Silence is Golden

Two posts at Volokh Conspiracy, one by Eugene and the other by Dale Carpenter, raise some questions that could stand some answers.  Eugene’s post offers some school-wide emails from NYU Law School student groups about an “issue” that arose with the Halloween party.

The Mental Health Law and Justice Association writes this open letter in order to express grave concern and outrage at the triggering, disrespectful, and harmful suicide imagery displayed at Fall Ball.

During last night’s Fall Ball, which was organized by NYU Law’s Office of Student Affairs, there were video projections on the windows inside of Greenberg Lounge of silhouetted people engaging in what we can only imagine were intended to be “spooky” activities. One of the images projected displayed a man dying by suicide. Because MHLJA follows the recommendations of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to not discuss suicide methods and firmly believes in publishing content that is safe for all members of our community, we will not provide any more details about the projection. However, members of our organization do have photographs of the images, should your administration need corroboration.

Evidence! Nice to see that they learned something, but “harmful suicide imagery”?  Not only is this more than law students can handle, but sufficiently more that they need to blast out their complaint to the whole school?  And yet, that wasn’t the end of it, as the buddy system is apparently in use at NYU law school.

The Latino Law Students Association (LaLSA) would like to join our friends in the Mental Health Law and Justice Association (MHLJA) in condemning the distasteful and triggering suicide imagery that was displayed at NYU’s Fall Ball. Like MHLJA, we believe that “our campus should be a safe space for all members of our community, particularly those who are most vulnerable. Violence and the difficult mental health challenges of people are not a joke, a gimmick, or a spectacle.”

Not that it impacts the substance, but I would be remiss not to add:

As a community, Latinxs* continue to experience significant rates of suicide and chronic depression. 

*Because LaLSA is committed to fostering a safe and inclusive space for all members of our community, we use the term Latinx, pronounced “La-teen-ex”, as a gender-neutral alternative to the usual gendered designation of Latino/a and [email protected]

That’s going to warm judges’ hearts with your dedication to “fostering a safe and inclusive space.” What grown-up doesn’t think every child shouldn’t get to butcher the language for hxs (see what I did there?) feelz?

But what Dale describes isn’t as facially laughable.

On Tuesday afternoon an Israeli academic was shouted down by two dozen protesters as he tried to begin a lecture before about 100 students and faculty at the University of Minnesota. The lecturer was Moshe Halbertal, a professor at NYU Law School and a professor of Jewish thought and philosophy at Hebrew University.

The protests were apparently organized by a group calling itself the “Anti-War Committee,” which bragged on its Twitter feed about having disrupted the lecture and complained that the protesters’ “free speech” rights were violated when a few were arrested.

The protesters are confused as to their “free speech” rights to shout down another person’s speech, as opposed to holding their own lecture attended by no one or protesting outside, so that the lecture could happen as well.  Speak all you want, but preventing another person from speaking isn’t your free speech. It’s just censorship.

And these two posts at VC raise the questions. Are these outliers, in one instance the ridiculously fragile teacups who seek out things to be offended about whenever possible?  Are these narcissistic zealots, who have their issue and think it’s so critical, even when it’s puny, that their world must hear about it?

Is it acceptable to students, most students, many students, a few students, that they are being subjected to this inane tripe? Is this acceptable to most law students?  Are you happy having a lecturer silenced?  Would you rather your Halloween party serve only plain vanilla ice cream so no one will ever be offended again?

From my seat, this would appear to either be a joke, a few special snowflakes inflicting their deeply-held passionate feelings on everyone else, or a condemnation of how students have gone off the deep-end.

And the backside is that if the majority of students want to be able to hear a lecture by someone with whom an identitarian group disagrees, do you let them ruin it for you?  If you enjoy a Halloween party, or any party for that matter, do you tell the victimhood flavor of the day to shut up?  Can you, or will you be branded a hater and shunned by the overly sensitive?

Where do students stand? If this is not the majority sense of students, why is it tolerated?  At what point do students say “enough” to their fellow students?

30 thoughts on “Silence is Golden

  1. Keith

    Perhaps it will correct itself when people find they aren’t allowed to speak basic thoughts on campus without ridicule, but I have my doubts. Until then, thanks for the good fight. Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant…

    I put it in Latin since you run a legal blog.

  2. Dave

    I suspect students are the same today as they always were. Most of them just want to make it to class, get their shit done, make it to the weekend, rinse, repeat, and graduate, and mostly ignore campus shenanigans as much as possible.

    That is the way it was when I went to school at a very liberal school. There were such things going on back then (late 1980s, early 1990s) – groups protesting this and that, and mostly I ignored them and went to class, perhaps stopping briefly to gawk at some public demonstration on the way. Only a small minority of students really put much energy into such things. I figured I had better ways to spend my time and energy, which was mostly spent on school.

    To the extent I thought they were loony, I kept it to myself, because again, didn’t want to waste energy on it.

    To the extent this translates to what is going on with campuses today, the protestors you discuss are probably a small minority. Of course, my feelz on the matter, and my anecdotal story, isn’t really evidence, but I can point to more solid ground by noting that people are still people, and human nature is no different today than it was 25 years ago.

