A racist came to Shabbat dinner and now …

Once the “heir” to the white nationalist movement, Derek Black accepted a Jewish classmate’s invitation to Shabbat dinner, made new friends, listened to their arguments and ultimately abandoned his family’s racist beliefs, reports the Washington Post in a remarkable story.

Black’s father created Stormfront to promote white nationalist ideas online; Derek did the child’s version. His godfather is David Duke.

Derek Black Derek Black, 27, was following in his father’s footsteps as a white nationalist leader until he began to question the movement’s ideology. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)


Derek Black was following in his father’s footsteps as a white nationalist leader until he made liberal friends who changed his views. Photo: Matt McClain/Washington Post

Now, “Black is now a liberal who supports immigration, doesn’t believe race should divide people, and admires President Obama,” writes Reason’s Robby Soave.

Black’s conversion is “a subtle repudiation of the kind of emotional safe space that liberals want to foist on college campuses,” concludes Soave.

After attending community college, Black enrolled in Florida’s liberal New College to study medieval European  history. Despite doing a weekly white-supremacist radio show, he hid his views on campus. But, eventually he was outed.

Most students ostracized him. Matthew Stevenson, an Orthodox Jew, invited Black to his Friday night Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner.

Matthew always drank from a kiddush cup and said the traditional prayers, but most of his guests were Christian, atheist, black or Hispanic — anyone open-minded enough to listen to a few blessings in Hebrew.

. . . He went back and read some of Derek’s posts on the site from 2007 and 2008: “Jews are NOT white.” “Jews worm their way into power over our society.” “They must go.”

Matthew decided his best chance to affect Derek’s thinking was not to ignore him or confront him, but simply to include him.

Black became a regular at the dinner.

Week by week, conversation by conversation, Derek softened his views. His new friends challenged him—firmly but politely—and systematically convinced him that he was wrong about everything.

Eventually, he publicly repudiated white nationalism and apologized for his past actions. Black is now a graduate student in history.

Rutgers: Speak when ‘necessary’ and ‘kind’

In at least one Rutgers residence hall, students are being encouraged to use only language that is “helpful” and “necessary” to avoid committing microaggressions, reports Campus Reform.

“Erected as part of the university’s Language Matters campaign, the bulletin board instructs students to ask themselves whether their choice of words is  ‘true,’ ‘helpful,’ ‘inspiring,’ ‘necessary,’ and ‘kind’ before speaking out,” reports Campus Reform.  It also lists offensive terms, such as “retarded” and “illegal aliens.”

The “Language Matters” website tells students there are three types of microaggressions:

A microassault may include “avoiding someone,” for instance, while an example of a microinsult is telling someone they are strong for a girl. A microinvalidation, meanwhile, could involve asking an Asian or Latino person where they are from.

If students are afraid of saying the wrong thing, they’ll avoid speaking to each other, committing even more nano-assault/invalidation/insults. The web site also warns of non-verbal and “environmental” microaggressions, but doesn’t provide examples. So, just keep to yourself, students.

University of Nebraska at Lincoln, my father’s alma mater, declares on its web site: “We believe in the freedom of speech, and encourage the expression of ideas and opinions, and do not tolerate words and actions of hate and disrespect.”

If a student freely expresses hatred of censorship and disrespect for UN’s no-tolerance policy, what then? What about disrespect for Chancellor Ronnie Green, who said that the policy is “non-negotiable” (whatever that means)?

Requiring Mexican pledge is OK

The First Amendment protects students against being forced to recite the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance — but not against being required to recite the Mexican pledge, a federal appeals court ruled last week.

How can that be? Reciting the Mexican pledge was class participation, not symbolic speech, writes Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor, on Bloomberg View.

In 2011, at a McAllen, Texas high school, Spanish teacher Reyna Santos told students to memorize and recite the Mexican Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem for a celebration of Mexican Independence Day.

Santos later testified the exercise was designed to build cultural awareness and language fluency.

Brenda Brinsdon, whose mother is from Mexico, objected. After appealing to the principal, she was given a writing assignment. (She received a C, while nearly everyone who took the pledge got an A.)

Using a “spy pen,” she recorded classmates taking the pledge and her father alerted the media. Brinsdon was removed from Spanish class as a disruptive influence. She completed Spanish III as an independent study in the principal’s office.

And she filed suit. The court was correct to reject Brinsdon’s suit, argues Feldman.

What makes the forced recitation of the U.S. pledge unconstitutional is that it prescribes an orthodox belief and makes students symbolically express their commitment to it. Crucially, the U.S. pledge in U.S. schools isn’t being performed as a make-believe exercise. It’s meant sincerely, or at least it’s supposed to be.

In the Texas classroom, the Mexican pledge was not intended as an indication of loyalty to Mexico.

