We previously discussed the disgraceful attack on former swimmer Riley Gaines who was reportedly assaulted when she tried to speak about her views on transgender issues at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Gaines had to be removed to a locked room for hours by police for her own protection. It is now clear why students believed that they had license to engage in such disruptions. SFSU has issued a statement that was conspicuous in its failure to condemn the mob or promise accountability for these actions.
The event was only the latest example of protesters “deplatforming” speakers with opposing views by shouting them down. The mob, however, was so unruly that police had to rush Gaines to safety.
One would think that this would be an easy call for any institution of higher education. Denying free expression and threatening those with opposing views is the very antithesis of core principles.
Instead, SFSU issued a statement that seemed to express sympathy for the protesters and those who were exposed to her views.
After beginning by expressing concern for the transgender community, the statement of Jamillah Moore, Vice President for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, repeatedly commends students for their protest and says “Thank you to our students who participated peacefully in Thursday evening’s event. It took tremendous bravery to stand in a challenging space.” At no point does SFSU express concern for Gaines or the students who arranged for the event. At no point does SFSU promise to hold students responsible for shouting down the speaker or endangering her.
Gaines has objected to the notion that the protest was peaceful.
At best, the statement shows a lack of courage to stand firm in the face of this mob. At worst, it is complicit in the incident by enabling such conduct.
It is reminiscent of events at schools like Northwestern. A Sociology 201 class by Professor Beth Redbird was supposed to examine “inequality in American society with an emphasis on race, class and gender.” To that end, Redbird invited both an undocumented person and a spokesperson for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It is the type of balance that is now considered verboten on campuses.
Members of MEChA de Northwestern, Black Lives Matter NU, the Immigrant Justice Project, the Asian Pacific American Coalition, NU Queer Trans Intersex People of Color and Rainbow Alliance organized to stop other students from hearing from the ICE representative. However, they could not have succeeded without the help of Northwestern administrators (including Dean of Students Todd Adams). The protesters were screaming “F**k ICE” outside of the hall. Adams and the other administrators then said that the protesters screaming profanities would be allowed into the class if they promised not to be disruptive.
Of course, that did not happen. As soon as the protesters were allowed into the classroom, they prevented the ICE representative from speaking. The ICE representatives eventually left and Redbird canceled the class to discuss the issue with the protesters that just prevented her students from hearing an opposing view.