The events of the past few weeks on the Washington State University campus have, once again, apparently spotlighted the issue of diversity and its effect on our isolated island in the middle of the Palouse. In short, on Nov. 2, the College Republicans put up a wall, or more appropriately a fence, to demonstrate support for recently passed national legislation for building a wall on the border with Mexico. Afterwards, in the middle of the controversy, two professors from the department of comparative ethnic studies were accused of shouting epithets at the students, and inappropriately demanding to see identification of some of the College Republicans.Interesting that this comes from the chairman of the WSU Faculty Senate. I guess Pezeshki doesn't anticipate participating in any investigations or disciplinary actions.
Here’s the background, in short — the College Republicans had been warned by student leadership on the Pullman campus that putting up such a wall, with such a message, would be seen as highly offensive by many in the WSU community. And certainly, professors ought to know that yelling epithets at students who are demonstrating, using their First Amendment rights, is a profound lapse of professional behavior, regardless what First Amendment rights they also possess.
Let’s just get this out of the way right at the start. Everyone in this country has the right to yell out anything they want, and demonstrate the way they want, provided, of course, they’re not yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. The First Amendment is a bedrock principle in American society.
But how one uses their First Amendment rights is also a bellwether of where they want that society to go. And it matters even more in a small university community, where we all live together and, hopefully, are all growing together. There’s never going to be perfect harmony here — nor anywhere. But to what end, all of this behavior?
To the College Republicans — any wall built between two countries is a profound failure. There are no walls between France and Spain, nor most of the countries in Europe. Walls with barbed wire indicate both countries have failed to serve their people, and each other. Hundreds of Mexicans die trying to cross the border every year, and walls will probably increase this number. If you are a woman trying to cross illegally, you stand a good chance of being raped.
The drug traffickers are now into the traffic of illegals big-time. Walls only will increase this, as assistance will now be mandatory to get around that obstacle. The patron saint of the border is La Santisima Muerte — Most Holy Death, and there are chapels dedicated to her along the border. And there is no doubt in my mind for the Chicano-Latino students in our community, there are personal stories, filled with tragedy, waiting to be told about relatives and friends and their experience on the border.
To the professors in question — all of our students, at some level, are adults. At the same time, all of them are under our care. There is never a reason to curse at them. Apologies have been given, and more are in order.
I have found great joy, as well as great aggravation, in dealing with the age group. They are learning how to express themselves, and form beliefs. The most effective technique I have found is to model the change you want to see. It’s not an original thought — it’s paraphrased Gandhi. I don’t sit around smiling at my students all the time either, though. They know when I’m unhappy, when I want more. I’m no softy. At the same time, we need to model more of the behavior we want to see at WSU — more open debates, a higher intellectual bar that takes in and understands the validity of all of our students’ viewpoints, even the ones we find socially and morally reprehensible. They passed a law in Congress sanctioning the wall. If we really believe such a wall is a bad thing, then we should hold ourselves accountable for the lack of influence we have in society as a whole.
And to both groups — what kind of community are either of you trying to build? An erudite, knowledge-based society, based on reason, understanding the sophistication of complex issues and respect for the emotions of the humans that make up both sides? Or one where we end up screaming over symbols? Which one will get us to the better world? And to both sides — you are both privileged. You are here in the university. Get with it. To those whom much is given, much is expected. It is time to get to work.
Pezeshki asks to what end all of this behavior is leading. I'd like to think after all the previous free speech controversies at WSU, it would lead to reform. But I think we can see where the university is going with this whole incident: Nowhere.
Instead of reforming the CES Department and addressing the intolerance, lack of diversity and academic astigmatism created by "Political Correctness", it's time for "community building," whatever the heck that means.
"College Republicans had been warned by student leadership on the Pullman campus that putting up such a wall, with such a message, would be seen as highly offensive by many in the WSU community?" Does that mean what happened at the demonstration was justified? Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if a minority group at WSU had received a similar warning not to demonstrate?
Pezeshki seems to justify Streamas' and Leonard's action under the aegis of the First Amendment. Was what they said legal under the Constitution? Sure (although maybe not under the WSU code of conduct). Should there be consequences? Absolutely.
You can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater, but you can sure throw the N-word around. Just ask Michael Richards (Seinfeld's Kramer), who was also caught on tape using racial epithets. Richards (who incidentally attended The Evergreen State College) has profusely apologized, but his professional career (such as it was) is effectively over, First Amendment or not. That's the immutable law of consequences. Unfortunately, WSU seems to be a "Consequence Free Zone."