If students could opt out of assignments they dislike, even on grounds of conscience, it would impossible to teach, writes Feldman. “Someone would object to essentially every component, and the teacher would have to craft every lesson plan to avoid all the students’ tender consciences.”

‘Disturbing school’ law faces challenge

“Disturbing a school” or acting “in an obnoxious manner” is a crime in South Carolina, but the law is unconstitutionally vague, charges the ACLU. Thousands of students — disproportionately African-American — have faced charges, says the civil rights group.

Niya Kenny didn't return to high school after her arrest for "disturbing a school."

After her arrest for “disturbing a school,” Niya Kenny dropped out and earned her GED.

The ACLU is challenging the law on behalf of Niya Kenny, who was arrested last fall after a school police officer violently removed a classmate who’d refused the teacher’s order to put away her phone.

Kenny stood up and cursed the officer, but didn’t interfere with the arrest, she told the New York Times.

Kenny was calling attention to police abuse, according to the ACLU’s account:

Fields picked the girl up, flipped her in her desk, and then grabbed an arm and a leg to throw her across the room. Niya stood up and called out, she recalled later. “Isn’t anyone going to help her?” she asked. “Ya’ll cannot do this!”

Niya was arrested, handcuffed, charged as an adult, and taken to jail.

Afraid to return to school, Kenny dropped out, missing her senior year, and earned a GED. She’s set to appear in court on “disturbing” charges in September.

The ACLU is also challenging another law, which makes it a crime for students to conduct themselves in a “disorderly or boisterous” fashion.

Let’s concede that teachers need to enforce order in the classroom. Does it make sense to criminalize disruptive,  “obnoxious” and “boisterous” behavior? How many of us would have escaped a criminal record if we’d been held liable in court for being obnoxious?

Increasingly, school police officers are equipped with Tasers.

Updating the 1st Amendment

From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

“Disagreement is not oppression,” writes Nicholas Christakis, the Yale professor accused of not creating a sufficiently safe space for students troubled by insensitive Halloween costumes. “The answer to speech we do not like is more speech,” he writes. Christakis and his wife have stepped down as what used to be known as “house masters.”

At the University of Northern Colorado, two professors were reported to the Bias Response Team for asking students to discuss controversial issues, reports Heat Street.

One professor “asked students to read an Atlantic article entitled The Coddling of the American Mind, about college students’ increasing sensitivity and its impact on their mental health,” reports Heat Street.

The professor then asked his students to come up with difficult topics, including transgender issues, gay marriage, abortion and global warming. He outlined competing positions on these topics, though he did not express his personal opinion.

In a report to the Bias Response Team, a student complained that the professor referenced the opinion that “transgender is not a real thing, and no one can truly feel like they are born in the wrong body.”

The team told the professor to avoid transgender issues.

Another professor told students to pick from a debate topic from a list that included homosexuality and religion. A student complained students were “required to listen to their own rights and personhood debated.”

Trans teacher wins $60K, say ‘they’ rules


Leo Soell in their fifth-grade classroom in Gresham, Oregon. Photo: Kristyna Wentz-Graff, Oregonian

When Brina Soell became Leo, the fifth-grade teacher asked coworkers to use “they” and “them” instead of “she” or “he.” Soell, who identifies as “transmasculine and genderqueer,” complained of harassment, reports the Oregonian. Gresham-Barlow officials agreed to give Soell $60,000 to settle emotional damage claims, add gender-neutral bathrooms to all schools, clarify policies about transgender teachers and mandate trainings for all principals.

Sexual harassment policies are moving from telling people what not to say to demanding that they “must say certain things,” writes Scott Shackford on Reason.

New York City has threatened employers with heavy penalties if they don’t ensure their employees address each other (and customers) by the pronoun of their choice, including “ze/hir” and other non-standard pronouns. The directive also applies to landlords and tenants, professionals and clients and business owners and customers. Everyone is supposed to ask everyone and remember who’s what.

Requiring people to say things they don’t wish to say violates free-speech rights, writes Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.

When the government is acting as sovereign, telling us what we must or must not say on pain of coercively imposed legal liability, the First Amendment is at full force. That force, I think, should preclude government commands that we start using new words — or radical grammatical modifications of old, familiar words — that convey government-favored messages about gender identity or anything else.

He notes that Soell complained of harassment, in part, due to other teachers “refusing to call me by my correct name and gender to me or among themselves” (emphasis added), as well as posting “messages on Facebook that denigrate transgender people.”

Dartmouth students: Fire the babysitters

Dartmouth should stop “policing student life” and return to educating students, argues a group of students in a petition on change.org.

Administrators have become “paternalistic babysitters” creating “safe spaces” that protect students from “uncomfortable ideas,” the petition charges.

