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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Reed rebels — against ‘anti-racist’ disruptors

Reedies Against Racism disrupted a humanities lecture, charging the required first-year class is “Eurocentric.”

At Reed College, possibly the most liberal liberal-arts college in the country, first-year students are standing up to an “anti-racist” faction that bullied and silenced its critics for a year, writes Chris Bodenner in The Atlantic. Most of the rebels against Reedies Against Racism (RAR) are freshmen of color, he writes.

Since September 26, 2016, when RAR organized a boycott of all classes and presented 25 demands, the group has targeted Hum 110, a required year-long class that’s supposed to teach freshmen “how to discuss, debate, and defend their readings.”

On the first day of class this school year, as Hum 110 professors tried to introduce the class, three RAR leaders seized a microphone and the stage, to say, “[Our] work is just as important as the work of the faculty, so we were going to introduce ourselves as well.”

Two days later, a video circulated showing freshmen in the lecture hall admonishing protesters. When a few professors get into a heated exchange with RAR leaders, an African American freshman in the front row stands up and raises his arms: “This is a classroom! This is not the place! Right now we are trying to learn! We’re the freshman students!” The room erupts with applause.

International students were disappointed, a sophomore from India told Bodenner. “They traveled such a long distance to come to this school, and worked so hard to get to this school, and their first lecture was canceled.”

Another student from India organized a freshmen-only meeting on the quad, writes Bodenner. It drew 150 students, who had a civil, constructive discussion of Hum 110.

Then RAR arranged an open mic for students of color.

Rollo, a freshman from Houston, described how difficult it was to grow up poor, black, and gay in Texas. He then turned to RAR: “No, I won’t subject myself to your politically correct ideas. No, I won’t allow myself to be a part of your cause.” He criticized the “demagoguery” that “prevents any comprehensive conversation about race outside of ‘racism is bad.’”

When a RAR “noise parade” shut down a lecture on The Iliad, most of the students “followed the professor into another classroom, where she continued the lecture,” said Pax, the black student who’d objected to the opening-day protest.

A Reed professor was accused of “white supremacy” for teaching “The Epic of Gilgamesh.”

“Only about 100 students were involved in this year’s boycott, a quarter of last year’s crowd,” writes Bodenner. “The upperclassmen who participated in the noise parade were barred from lectures,” ending the Hum 110 protests.

Professors must stand up to extremists, writes Lucía Martínez Valdivia, an English and humanities professor who teaches Hum 110. For a year, RAR intimidated professors, she writes. The disruptions were tolerated. It got worse.

Absolutist postures and the binary reign supreme. You are pro- or anti-, radical or fascist, angel or demon. Even small differences of opinion are seized on and characterized as moral and intellectual failures, unacceptable thought crimes that cancel out anything else you might say. No one should have to pass someone else’s ideological purity test to be allowed to speak. University life — along with civic life — dies without the free exchange of ideas.

Valdivia wants students to “read in good faith and try to understand the texts’ distance, their strangeness, from our historical moment. Ultimately, this is a call for empathy, for stretching our imaginations to try to inhabit and understand positions that aren’t ours and the points of view of people who aren’t us.”

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