much will come of change in Missouri? No, they gave us one President, a haberdasher and he dropped not one but two nuclear bombs in which to end a war, so it appears that in one way, Missouri is ground zero for this new civil rights movement.

 I have long said that the mockery and the absurdity that comes with "safe zones" and "trigger warnings" along with more insidious demands that texts be unread, speech be mollified and those with whom we disagree be dis-invited from any events a strange contradiction to the idea that free speech is that  warts and all. I read this editorial today and thought she said it so eloquently and from a voice that has to be heard.   But are we entitled to be heard?   That is the real question the sense of entitlement that truly clouds this debate and that is the real matter that will not be heard.

Who Is Entitled to Be Heard?

NOV. 12, 2015

SOME of the most potent threats to free speech these days come not from our government or corporations, but from our citizenry. Pitched battles being waged at Yale and the University of Missouri pit speech versus speech in a contest of who and what is entitled to be heard. These are only the latest examples: In recent years speakers have been disinvited, campus events disrupted and activists threatened for speaking their minds.

The passions are authentic and the debates matter. But proponents of social and racial justice and free speech advocates are talking past one another, fueling mutual frustrations. Rather than a casualty of the drive to counter racism on campus, the defense of free speech is essential to it.

Simmering racial tensions at Yale combusted when the question of what constitutes a legitimate Halloween costume — and who gets to decide — escalated into a war of emails and videos endangering the reputations and safety of two college masters accused of insensitivity, and a student whose fiery tirade against one of them has been met with death threats online.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

At the University of Missouri, after protests forced the school’s president and chancellor to resign over problems of campus racism, a student journalist was browbeaten; his entreaty that “the First Amendment protects your right to be here and mine” was ignored. A social media avalanche has now piled on a media studies professor who called for “muscle” to push another photographer out of the way.

Some student rights advocates seem convinced that their needs and safety can be assured only by restricting speech. They demand “trigger warnings” on syllabuses, safe spaces on campus where unwelcome views are excluded and de facto prohibitions on potentially offensive forms of expression — including poor-taste Halloween costumes.

The restrictions they seek would not be imposed by the government, or even necessarily the university administration, but by the students themselves and the anonymous armadas of online ostracizers who might rally to their cause. As all sides in this conflict are fast learning, the penalties of online pariahdom — damaged careers, vows of physical harm — can chill speech just as cold as the threat of jail.

On the flip side, among defenders of free speech, conservative and liberal alike, the students’ outbursts are met with dumbfounded incomprehension, laced with ridicule. Students are brushed off as a misguided generation of hothouse flowers. Their fears for their own physical and emotional “safety” are dismissed as Salem-style hysteria.

Both sides are wrong. The dispute is too often framed as a binary match between an emphasis on individual rights — to speech, opinions and Halloween costumes — and the communitarian drive to create campuses bound by shared values and girded against outside intrusion. But these are hardly mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the United States does a better job fostering coexistence between individual liberty and respect for minorities than nearly any other society.

Student protesters needn’t give up their drive to nurture and protect diverse communities in order to accommodate free speech. In fact, free speech is an essential dimension of vibrant campus communities. Who would trade their free-range spirit for the dreary sameness of a corporate office, with its federally sanctioned posters on what constitutes unlawful discrimination?

Free speech has long been a potent weapon for disenfranchised groups, used to expose repression and prevent the powerful from silencing dissent. As John Lewis, the civil rights activist and Democratic congressman from Georgia, said, “Without the media the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.” For champions of the marginalized to curb opposing speech denies them the moral standing to resist the university’s efforts to silence them. The Missouri protesters have hearteningly awakened to this point, standing up for the photographer whom they had shunned.

Moreover, without free speech, the “safe spaces” students crave will soon suffocate them. Social movements must evolve or they die. Ideological and even tactical evolution demands willingness to hear out heterodoxy.

Likewise, free speech defenders will not win by dismissing students as insolent whiners. These students are smart and enterprising. While some ringleaders may fall within the distinguished American tradition of overzealousness in campus protest, the Missouri football team can’t be written off as a bunch of cosseted wusses.

Administrators and commentators need to acknowledge students’ well-founded concerns. They are bent on eradicating the vestiges of overt racism, as well as the prejudices and inequities that fuel it, and are demanding that the leadership of their institutions join the push.

Instead of deriding trigger warnings, safe spaces and censored Halloween costumes, free speech proponents need to advance alternatives that resonate with the students they want to reach. Instead of insisting that individual rights not be subordinated to the ethic of the community, advocates need to explain how free speech can fortify that ethic. They need to tackle ways that racism and discrimination can themselves chill speech.

But they also need to be vigilant when the marketplace of ideas fails: when speech crosses into threats or harassment, or is used to shut down opposing speech. Authorities must intervene not on the side of one or another opposing speaker, but to right the marketplace on behalf of free speech itself — by convening dialogue, providing security for speakers and acting to address the underlying concerns that fuel calls to suppress speech.

