We previously discussed the disgraceful attack on former swimmer Riley Gaines who was reportedly assaulted when she tried to speak about her views on transgender issues at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Gaines had to be removed to a locked room for hours by police for her own protection. It is now clear why students believed that they had license to engage in such disruptions. SFSU has issued a statement that was conspicuous in its failure to condemn the mob or promise accountability for these actions.
The event was only the latest example of protesters “deplatforming” speakers with opposing views by shouting them down. The mob, however, was so unruly that police had to rush Gaines to safety.
One would think that this would be an easy call for any institution of higher education. Denying free expression and threatening those with opposing views is the very antithesis of core principles.
Instead, SFSU issued a statement that seemed to express sympathy for the protesters and those who were exposed to her views.
After beginning by expressing concern for the transgender community, the statement of Jamillah Moore, Vice President for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, repeatedly commends students for their protest and says “Thank you to our students who participated peacefully in Thursday evening’s event. It took tremendous bravery to stand in a challenging space.” At no point does SFSU express concern for Gaines or the students who arranged for the event. At no point does SFSU promise to hold students responsible for shouting down the speaker or endangering her.
Gaines has like Northwestern. A Sociology 201 class by Professor Beth Redbird was supposed to examine “inequality in American society with an emphasis on race, class and gender.” To that end, Redbird invited both an undocumented person and a spokesperson for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It is the type of balance that is now considered verboten on campuses.
Members of MEChA de Northwestern, Black Lives Matter NU, the Immigrant Justice Project, the Asian Pacific American Coalition, NU Queer Trans Intersex People of Color and Rainbow Alliance organized to stop other students from hearing from the ICE representative. However, they could not have succeeded without the help of Northwestern administrators (including Dean of Students Todd Adams). The protesters were screaming “F**k ICE” outside of the hall. Adams and the other administrators then said that the protesters screaming profanities would be allowed into the class if they promised not to be disruptive.
Of course, that did not happen. As soon as the protesters were allowed into the classroom, they prevented the ICE representative from speaking. The ICE representatives eventually left and Redbird canceled the class to discuss the issue with the protesters that just prevented her students from hearing an opposing view.
SESP sophomore April Navarro publicly rejected that faculty should be allowed to invite such speakers to their classrooms for a “good, nice conversation with ICE.” She insisted such speakers needed to be silenced because they “terrorize communities” and profit from detainee labor:
“We’re not interested in having those types of conversations that would be like, ‘Oh, let’s listen to their side of it’ because that’s making them passive rule-followers rather than active proponents of violence. We’re not engaging in those kinds of things; it legitimizes ICE’s violence, it makes Northwestern complicit in this. There’s an unequal power balance that happens when you deal with state apparatuses.”
No students were ever punished. Similarly, in the outrageous shouting down of an appellate judge at Stanford Law School, the Dean voiced support for free speech but refused to sanction any of the students responsible for the disruption.
The message from these universities is clear: students will not be held accountable for the denial of free speech. That knowledge fuels the sense of license to bar opposing views.
The actions of the students will likely find equal support from many in the California legislature. However, it is the position of the university that will cause the most lasting damage.
Here is the statement:
Dear SF State community, Today, San Francisco State finds itself again at the center of a national discussion regarding freedom of speech and expression. Let me begin by saying clearly: the trans community is welcome and belongs at San Francisco State University. Further, our community fiercely believes in unity, connection, care and compassion, and we value different ideas, even when they are not our own. SF State is regularly noted as one of the most diverse campuses in the United States—this is what makes us Gators, and this is what makes us great. Diversity promotes critical discussions, new understandings and enriches the academic experience. But we may also find ourselves exposed to divergent views and even views we find personally abhorrent. These encounters have sometimes led to discord, anger, confrontation and fear. We must meet this moment and unite with a shared value of learning.
Thank you to our students who participated peacefully in Thursday evening’s event. It took tremendous bravery to stand in a challenging space. I am proud of the moments where we listened and asked insightful questions. I am also proud of the moments when our students demonstrated the value of free speech and the right to protest peacefully. These issues do not go away, and these values are very much at our core.
This feels difficult because it is difficult. As you reflect, process, and begin to heal, please remember that there are people, resources and services available and ready to receive our Gator community, including faculty, staff members, coaches and mentors who are here to support you.
Campus resources are also available:
1) Equity and Community Inclusion
2) Counseling and Psychological Services
3) Dean of Students Office
The well-being of the SF State campus community remains our priority.
Jamillah Moore, Ed.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management
Reprinted with permission from JonathanTurley.org.