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Last week, a news story out of Portland Oregon sent the right-wing “anti-PC” brigade into a state of gleeful fury: A student at Reed College was alleging that he’d been banned from class for challenging some commonly cited rape statistics.
The New York Post devoted an entire editorial to this alleged outrage, declaring that the “real mistake” of the student in question, freshman Jeremiah True, “was to think Reed College is dedicated to the search for truth,” adding that
it’s time for Congress to start hearings on withholding federal funds from colleges that deny not just basic free-speech rights, but any semblance of intellectual freedom.
These bold defenders of “intellectual freedom” probably should have looked a little closer at True before hoisting him aloft as a free-speech martyr.
Because what he really seems to be is a troll — a real-world equivalent of the garrulous, irritating MRAs who fill any online discussion forum that will have them with bad-faith questions, personal attacks, and endless cut-and-pasted screeds, all the while doing their best to derail any discussion that doesn’t involve them and their pet issues.
As Mary Emily O’Hara reported yesterday in The Daily Beast,
True said he was booted from class because he questioned the concept of “rape culture” as well as the commonly cited “1 in 5” campus rape statistic. But Professor Pancho Savery, who asked True to leave his class, said that True had been disruptive in several ways that were making it hard for other students to continue their studies.
The disruptive behavior escalated, according to the college administration and reports from fellow students, to include yelling loudly in hallways to draw attention to himself, calling everyone who crossed his path a “n**ger” (True himself is biracial and identifies as black), posting inflammatory comments and name-calling online, and writing that he would “stake my life on this” and “I do not want to be a martyr, but I will do that if that is what is necessary to make a statement.”
Meanwhile, Robby Soave at Reason.com — a libertarian publication that’s generally happy to pass along stories of alleged academic intolerance — also reported that True was a bit, well, off.
He declined to answer any of my questions unless I agreed to write the n-word as the first word in my article about him. (I rejected this demand.)
And in a recent interview, as Soave notes, True confessed that he’s deliberately stirring the shit, admitting that he was
disrupting some events on campus, and just walking through the halls and calling people nigger. Because if they are actually going to accuse me of being sexist and racist, then I might as well act as an actual sexist or racist might. To date, I believe I’ve gotten 22 no-contact orders.
We’ve had plenty of these sorts of trolls here. I used to give them fairly free rein in the comments here, but after 5 years the novelty has worn off just a little bit. These days, I ban them when they start to get even a little bit tiresome. It’s really the only way that the commenters here who aren’t trolls can have any kind of real discussion of anything.
In the age of the internet, it’s basically impossible to shut anyone up. True may be banned from the discussion section in one of his classes, but he’s free to rant all he wants online.
And he does, posting long screeds on his Facebook page and on a Change.org petition calling on Reed College to allow him back into the discussion section he’s been booted from. He argues his case on Change.org with a bizarre and often histrionic 3500-word manifesto in which, among other things, he compares himself to Martin Luther King. Though he claims not to be an MRA, he declares his love for an assortment of antifeminist heroines beloved by MRAs:
I am a Freedom Feminist, and I believe in Dr. Christina Hoff Sommer’s message. I believe Karen Straughan. I believe Janice Fiamengo.
He wraps up his petition on a melodramatic note:
I may be a radical, but I prefer to think that I’m radical in the way that Martin believed Jesus was a radical for love. I believe so strongly in equality that I will put my entire life on the line to stop something that I am convinced endangers that equality.
No matter what happens. I love you, mom. I love you, dad I love you my dear, dear sisters. I love you my dearest friends. I love you all, and I will sacrifice everything for you. … I do not think I will make it out of this unscathed and I am sitting here writing this, sobbing uncontrollably. … I do not want to be a martyr, but I will do that if that is what is necessary to make a statement.
The problem isn’t that True is demanding free speech — he’s got plenty of freedom to say what he wants. It’s that he’s demanding a captive audience for his speech. Discussion sections in college classes are supposed give everyone in them a chance to make themselves heard. That can’t happen when one person in the room takes up all the oxygen.
I’ve been in discussion sections as a student and as a teacher. Part of the job of the instructor is to gently encourage those who are quiet to talk — and, as diplomatically as possible, to get those who talk too much to shut their trap once in a while.
Alas, some students, like True, don’t really respond to diplomacy; their instructors then have to resort to sanctions.
I never had a class with anyone as disruptive as True evidently is. But my time at Cornell University overlapped with that of a certain Ann Coulter — you may have heard of her — and one semester I ended up in an American history discussion section with her. And, as you might imagine, she would not shut up.
The professor, a gentle liberal fellow, was too diplomatic to really rein her in. So we ended up devoting a considerable amount of the semester to listening her drone on about her hobbyhorses — like her belief, which as far as I know she still holds, that Martin Luther King was essentially a Communist puppet.
But if she was blabby she wasn’t completely disruptive, and the experience for me was as amusing as it was irritating. That doesn’t seem to have been the case with True, who evidently went out of his way to antagonize virtually everyone in his class. That’s not free speech. That’s being an asshole.