Yesterday, BuzzFeed News published a story about a freshman at Reed College, a small liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon.

Nineteen-year-old Jeremiah True told BuzzFeed News he received a letter from his freshman humanities professor, Pancho Savery, banning him from the discussion portion of the class for the rest of the semester.

Katie J.M. Baker reported for BuzzFeed News:

…“Please know that this was a difficult decision for me to make and one that I have never made before; nevertheless, in light of the serious stress you have caused your classmates, I feel that I have no other choice,” Savery wrote in the email, obtained by BuzzFeed News.

…True said he sparred with classmates over discussion topics related to ancient Greece and Rome, such as the “patriarchal” belief that logic is more important than emotion and his analysis of Lucretia’s rape. But it was his questioning of the widely shared and often debated statistic that 1 in 5 women in college are sexually assaulted — it doesn’t serve “actual rape victims” to “overinflate” numbers, he said — and his rejection of the term “rape culture” that led to him being banned, he said.

“I am critical of the idea of a rape culture because it does not exist,” he wrote in a lengthy email to Savery explaining his perspectives that he has also posted online. “We live in a society that hates rape, but also hasn’t optimized the best way to handle rape. Changing the legal definition of rape is a slippery slope. If sexual assault becomes qualified as rape, what happens next? What else can we legally redefine to become rape? Why would we want to inflate the numbers of rape in our society?”

Today, new information revealed in an article published by Inside Higher Ed suggests BuzzFeed didn’t get the whole story. Though it should be noted Professor Savery declined to provide comment to BuzzFeed, but was willing to discuss the matter with Insider Higher Ed.

Kaitlin Mulhere of Inside Higher Ed writes:

The professor, Pancho Savery, described a different scenario. True was not banned from the class for what he said, but rather as a result of a series of disruptive behaviors, Savery said. He declined to elaborate on the behaviors.

True declined to be interviewed Thursday. When contacted via e-mail, he responded that he would only answer questions if the first word in the article was “nigger.” Inside Higher Ed refused to make such a commitment, and he then declined to talk.

True’s odd request was also one made of Reason when Robby Soave contacted True for comment.

Professor Savery is known for being an outspoken advocate for free speech:

BuzzFeed’s account suggests True was banned from discussion based on an isolated incident. BuzzFeed also indicated it was too late for True to transfer to a different class section. The article by IHE contradicts both assertions.

Multiple students approached both Professor Savery indicating True’s behavior made them uncomfortable. As both Buzzfeed and IHE point out, numerous students personally appealed to True after class, sharing their personal stories with the hope True would understand why his remarks made them uncomfortable. There also appears to have been ongoing correspondence between True and Savery prior to Savery’s decision to remove True from the discussion portion of the class. In a letter he wrote to Reed faculty members, True appears to have been aware that his actions were disruptive as he was, “trying to monitor his behavior in class.”

On the matter of repeated attempts to curb True’s behavior

…True described himself in the letter to faculty members as quite vocal in class and as someone who’s not afraid to share his opinion. He wrote that he tried to monitor his behavior in class — and thought he was doing so successfully — after being told by Savery that other classmates felt he was making sexist comments.

But last week, Savery held a class meeting at which True wasn’t present. The rest of the students talked about the classroom environment.

More than one student in the class had told Savery that they’d been sexually assaulted, and both male and female students complained about True’s behavior.

“You have made them extremely uncomfortable with what they see as not only your undermining incidents of rape, but of also placing too much emphasis on men being unfairly charged with rape,” Savery wrote to True.
The exchange comes from a series of e-mails that True copied into his letter to faculty. Only the text of the e-mails is visible and not the addresses, dates or times.

Savery told True that he had to do what was best for the well-being of the class, and so True was banned from the discussion section.

On the matter of transferring to another class section

…True was offered the option to transfer into a different section, and he also was offered the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Savery, said Kevin Myers, director of strategic communications. He declined both of those offers.

While some accounts of the story have described True’s sexual assault comment as a onetime occurrence, Myers stressed that it was a continual issue in the course. True was removed not for the content of his speech but because of the context, he said.

While it’s very rare, faculty members have the right to remove anyone whose behavior is interrupting the abilities of other people to learn, he said.

“When a student’s behavior disrupts that environment substantially, then we have an obligation to act,” Myers said.

A spokesman for Reed College says they’re working to find a remedy suitable for everyone involved.

Myers, the Reed spokesman, said the college was working to find a solution that satisfies everyone. True is an intelligent student who has strong ideas and isn’t afraid to question things, he said.

“There’s room for that at a place like Reed College — to have an opinion even when it’s uncomfortable,” he said. “But you also have to have respect for your fellow students and share those opinions at a time that’s appropriate.”

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