In April a large group of students at Claremont McKenna College partially shut down a speech by author Heather Mac Donald. Earlier this week the college announced the results of its response to the incident, suspending 5 students and putting two more on “conduct probation.” From the statement published by the school:
On the evening of April 6, a group of approximately 170 individuals from the Claremont Colleges and others outside our community organized, led, and executed a blockade of the Athenaeum and the Kravis Center. They breached the perimeter safety and security fence and campus safety line, and established human barriers to entrances and exits. These actions deprived many of the opportunity to gather, hear the speaker, and engage with questions and comments.
The blockade breached institutional values of freedom of expression and assembly. Furthermore, this action violated policies of both the College and The Claremont Colleges that prohibit material disruption of college programs and created unsafe conditions in disregard of state law.
Through a review of available video and photographic evidence, the College initially identified twelve CMC students as potential participants in the blockade. After further review, the College charged ten students with violations of College policy. Three of those students were then found not responsible for any violation. After a full conduct investigation and review process for the remaining seven students, an independent community panel found each student responsible for policy violations.
- Three students received one-year suspensions.
- Two received one-semester suspensions.
- Two were put on conduct probation.
I have no idea how the college identified twelve students out of the 170 who were part of the blockade, but at least the school did eventually take some action. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s what the protest looked like. Don’t miss the end of this clip where protesters are chanting “F**k the police” directly at a much smaller group of police officers:
The Atlantic reports that a Los Angeles civil rights attorney, Nana Gyamfi, thinks the penalties were too harsh. She argues that shutting down free speech is reasonable in cases where someone represents a threat of incitement:
Gyamfi went on to argue that students of color feel unsafe at the prospect of a Mac Donald speech on their campus––and that they are, in fact, justified in that feeling. At first, I thought that she was using the characterization “unsafe” in the fashion of campus progressives who invoke the term even absent any claim of actual physical threat.
In fact, she was worried about real violence. She noted that in 2015 an anonymous figure posted a death threat against Claremont’s students of color in an online forum. She spoke in general of speakers who rile up campuses, leaving members of marginalized groups feeling that, “Damn, after this person spoke I feel physically in danger, I’m going to go back to these dorms and people are going to physically assault me.” And she asserted that students in that situation have a duty to act in self-defense…
I asked if anything in the remarks that Mac Donald ultimately delivered, in a live stream at Claremont McKenna, struck Gyamfi as something that could incite violence. “I have no idea,” she said. “If someone writes books and articles that I feel positions Black Lives Matter protesters as terrorists, and that positions extrajudicial killings of black people as acceptable … I’m not going to wait until she says kill the n-words or who cares if n-words die, I’m not going to wait for the outrageous thing to come from her mouth when I know where this could possibly go.”
Atlantic author Conor Friedersdorf points out that Mac Donald has given many speeches on college campuses over a long period of time and never incited violence anywhere. The idea that she is suddenly going to call for murders in a public forum is ridiculous.
What this argument really represents is the same tired justification of the heckler’s veto we’ve seen every time a campus mob tries to shout down a speaker. By claiming someone is a threat or at least a potential threat, the mob gives itself license to silence someone they disagree with. The students at Claremont McKenna are no different. They weren’t there to debate or discuss, only to “Shut it down!”