Mar 28, 2008, 11:23AM

Standing Up

Universities are supposed to push boundaries, but when it comes to difficult questions of race they may provide too much shelter from rational thought. From the Columbia Spectator.

I feel frustrated. When I open the Spectator opinion section and read accusations that the Columbia community is racist, I feel frustrated. When I see students protest a 100-year-old Core Curriculum that they implicitly accepted when they chose to come to this University, I feel frustrated. When I witness a delusional subgroup withdraw from the realm of productive discourse and stage sensationalist stunts in order to further its own radical agenda, I feel frustrated. I am not a racist, I am not privileged, and for all of its faults, I am constantly grateful to be attending an institution as remarkable as Columbia. This is the opinion of the vast majority of Columbia students, and it is one that is too seldom heard in campus discourse.

In his most recent column on March 25, Anthony Kelley provides excellent examples about just what is wrong with the activist culture on this campus. The title of the piece, “Finding the Strength to Voice Rage,” truly summarizes how some individuals attempt to further their political goals. Columbia does not maintain a policy of outward discrimination against any group, so campus activism becomes an exercise in “finding” something to be enraged at. The accusations that ultimately are born from this process represent a level of sophistry that would make Plato’s Thrasymacus proud, transforming easily explainable events into conspiratorial acts of oppression.

In October, a noose was found on Professor Madonna Constantine’s door. While most reasonable people would assume that the incident was the work of a single bigot, Andrew Tillet-Saks disagreed. He wrote, “Columbia University ... engenders these modes of [racist] thought and action.” In his Oct. 26 article, “Not Just an Isolated Incident,” he elucidates at great length how Columbia is in fact responsible for the handful of bias incidents striking the campus, going so far as to make the claim that the Core Curriculum (to which only one-fifth of the Columbia community is exposed) creates the social conditions necessary for racist acts to occur. So, we are left with a simple question: Do racist acts arise out of ignorance, prejudice, and insecurity, or are they caused by an overzealous examination of Aristotle? I will leave the rational reader to provide his or her own answer to this question.

In January, a new development arose regarding Constantine. Columbia announced that an outside firm had conducted a two-year investigation and concluded that Constantine had engaged in plagiarism on numerous occasions. Did Constantine own up to her lack of integrity and accept the conclusive evidence brought against her? No, instead she claimed, “As one of only two tenured black women full professors at Teachers College, it pains me to conclude that I have been specifically and systematically targeted.” Kelley quickly bought into this conspiratorial “logic,” writing, “The ultimate truth of the situation cannot be attained through investigations, especially when they are clouded with accusations of bias and prejudice.” To commit one of academia’s most egregious crimes and then to make unfounded claims against the entire Columbia community is downright shameful, and should be opposed by any rational, moderate individual.

When one actually begins to examine the rhetoric that occurs on this campus, the sheer amount of slander that the University community encounters is shocking. For too long has Columbia’s silent majority been apathetic to these constant affronts, choosing to ignore the radicals at best, or to attempt to placate them at worst. Most people believe that they have legitimate grievances, and although their proposals are out of line with reality, their opinions still deserve consideration. This policy of appeasement has failed, however, because by not standing up to these radicals, we have tacitly given them approval to push past the limits of reasonable discourse. That step occurred this week, when Kelley wrote, “The rage engendered in these contexts is a direct manifestation of my frustration with the audacity of white privilege and the white supremacist attitudes and behaviors that exhibit themselves in multiple, and sometimes shocking, ways on this campus.” Columbia is a bastion of white supremacy, full of students benefiting from white privilege? With these words Kelley crossed the line, insulting every member of our community.

As someone who lost half of his family in the Holocaust, I am outraged at the assertion that I am no better than Hitler’s SS. As someone who receives financial aid, I am disgusted by the fact that Kelley would discredit my achievements as resulting from “white privilege.” Moreover, I doubt that I am alone in holding these beliefs—Kelley’s unfounded and insensitive accusations are insulting to large portions of the Columbia student body. The African-American community has endured many injustices in the United States, but to engage in a verbal race war as Kelley has done is patently unacceptable and unproductive behavior.

This all takes us back to the original issue of how to deal with delusional radicals, seeking to force their ideology upon the rational, moderate majority. I think a key step is to stand up for reason in the face of radicalism, as occurred with the counter-protests against the hunger strike. Perhaps the most important step though, is to recognize that “marginalized groups” don’t have a monopoly on victimization—as Barack Obama pointed out, racists come in every color.


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