You may have heard that Ryan Spector, a Dartmouth student, got into big trouble for writing an op-ed in his college paper (The Dartmouth) questioning why 15 of the 19 directors of the student program “The Trips” (it runs summer excursions for incoming first-years) were female. Claiming that this unbalanced sex ratio reflected an exercise in diversity gone wild, Spector got the response that selection was based purely on merit. He didn’t buy it, and concluded:
No matter how many men Trips excludes from directorate, the Class of 2022 will still be roughly 50 percent male. As they do each year, male members of the class will look for Trips role models who share their gender identity, just as any person might. But they will find fewer of them, because Trips is apparently no longer for trippees. It is for ideology, no matter how cruel the implications.
On a campus like Dartmouth (or pretty much any campus that isn’t religious), that’s stepping into a minefield, even if the selection was deliberately biased towards women. The claim that men needs “role models who share their gender identity” would be particularly inflammatory. And opprobrium Spector got—in spades! As the conservative Dartmouth Review reported, noting that Spector’s piece was “inflammatory” and written “out of bitterness”
One day after the op-ed was posted, Link Up, a women’s student group, sent out a campus-wide email with the heading, “Statement in Solidarity”. The email defended Pierson and Rodriguez-Caspeta [the directors of Trips], and claimed that Spector’s article “attacks marginalized identities.” The email also celebrated the high percentage of female students in the new directorate as “correcting [for] years of underrepresentation and marginalization”.
. . . Throughout the weekend and into the next week, over 30 campus organizations followed their lead and sent out their own letters of “solidarity” with the Trips director and assistant director, further denouncing Spector’s op-ed as an “attack” on women and women of color. [JAC: There’s no mention of people of color in Spector’s article.] The wash of emails came from a wide range of student groups, including the Committee on Sexual Assault, several a capella groups, senior societies, sororities, one fraternity, and a variety of other minority and women’s groups. The emails varied in the severity of their accusations, but the allegations against Spector as a violent perpetrator of racism and sexism were common throughout.
. . . On Monday, a campus email from the Stonefence Review, a Dartmouth literary magazine, took a more personal turn. The letter first criticized Spector and called for The Dartmouth to rescind the op-ed, but then went on to publicly name the fraternity of which Spector is a member, demanding that the fraternity itself apologize for the “act of violence” that Spector committed. In bold font, the letter then calls on the fraternity to use their “place of power” with respect to Spector’s social life to “take a stand,” implying that the fraternity should take some sort of disciplinary action against him.
They conclude, and I agree, that this kind of vicious, personal, and bullying response was uncalled for. I wouldn’t have written what Spector did, but the kind of response he got reflects poorly on the offended.
FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), adds a bit more information and rebuts the oft-heard but erroneous claim that offensive speech is equivalent to physical violence:
As stated by one of Spector’s detractors when calling on Spector’s fraternity to condemn his op-ed: “[W]e call upon Alpha Chi Alpha to acknowledge that their own words do not recognize that their brother has committed an act of violence.”
Students are free to rebuke or ignore writing they find distasteful, and even call for social sanctions on the offending author. However, classifying political speech as literal violence has drastic consequences for those seeking to speak out on campus. Besides trivializing actual violence, conflating controversial opinions with physical harm justifies censorship and perhaps actual physical violence against the speaker in the name of supposed “self-defense” by aggrieved parties. It also sends the perverse message that college students are too weak to confront divergent ideas and must instead shield themselves from perceived “violent” viewpoints.
It’s time that we get this clear: speech, even “hate speech” is nothing like physical violence. The latter wounds bodies and is therefore illegal; the former may, at best, cause offense, and is Constitutionally legal. Further Spector may have had a point: perhaps there was selection bias towards females on that committee. If that was the case, then one needs to debate whether such a reverse gender bias is acceptable given years of bias against women. That’s the kind of discussion that, regardless of the outcome, moves society forward. Responding with names, hatred, and doxxing does not answer Spector’s claim, even if it was inflammatory.
Further, the “normalization” (I don’t like that word) of “hate speech” as “violence” is itself a recipe for real, physical violence. If you consider the sentiments of white supremacists—or the tamer words of Spector—as “violence”, you might be tempted to answer them with real violence, causing a brawl that hurts bodies and property. That, in fact, is exactly what happened at UC Berkeley when Milo Yiannopoulos spoke: Antifa and their minions went wild, doing thousands of dollars of damage to Berkeley storefronts. Yiannopoulos wasn’t silenced, except for the moment (he’s been in disgrace for other things he said).
If a criticism of biased sex ratios, and the implication of “reverse discrimination,” constitutes violence, then almost anything can be seen that way, launching not just the outpouring of hatred that Spector received (note that I don’t call that “violence”), and maybe even pitched battles—the kind of battle that Evergreen State students were seeking when they roamed the campus with baseball bats after the Bret Weinstein affair.
As FIRE concludes, “Free speech, properly understood, is not violence. It is a cure for violence.”