The Black Lives Matter movement and the campus protests are efforts to jump-start a drive for racial equality that has stalled in key areas. Free speech is essential to that quest.
And this was also an issue in Nicholas Kristof's column today. Add another voice to the list that debates the struggle of wanting to be heard but controlling the message. How ironic that the last time I had this debate was the march to war in Iraq. Wasn't that message controlled as well? There was little debate on that decision. So who one allows and enables to make decisions for you can have great affect and effect on who is the messenger as well. Perhaps the young students might realize that without a leader there is no one to make those tough decisions and deliver those tough messages to all sides.

Mizzou, Yale and Free Speech

NOV. 11, 2015
The New York Times
Nicholas Kristof

On university campuses across the country, from Mizzou to Yale, we have two noble forces colliding with explosive force.

One is a concern for minority or marginalized students and faculty members, who are often left feeling as outsiders in ways that damage everyone’s education. At the University of Missouri, a black professor, Cynthia Frisby, wrote, “I have been called the N-word too many times to count.”

The problem is not just racists who use epithets but also administrators who seem to acquiesce. That’s why Mizzou students — especially football players — used their clout to oust the university system’s president. They showed leadership in trying to rectify a failure of leadership.

But moral voices can also become sanctimonious bullies.

“Go, go, go,” some Mizzou protesters yelled as they jostled a student photographer, Tim Tai, who was trying to document the protests unfolding in a public space. And Melissa Click, an assistant professor who joined the protests, is heard on a video calling for “muscle” to oust another student journalist (she later apologized).

Tai represented the other noble force in these upheavals — free expression. He tried to make the point, telling the crowd: “The First Amendment protects your right to be here — and mine.”

We like to caricature great moral debates as right confronting wrong. But often, to some degree, it’s right colliding with right.

Yes, universities should work harder to be inclusive. And, yes, campuses must assure free expression, which means protecting dissonant and unwelcome voices that sometimes leave other people feeling aggrieved or wounded.

On both counts we fall far short.

We’ve also seen Wesleyan students debate cutting funding for the student newspaper after it ran an op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. At Mount Holyoke, students canceled a production of “The Vagina Monologues” because they felt it excluded transgender women. Protests led to the withdrawal of Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker at Rutgers and Christine Lagarde at Smith.

This is sensitivity but also intolerance, and it is disproportionately an instinct on the left.

I’m a pro-choice liberal who has been invited to infect evangelical Christian universities with progressive thoughts, and to address Catholic universities where I’ve praised condoms and birth control programs. I’m sure I discomfited many students on these conservative campuses, but it’s a tribute to them that they were willing to be challenged. In the same spirit, liberal universities should seek out pro-life social conservatives to speak.

More broadly, academia — especially the social sciences — undermines itself by a tilt to the left. We should cherish all kinds of diversity, including the presence of conservatives to infuriate us liberals and make us uncomfortable. Education is about stretching muscles, and that’s painful in the gym and in the lecture hall.

One of the wrenching upheavals lately has unfolded at Yale. Longtime frustrations among minority students boiled over after administrators seemed to them insufficiently concerned about offensive costumes for Halloween. A widely circulated video showed a furious student shouting down one administrator, Prof. Nicholas Christakis. “Be quiet!” she screams at him. “It is not about creating an intellectual space!”

A student wrote an op-ed about “the very real hurt” that minority students feel, adding: “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” That prompted savage commentary online. “Is Yale letting in 8-year-olds?” one person asked on Twitter.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page denounced “Yale’s Little Robespierres.” It followed up Wednesday with another editorial, warning that the P.C. mind-set “threatens to undermine or destroy universities as a place of learning.”

I suggest we all take a deep breath.

The protesters at Mizzou and Yale and elsewhere make a legitimate point: Universities should work harder to make all students feel they are safe and belong. Members of minorities — whether black or transgender or (on many campuses) evangelical conservatives — should be able to feel a part of campus, not feel mocked in their own community.

The problems at Mizzou were underscored on Tuesday when there were death threats against black students. What’s unfolding at universities is not just about free expression but also about a safe and nurturing environment.

Consider an office where bosses shrug as some men hang nude centerfolds and leeringly speculate about the sexual proclivities of female colleagues. Free speech issue? No! That’s a hostile work environment. And imagine if you’re an 18-year-old for whom this is your 24/7 home — named, say, for a 19th-century pro-slavery white supremacist.

My favorite philosopher, the late Sir Isaiah Berlin, argued that there was a deep human yearning to find the One Great Truth. In fact, he said, that’s a dead end: Our fate is to struggle with a “plurality of values,” with competing truths, with trying to reconcile what may well be irreconcilable.

That’s unsatisfying. It’s complicated. It’s also life.

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