In a previous discussion, we highlighted the shameful attack on ex-swimmer Riley Gaines who was allegedly assaulted while attempting to express her opinions on transgender issues at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Gaines was compelled to be escorted by the police to a secure room for several hours for her safety. It has now become evident why students felt justified to create such disturbances.
Despite the incident, SFSU has released a statement that conspicuously avoids condemning the mob or assuring responsibility for their behavior.
The incident serves as another illustration of protesters resorting to “deplatforming” speakers with dissenting opinions by drowning them out with shouting. The unruly mob was so menacing that the police had to immediately evacuate Gaines to safety.
One would assume that any institution of higher learning would take a clear stance on this matter. Suppressing free expression and intimidating those with differing perspectives is fundamentally contradictory to the core principles of academia.
Nevertheless, SFSU chose to release a statement that appeared to show solidarity with the protesters and expressed concern for those who were exposed to Gaines’ opinions.
Although the statement from Jamillah Moore, Vice President for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, began by expressing concern for the transgender community, it repeatedly praised the students for their peaceful protest, stating:
“We want to extend our gratitude to our students who participated peacefully in Thursday evening’s event. It took immense courage to stand up in a challenging environment.”
SFSU’s statement does not indicate any concern for Gaines or the students who organized the event. Additionally, it does not promise to hold responsible the students who disrupted the speaker or put her in harm’s way. At best, the statement exhibits a lack of courage to stand up against the mob. At worst, it may be complicit in the incident by permitting such behavior.
This occurrence is reminiscent of similar incidents that have taken place at other schools, such as Northwestern University. In a Sociology 201 class instructed by Professor Beth Redbird, the topic was supposed to be “inequality in American society with a focus on race, class, and gender.” To that end, Redbird invited both an undocumented person and a representative from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This type of balanced approach is now deemed unacceptable on campuses.
Students from 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 collaborated to prevent other students from hearing the ICE representative. However, they couldn’t have accomplished this without the help of Northwestern administrators, including Dean of Students Todd Adams. The protesters were shouting “F**k ICE” outside of the hall. Adams and other administrators then permitted the protesters to enter the classroom if they promised not to disrupt the class.
Predictably, this did not happen. Once the protesters were inside the classroom, they prevented the ICE representative from speaking. The ICE representative eventually left, and Redbird canceled the class to discuss the issue with the protesters who had just prevented her students from hearing an opposing viewpoint.
SESP sophomore April Navarro publicly disagreed with the idea that faculty should be permitted to invite such speakers to their classrooms for a “pleasant conversation with ICE.” She maintained that such speakers must be silenced because they “terrorize communities” and profit from detainee labor.
““We’re not interested in having those types of conversations that would be like, ‘Oh, let’s listen to their side of it’ because that’s making them passive rule-followers rather than active proponents of violence. We’re not engaging in those kinds of things; it legitimizes ICE’s violence, it makes Northwestern complicit in this. There’s an unequal power balance that happens when you deal with state apparatuses.””
There were no consequences for the students involved in these incidents. Similarly, when an appellate judge was shouted down at Stanford Law School, the Dean expressed support for free speech but declined to discipline any of the responsible students.
The message these universities are sending is unambiguous: students will not be punished for infringing upon free speech. This knowledge fosters a sense of entitlement to censor dissenting opinions.
Many in the California legislature may endorse the students’ actions. However, it is the stance taken by the universities that will inflict the most lasting harm.
Below is the statement:
Dear SF State community,
Today, San Francisco State finds itself again at the center of a national discussion regarding freedom of speech and expression. Let me begin by saying clearly: the trans community is welcome and belongs at San Francisco State University. Further, our community fiercely believes in unity, connection, care and compassion, and we value different ideas, even when they are not our own. SF State is regularly noted as one of the most diverse campuses in the United States—this is what makes us Gators, and this is what makes us great. Diversity promotes critical discussions, new understandings and enriches the academic experience. But we may also find ourselves exposed to divergent views and even views we find personally abhorrent. These encounters have sometimes led to discord, anger, confrontation and fear. We must meet this moment and unite with a shared value of learning.
Thank you to our students who participated peacefully in Thursday evening’s event. It took tremendous bravery to stand in a challenging space. I am proud of the moments where we listened and asked insightful questions. I am also proud of the moments when our students demonstrated the value of free speech and the right to protest peacefully. These issues do not go away, and these values are very much at our core.
This feels difficult because it is difficult. As you reflect, process, and begin to heal, please remember that there are people, resources and services available and ready to receive our Gator community, including faculty, staff members, coaches and mentors who are here to support you.
Campus resources are also available:
- Equity and Community Inclusion
- Counseling and Psychological Services
- Dean of Students Office
- The well-being of the SF State campus community remains our priority.
Jamillah Moore, Ed.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management
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