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Conor Friedersdorf’s Atlantic essay focuses on the Christakises and how they and eventually their would-be defenders have been treated, and also briefly takes into account the assertion linked by Nevermoor below that “it’s not about Halloween costumes.”

Characteristically for disputes of this general type, one side refers to a “larger wrong” taken to overwhelm any concern for an individual “caught in the middle.” Also, typically, being concerned for such an individual will be itself taken as participating in the larger wrong, especially if the individual belongs to the identified enemy group – the group whose members can always be presumed in the wrong – in this case defined racially.

Concern for the individuals “caught in the middle,” determination that they be held accountable for their own statements and actions only, rather than having their rights and interests minimized, is the typical and defining liberal concern. To diminish it presumptively seems to place the goal of a just society, or of a society just in some particular way, over the goal of society anyone would want to live in (or be able to pursue questions of common concern rationally, freely, safely, and peacefully in).

The common demand that the accused individual recite a statement confessing to crimes against the just society, including the crime of being born to the wrong class and race, before or in the process of accepting punishment, repeats this demotion of the individual to mere symbol. What’s important is not what the person might freely come to think, or for that matter what happens to him or her, but that he or she publicly submit to the new power.CK MacLeod

I’m going to go out on a limb right now and predict that everyone is just going to line up without waiting to hear what that history is, pick a side that fits a narrative they already have going in their head about college kids today or PC or SJW or The Man or whatever, and run with it. I mean, just run the s**t out of it.Tod Kelly

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Over There, I did a linkchain post about the situation in Missouri:

Black players on the University of Missouri football team say they will boycott practices, meetings and games until the university dismisses its president or he quits, contending he has not responded adequately to concerns about racism on campus.

The move comes as a hunger strike staged by a graduate student to protest racism enters a second week. A majority of the 35,000 students at the university in Columbia, about 125 miles (200 km) west of St. Louis, are white.

“The athletes of color on the University of Missouri football team truly believe ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’” the university’s Legion of Black Collegians said in a statement on Twitter.

“We will no longer participate in any football-related activities until President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed due to his negligence toward marginalized students’ experience,” it said. More than 30 players were in a photograph linked to the statement posted on Saturday night.

In a statement released on Sunday afternoon, Wolfe indicated no intention to resign but said solutions to the students’ concerns were being discussed.

Wolfe did, in fact resign. The system chancellor also announced his departure, though unlike Wolfe, his will not be immediate.

The lesson? Don’t mess with football! Actually, that’s both correct and incorrect. While some are saying this shows the awesome power of football, it’s not clear whether it was the decisive factor when it came to the outcome. Wolfe had lost the confidence of just about everybody. What the football program did do was deprive Wolfe of his only change of staying. Absent what the football players did, it seems likely Wolfe would have tried to wait it out. His success would have been improbably, but possible. However, if the football team isn’t practicing and paying, you go from having nothing to lose by holding off a few weeks (on the unlikely chance that his fortunes could reverse) to the enmity of the entire state.

But besides putting Wolfe on a clock, the main thing that football program did was make the situation very distinct from what’s going on at Yale University. For those of you that are not familiar with the situation at Yale, the convergence of a few events (a fraternity allegedly saying “white girls only” and an email from a house administrator regarding Halloween costumes) has lead to a series of protests and rallies about how the university and its students treat its minority (and particularly black) students.

Relatively few seem especially impressed by the Yale students. Most of the debate is whether it is indicative of the downfall of civilization, or just kids being kids. I consider it something close to the latter myself. Which may sound generous, but is actually a bit condescending. But I have taken the strategy of not freaking out about kids in college lacking the sense of perspective and overreacting to crap.

Also, protesting and holding rallies can be really gratifying. Writing long-winded pieces about justice and righteousness is fun and interesting. I’m not a protester or rally sort, but I am a “write long-winded piece” sort of person. When it comes to these activities, they often exist in search of a cause to latch on to. And when you’re young, everything can be a grand battle. There is also the high of being a part of a movement, perhaps the largest distinction with that and a mob being the clear-eyed justice of the cause.

So people who who want to gather and spontaneously rally and write op-eds can pretty easily get wound up on things in a volume out of proportion with that clear-eyed view.

But while protesting, writing op-eds, and yelling at authority figures can be fun, one thing that isn’t fun is sitting out a sporting event if you’re an athlete. That was, to me, why the Missouri football team really got my attention. These kids have been working most of their lives to play football at the college level. Their refusal to do so isn’t just latching on to a cause aligned with something they are predisposed to do anyway. If they’re doing this in saying that the president has got to go, I’m inclined to think that the environment is bad enough that the president does, in fact, got to go.

