How do you balance the free speech rights of students who wish to protest with the actions of those protesters when they deny others the opportunity to speak? That’s the quandary being faced by Dr. Lucía Martínez Valdivia, an associate professor of English and Humanities at Reed College in Oregon. In a piece published in the Washington Post this week, Valdivia suggests that she and her colleagues can no longer sit by in silence when students turn acts of peaceful protest into confrontations designed to shut down everyone they disagree with.
The professor has some direct experience in this subject, having been shut down herself. Was she supporting the Confederacy, white supremacism or slavery? No… nothing like that. She was speaking on a panel dealing with her class in humanities when a group of student protesters took the stage, grabbed the microphones, blocked access to the panel and ended the lecture. They were, “condemning the course and its faculty as white supremacists, as anti-black, as not open to dialogue and criticism.” The reason? Because they were teaching Aristotle and Plato.
This was apparently the impetus which led her to write this essay. Here’s a brief sample from it, and I hope other educators around the country are paying attention.
No one should have to pass someone else’s ideological purity test to be allowed to speak. University life — along with civic life — dies without the free exchange of ideas.
In the face of intimidation, educators must speak up, not shut down. Ours is a position of unique responsibility: We teach people not what to think, but how to think.
Realizing and accepting this has made me — an eminently replaceable, untenured, gay, mixed-race woman with PTSD — realize that no matter the precariousness of my situation, I have a responsibility to model the appreciation of difference and care of thought I try to foster in my students.
If I, like so many colleagues nationwide, am afraid to say what I think, am I not complicit in the problem?
So this professor is part of the white supremacist problem which is ruining life at American colleges today, eh? In case you missed it from the brief excerpt, Professor Valdivia describes herself as a “gay, mixed-race woman with PTSD.” Yet she is somehow part of the white patriarchy being rejected on campuses across the country. Have we not yet pegged out the absurdity meter into the red zone?
We saw this on the campaign trail last year when some BLM protesters rushed the stage at a Bernie Sanders event, stealing his microphone and sending him scurrying from the stage. Their speech completely eliminated his speech that day and it’s now being repeated all over the country by people who make a joke out of the idea of free speech. And they’re doing it in the locations which were once considered the hotbed of social discourse and debate.
My hat is off to the professor for making a bold statement like this, but I fear that her call will fall on deaf ears. The situation on the nation’s campuses seems too far gone to salvage at this point.