One part of my communications with Brown Prof. Naoko Shibusawa has stuck in my mind:
“You can quote those two lines. Those only.”
Shibusawa is the person featured in my post Tuesday night, Brown U. divestment committee faculty member signed 2009 letter calling Israel Apartheid state.
The post started by referencing her support for the Brown shout-down of Ray Kelly expressed in her Letter to the Editor of the Brown Daily Herald:
“… I want to point out that every movement toward social justice in U.S. history has included “misbehavior.” “Misbehavior” is a tactic of the disempowered toward disrupting the status quo…. So unlike [Biology Prof. Ken Miller who denounced the shout-down], I applaud the student protesters for their moral courage in a righteous cause against racial profiling and brutal police tactics and for their resolution in the face of the harsh criticisms they have since endured. I am proud of you. You inspire me to try to be a better teacher, scholar and person.
Shibusawa initially told me by phone “I don’t know what the purpose is [of my call] and what you want to do” and “I’ve checked out your blog.” She continued, that it “looks like you want to portray me as some sort of extremist” but “I believe in social justice.” Shibusawa then said, “You can describe me as extreme.”
Fair enough. But then the follow up email, telling me what I was allowed to say about the conversation (emphasis added):
Do not take what I said out of context.
If it is extreme to be an advocate for social justice, then I am extreme. But what a sad commentary on our society if this is true. You can quote those two lines. Those only.
Of course, I quoted the entirety of the conversation, which was not off the record.
But imagine yourself a non-extreme social justice student at Brown. Not necessarily a conservative. Just not a doctrinaire, politicized extreme social justice student.
Imagine you disagree with the majority on campus, but see professors praise students who shouted down Ray Kelly and drove him from the podium.
Imagine yourself a pro-Israel student in Shibusawa’s American history class knowing she posted an announcement about Israel Apartheid Day on the course website.
If she would speak and write that way to me, a directive as to what I was and was not permitted (in her mind) to say, imagine what it’s like to be a student. And I’m sure she is far, far from the worst.
You don’t have to imagine what it’s like for non-“extreme social justice” students at Brown.
A couple of weeks before the Kelly incident, Brown student Zach Ingber wrote a column in the Brown Daily Herald, Free speech at Brown?:
Let’s start with the obvious. It is taboo to be conservative at Brown. The moment you express your uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act or drug legalization, most people in the room immediately dismiss you. If you really, truly care about limited government, you might as well be living in the 19th century. The social ostracism that exists at Brown is harsh, often repugnant and not indicative of an open-minded institution. I am constantly ignored or not taken seriously, even by close friends, when I advocate for strong American leadership on the world stage or express hesitation about government spending. This is wrong, unproductive and simply not fair to conservative students at Brown, a group I believe is larger than most people perceive….
That column echoed what an Editor of the Brown Daily Herald wrote just over 10 years ago:
As anyone who has read his many letters to the Brown Daily Herald or seen the copies of the Socialist Worker that grace the door of his office knows, Brown University’s Professor of English William Keach is a socialist. On my first day of class with him last year he announced his views but added that, of course, he wouldn’t enforce them on others, who were free to disagree with him. I’ve shopped enough of his classes to know that this is his regular spiel. On the other hand, the fact that he feels it necessary to make this reassurance suggests that he also understands that some of his students might be intimidated by such open partisanship from expressing contrary views. He did not explain how having a professor relentlessly advocate a partisan position in class could be squared with an educational mission to open students’ minds.
Though Professor Keach’s left-wing views and in class partisanship are the absolute standard across the uneven playing field at Brown, his willingness to concede his partisanship is not the norm. Other professors feel free to unload their prejudices to very unequal students without reassuring them their dissent will have no consequences….
Prof. Keach, by the way, also supports the shout-down:
Thanks to Associate Professor of History Naoko Shibusawa P’14 for conveying her support and admiration for those who protested against New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last Tuesday. I join her in standing in solidarity with these students and members of the Providence community. We live in a conflicted, unequal society and are at times presented with situations that can’t be adequately confronted within the customs of polite, institutionally structured debate alone. As Shibusawa says, there is a long, honorable history of disruptive protest that is part of the tradition of political democracy.
Professor of Biology Ken Miller’s ’70 P’02 claim that last Tuesday’s protest represents “a step . . . towards mob rule” strikes me as alarmist and one-sided. Kelly has not been silenced: His advocacy for a policy of intimidating racial profiling is widely known and currently being debated in the federal courts. For people who are being threatened and violated by stop-and-frisk, the time has come to combine serious debate with serious action.
It’s why, as I noted when we announced the College Insurrection project, I wrote:
Because most campuses are dominated by liberal adminstrators, faculty, and student activists, conservative/libertarian students often feel isolated and alone, and up against seemingly insurmountable forces which wield power over their lives.
For many students, the risk/reward ratio says to shut up and just go along so as not to be singled out and targeted.
It’s easy to criticize conservative students for not speaking up more on college campuses.
But sometimes I think it’s too much of us to expect conservative students to stand up alone to the ideological “extreme social justice” professoriate on campus.
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