Sarah Lawrence College students have demanded issued a list of demands from the ” the Diaspora Coalition” to address “the injustices imposed on people of color by this institution on a daily basis.” What is striking about the list is the inclusion of scholarships that would bar white students and an action targeting a member of the faculty because they disagree with his views. While the college is pledging to work with the students to reach a compromise, the demands reflect the growing intolerance of opposing views and free speech rights on campuses — as well as a call for the awarding of scholarship on the basis of race. They also demand special benefits for “first-generation students” as well as mandatory training sessions for all students on “intellectual elitism and classism.” They also include demands for free food, free detergent and free student storage.
The students also demand “at least three more courses offered in African diasporic studies taught by Black professors.” Thus, the college is expected to bar academics based on their skin color in a return to the race-based practices preceding the Civil Rights movement.
Yesterday, Sarah Lawrence College President Cristle Judd praised the students for helping the school “seek to ensure a truly inclusive environment of respect and support at Sarah Lawrence, especially for students of color and low-income students.” However, she declined to join the mob in targeting the faculty member.
The professor is Samuel Abrams and the demand for his firing or punishment shows the anti-intellectual and anti-free speech sentiments that run through some of these protests. I have previously discussed how Antifa and other college protesters are increasingly denouncing free speech and the foundations for liberal democracies. Some protesters reject classic liberalism and the belief in free speech as part of the oppression on campus. The movement threatens both academic freedom and free speech — a threat that is growing due to the failure of administrators and faculty to remain true to core academic principles. Dartmouth Professor Mark Bray, the author of a book entitled “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” is one of the chief enablers of these protesters. Bray speaks positively of the effort to supplant traditional views of free speech: “At the heart of the anti-fascist outlook is a rejection of the classical liberal phrase… that says I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He defines anti-fascists as “illiberal” who reject the notion that far right views deserve to “coexist” with opposing views.
In this case, Professor Abrams is being targeted for an op-ed:
On October 16, 2018, politics professor Samuel Abrams published an op-ed entitled “Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators” in The New York Times. The article revealed the anti-Blackness, anti-LGBTQ+, and anti-woman bigotry of Abrams. The article specifically targeted programs such as the Our Liberation Summit, which Abrams did not attend, facilitated by the Office of Diversity and Campus Engagement. The Sarah Lawrence community deserves an administration that strives for an inclusive education that reflects the diversity of our community. Abrams’ derision of the Black Lives Matter, queer liberation, and women’s rights movements displays not only ignorance but outright hostility towards the essential efforts to dismantle white supremacy and other systems of oppression. This threatens the safety and wellbeing of marginalized people within the Sarah Lawrence community by demonstrating that our lives and identities are viewed as “opinions” that we can have a “difference in dialogue” about, as if we haven’t been forced to debate our very existences for our entire lives. We demand that Samuel Abrams’ position at the College be put up to tenure review to a panel of the Diaspora Coalition and at least three faculty members of color. In addition, the College must issue a statement condemning the harm that Abrams has caused to the college community, specifically queer, Black, and female students, whilst apologizing for its refusal to protect marginalized students wounded by his op-ed and the ignorant dialogue that followed. Abrams must issue a public apology to the broader SLC community and cease to target Black people, queer people, and women.
It is a glimpse into the intolerance for opposing views that has become an article of faith with some groups on our campuses. While President Cristle is to be commended for her refusal to negotiate on that point, it would seem that a more direct and instructive response was warranted rather than just point to the academic freedom policies of the school.
The mixing of free detergent with the evisceration of free speech captures the tenor and thought behind these demands. Colleges and universities are facing an existential moment in these anti-intellectual protests. We cannot ignore the rising threat to free speech and free thought posed by such demands.