By effectively taking sides in sensitive debates and privileging the perspectives of certain students over others, administrators have crossed the line between maintaining a learning environment that is open to all and forcing their own personal views onto the entire campus. In doing so, they have undermined the value of civility, harmed the free exchange of ideas, and performed a disservice to those students who see their time in college as preparation for success in the real world.

Adding administrators and support services has driven up college costs, the petition charges. (“The sticker price for a year at Dartmouth is now just below $70,000,” notes FIRE.)

The students want to strip away “unnecessary deans, administrators, and support offices,” give students “the liberty to lead their lives as they please” and “freedom to speak their minds.” Finally, they write, “We envision a College that has recommitted itself to its roots in rigorous and stimulating undergraduate education.”

UO tells students what’s OK to say, write

4 Posters with biased comments crossed out and corrected.
University of Oregon’s Bias Response Team has designed posters showing what not to say.

At the University of Oregon, “thought police” step in when one person’s “constitutionally protected speech has offended” another person, writes Robby Soave on Reason‘s Hit & Run. The Bias Response Team, made up of seven administrators, is fond of staging “educational conversations” and is “not shy about referring its cases to university agencies with more robust enforcement powers.”

The BRT’s annual report lists 85 incidents, including a faculty member’s insulting comment on a blog, a poster that “triggered” bad feelings about “body size” and a complaint about a “culturally appropriative” party.

“Students, faculty, and staff who feel threatened, harassed, intimidated, triggered, microaggressed, offended, ignored, under-valued, or objectified because of their race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, disability status, mental health, religion, political affiliation, or size are encouraged to contact the BRT, writes Soave.

When a student reported that a sign in a dorm encouraging cleaning up after oneself was sexist, the BRT Advocate “empowered” the student to contact Housing staff. “A BRT Case Manager followed up to ensure that the sign was removed, and the program staff had an educational conversation about the issue.”

An anonymous person thought the student newspaper wasn’t providing enough coverage of  transgender students and “students of color.” So “university administrators had ‘an educational conversation’ with student-journalists about what kinds of stories they should be printing,” reports Soave, who finds it “positively Orwellian.”

These “conversations” the BRT sponsors reflect a massive power imbalance between students and administrators, since the administrators appear to have the authority to punish the students.

. . . Would a student in such a situation feel like he could invoke his First Amendment rights without facing reprisals?

“It’s troubling to see the university policing and micro-managing students’ every day interactions,” Azhar Majeed, an attorney at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told Soave. “One can imagine the chilling effects this would have.”

A “swollen campus bureaucracy, empowered by intrusive federal regulation,” has usurped the faculty’s “prerogative to shape the educational mission and to protect the free flow of ideas,” writes Camille Paglia.

“The entire college experience should be based on confronting new and disruptive ideas,” she writes. “Students must accept personal responsibility for their own choices and behavior, and university administrators must stop behaving like substitute parents and hovering therapists.”

College encourages lively consensus

Trescott University encourages a lively exchange of one idea, president Kevin Abrams told The Onion.

“We recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion,” said Abrams, adding that no matter the subject, anyone on campus is always welcome to add their support to the accepted consensus.

Counseling is available for any student made uncomfortable by the viewpoint.

Free speech on campus? Not if it’s ‘unwelcome’

Title IX’s ban on sexual speech harassment trumps the First Amendment on college campuses, according to an April 22 Justice Department letter. “Unwelcome” conduct or speech of a sexual nature is sexual harassment  — and must be investigated — “regardless of whether it causes a hostile environment,” the letter told the University of New Mexico.
“The Department of Justice has put universities in an impossible position: violate the Constitution or risk losing federal funding,” said Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) President Greg Lukianoff.

“An enormous amount of everyday speech” would be sexual harassment under this definition, writes Joseph Cohn on FIRE’s site.

Did you overhear someone retelling an Amy Schumer joke about sex that you found unpleasant? According to the DOJ, that makes them a harasser—even if they only did it once and didn’t do it again after you asked. If that’s harassment, the term is devoid of meaning.

If a professor argues for transgender restroom access, conservative students might complain ze has made unwelcome comments about a sexual issue. Is Camille Paglia a sexual harasser? “Leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist” must be unwelcome to somebody.

Much narrower definitions of sexual harassment have been struck down as “unconstitutionally overbroad” in previous cases, writes Hans Bader, a former Office of Civil Rights attorney, on Liberty Unyielding. “Hostile or offensive” speech about sexual issues is protected speech unless it “objectively denies a student equal access to a school’s education resources,” these decisions have found.

Investigations chill free speech, adds Bader.

Northwestern Professor Laura Kipnis suffered through a “Title IX inquisition” last year after writing an essay on “sexual paranoia” that offended some students. She was cleared of all charges — after an ordeal that will discourage others from writing anything the least bit controversial.