That’s not the only distinction between the two. At the risk of being a classist, this plays a role. Not so much (though partly) in the privilege of Yale youth (even those with darker skin), but because of how… realistic, for lack of a better term… accusations of a hostile environment sound to me. This is superficial and obviously not scientific, but while a part of me would actually really like to believe that Yale is essentially no different than the University of Mississippi or the University of Missouri*… I have difficulty. Maybe that’s not right and it’s not fair (either to Missouri or to minority students at Yale), it is nonetheless an impression I have. Not that the people of Yale are enlightened, exactly, but that even the renegade fraternities have more sense than to loudly proclaim “White girls only” at a party.

None of this is to excuse some of the excesses of the Missouri protesters and their faculty allies. There are some doubts being raised about the incident that kicked all of this off may be a hoax**, possibly fanned on by an opportunistic faculty or just an activist in search of a cause. And… it may be. It certainly wouldn’t be the first. These are questions to be asked. But on the question of whether I think Missouri has issues that I am less sure Yale does, I definitely find myself more open to hearing of a hostile environment necessitating a response.

Which, of course, could leave me in the position of “Dude, never believe college students ever.” Or perhaps more generously, “any valiant cause is likely to be infiltrated by bad actors.”

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It’s not clear how much the specifics of the original charge matter, if Wolfe’s termination was a product more of the response to the original incidents. On the other hand, it is also entirely possible that the leadership did look them, determine that there was no real “there” there, but that engaging the kids by calling them liars or opening themselves up to further misinterpretation was the bad bet for the university (not just its leadership) overall. That turned out to be a bad bet, but making a bad bet is different from being indifferent to Hate on Campus.

Subsequent events have almost uniformly undermined the Mizzou movement. There was the communications professor who wanted to get muscle to kick out photographers. While Yale had the student with the op-ed about not wanting debate, Missouri has the student vice president questioning the First Amendment. A professor who declined to cancel exams was harassed to the point of resignation (which was rejected by the university). All of these can be explained or isolated to be condemned. The actions of a communications professor are not the actions of a movement. The words of a student council vice president might be more indicative of sentiment, but that takes us back to Dreznerianism that there’s only so much account we can hold to young people stretching their intellectual legs. And with regard to the resigning professor, I heard a couple rumors that one of his tormentors was a high school kid in Houston. Which is maybe not the case, but it would stand to reason that there were a lot of outsiders piling on.

And nothing we have seen tells us that there are no racial problems on Mizzou, or problems so bad to warrant such a response. It doesn’t follow from the above that the students don’t have a reason to be anxious and aren’t victims of everyday racism and harassment. It doesn’t follow that actual events haven’t occurred on the micro and macro level, even if they’re harder to isolate or identify. The increased attention and scrutiny makes it hard to determine in the midst of the fever pitch. While not as bad as being fired, stripping the communications professor of her honorary title in the heat of current tensions seems like a bad idea. Professors resigning seems like a bad idea. The best idea, to me, is to calm down. Which is not only off the menu, but a suggestion itself that is offensive to some.

Meanwhile, things seem to have calmed down at Yale. That may be because Yale happened first. More disturbingly, it may be because at Yale the protesters never drew blood while, at Missouri, having done so, they are only more energized. While I don’t object to the resolutions in New Haven of Columbia specifically, the lessons drawn from this may not be what the students want. Next time it may put my theory about the football team not necessarily being necessary to the test, except with added incentive for everyone to rally around the administration.

* – Admittedly, this is partially because of regionalism. But also because “Large state school versus Ivy League private school.” I’d probably approach UMass (northern state school) and SMU (southern private one) with more of a Missouri perspective.

** – There evidently was a police report where the poop swastika was observed. That part seems settled. Whether that swastika was intended hate speech or a hoax intended to raise awareness of hate speech, though, is unclear.


Category: Newsroom

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3 Responses to Missouri v Yale

  1. Guy says:

    I think in some ways opportunistic faculty are the most dangerous thing these kinds of protests face. When I was in high school, I was part of a (poorly thought out and in retrospect frankly stupid) walkout over the state public schooling budget. I remember distinctly one of the English teachers joining the crowd and leading them in the following chant:

    “What do we want? Teachers’ rights!”

    It made me uncomfortable then, and I think now that I’m right to be discomfited, because the protest, foolish as it was, was to my mind a student protest. Not a teacher protest. And the issue was not, or at least not exclusively, the province of the teachers. So what was his business going in and taking over? Using his authority and social clout as a “rebel teacher” to get on the side of the protesters and get them to spread his message?

    And that sort of thing can bring down a movement with otherwise good ideas and good goals, if it knocks them onto a different track and gets them making arguments that aren’t relevant.

    • trumwill says:

      Opportunistic infiltration seems like a pretty recurrent problem. It seems to be so especially on the left, but you see it on the right, too. (A lot of early Tea Partiers say – and I believe them – that it was never meant to be a catchall for conservatism, but that conservatives kept coming in and redirecting energies away from initial aims into a take-no-prisoners conservatism.)

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