I’ve heard it’s difficult for those on college campuses to defend the rights of anyone promoting sexism or racism, but Associate Dean Doug Swanson certainly did a bang-up job.
In his letter to the editor Oct. 23, Swanson condescendingly encouraged the campus community to set aside their “angst” over Milo Yiannopoulos’ upcoming visit and instead “use (it) as a learning experience.” I’m not sure it’s that easy. As a professor here at Cal State Fullerton, I believe the best place for learning on campus is in the classroom. When students don’t feel safe coming to campus and attending their classes, the university is failing them.
Encouraging our students to “ramp down the rhetorical freak out” and find “something good” in Yiannopoulos’ visit because he is “pretty successful at marketing his brand” and “quite wealthy” is a pretty slick way of promoting capitalism at the expense of ethical responsibility and social justice and belittling student fears.
Swanson forgot to mention that several local elementary and high schools, along with the campus Children’s Center, are closing early on the 31st. In an email sent to parents last week, one elementary school principal explained it as a “proactive effort to ensure the safety of our students and staff.” Would Swanson justify these children’s loss of instructional time by suggesting that they, too, should learn something from Yiannopoulos’ visit?
Since my work day will be cut short by these school closures, maybe I should follow Swanson’s advice to “do some research” and use the opportunity to teach my three-year-old about Yiannopoulos. I’m particularly eager to teach him about what Yiannopoulos means when he says, as he did at Louisiana State University, that “fat people should absolutely hate themselves.”
Maybe I’ll try to explain how Yiannopoulos outed a transgender student by displaying her name and photo on screen at the University of Wisconsin last year. Or maybe we’ll discuss that time at Ohio University when Yiannopoulos said that “in every meaningful way, the patriarchy favors women.” Do we really need to “do some research” on whether all this is admirable or even reasonable behavior, as Swanson advised? Are Yiannopoulos’ words really that difficult to judge? I don’t think so.
What we should investigate is why college administrators like Swanson are telling students to “do thoughtful inquiry” about a man who has viciously harassed comedian and actress Leslie Jones on the basis of her race and gender, the same man who wrote an article in July 2015 claiming that feminism makes women ugly.
Swanson’s condescending tone hit a fever pitch when he warned the campus community not to get their “collective panties in a bunch.” Not only is that phrase sexist and demeaning (when’s the last time you heard someone say “don’t get your boxers in a bunch?”); It really shouldn’t be used by anyone over the age of 12, let alone by a college administrator in his university’s student newspaper.
At the end of his letter Swanson wrote, “My life is full already, so I don’t have room to take in whatever it is Yiannopoulos is selling. But those troubled about his appearance here and those whose lives are impacted have the obligation as learners to do thoughtful inquiry.” I don’t think our students stand to gain any meaningful knowledge from Yiannopoulos’ visit, but they can learn a valuable lesson from Swanson’s letter. He’s provided our students with a wonderful example of male privilege in action: By asserting that his “life is too full” to be bothered by Yiannopoulos, he’s demonstrated how very easy it is for those in power to not only ignore hate and prejudice, but to suggest that those “impacted by it” are the only ones who should care.
Lana L. Dalley, Ph.D.
Department of English, comparative literature, and linguistics professor