  3. Nigel Declan

    Given that many administrations have essentially thrown in their lot with the irrational teacups, the mature, intelligent students who likely disapprove of these shenanigans may recognize that they are in a situation where Mark Bennett’s “10 Practical Rules for Dealing with the Borderline Personality” govern. The fact that teacups actively seek to silence others while having no compunctions against running to the administration to seek immediate sanction of any student who dares to ask them to shut up, already evinces a profound lack of self-awareness as well as a complete lack of understanding or appreciation of irony (though the latter may be a problem with millennials in general, based on their frequent misuse of the term “ironic”).

  4. delurking

    “*Because LaLSA is committed to fostering a safe and inclusive space for all members of our community, we use the term Latinx, pronounced “La-teen-ex”, as a gender-neutral alternative to the usual gendered designation of Latino/a and [email protected]

    This is just comedy (maybe stupidity) of the highest order. Spanish is a language where EVERYTHING has a gender. Chairs are female, the ground is male, the walls are male, the windows are female, etc. But, we’re offended that the language implies that people have gender.

      1. delurking

        Just go with English: Latin. Works for boys, girls, etc., and no need to make up new words. Why do you hate English?

  5. mb

    Of course privileged people will whine about their speech being “silenced”, (haha like they don’t get their voices heard everywhere, all the time) but where’s their concern about silencing when marginalized communities are forced to hear things that they would have preferred to not hear? Also, #TRIGGERS ahead, serving vanilla ice cream on Halloween is so fucking racist/ablist/misogynist/cis-heteronormative I just can’t even right now.
    #ijustcantevenrightnow

  6. QN

    No, sadly, these are not outlier events at all. According to a WSJ story (link here, but paywalled: [Ed. Note: Link deleted, per rules]):

    ” By a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent, students favor their school having speech codes to regulate speech for students and faculty. Sixty-three percent favor requiring professors to employ “trigger warnings” to alert students to material that might be discomfiting. ”

    And then, the really scary datum:

    “Thirty-five percent said that the First Amendment does not protect “hate speech,” while 30 percent of self-identified liberal students say the First Amendment is outdated.”

    Admittedly, the latter bit is limited to “self-identified liberal students,” which could mean that overall a smaller, less significant number of students think that the First Amendment is “outdated.” And also, one should take into account the fact that the study only accounts for 800 student responses, so maybe the sample size is too small.

    Nevertheless, it seems pretty significant. When these kids get into the real world, one of two things will happen: 1) they will find a way to leverage political power to get their insane limitations on speech made into law, or more likely 2) they will shape non-legal norms to their own preferences, leaving the rest of us “unorthodox” facing non-legal but still socially significant consequences for not toeing these kids’ party line.

    I’m not trying to be chicken little, here, but I do think this is receiving perhaps less attention than it should.

    1. SHG Post author

      I saw the article when it came out, but it really doesn’t answer the question. Ten percent also think Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court. So they’re legal imbeciles. What else is new. That doesn’t answer the practical question, which is the one I ask here, whether they really want what they think they want in a vacuum when it happens in real life. It’s easy to wrongly agree that “hate speech” shouldn’t get protection, but what about when it’s their speech that’s hate speech, or their party that gets canceled because of absurd complaining, or the lecture they want to hear that gets shouted down because they don’t hate Israel that much?

      1. Mort

        They may be morons, but they vote. They run for student government (and make up most of the student government group, if my university is any indication).

        They are hostile to speech they don’t like, but think what THEY say is special and magical.

        And soon, they will be the ones running things.

        Personally, I pray to have died long before that happens.

  7. 3L

    It’s mostly apathy. We don’t care about supposedly offensive Halloween decorations so we don’t care about people who say the Halloween decorations are offensive. We figured that once the real world smacked these kids around a bit, they’d realize they were being stupid and short-sighted.

    I’ve thought about starting a blog writing about these situations, from a non-student snowflake perspective. Maybe the smacking should start sooner.

      1. Steven M. Warshawsky

        That’s exactly tight. Noisy activists, not the “silent majority,” drive social, political, and legal norms. For what it’s worth, my reading of the cultural zeitgeist is that a “controlling” plurality, if not majority, of young people share the perspective of the groups described in your blog piece.

        1. David M.

          Can’t speak for all young people, but I’ll share the perspective of anyone who describes things as ‘exactly tight’

  8. Weebs

    “MHLJA follows the recommendations of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to not discuss suicide methods and firmly believes in publishing content that is safe for all members of our community”

    Good grief. Does the AFSP believe refraining from discussing suicide methods will prevent people from killing themselves? They must belong to the same school of thought as those who believe sex ed will cause more kids to have sex. Morons.

    I lost a parent to suicide when I was in high school. Suicide sucks. It sucks for the victims and it sucks for the families. That said, an open an honest discussion about it will help more people than hurt them.

  9. Richard G. Kopf

    SHG,

    To the Mental Health Law and Justice Association at NYU law, Latino Law Students Association at NYU law, and all similarly situated law students:

    NEVER GO FULL RETARD*

    All the best.

    RGK

    *For a thoughtful elucidation, see Tropic Thunder (5/10) Movie CLIP – Never Go Full Retard (2008) HD (YouTube).

  10. Mort

    Regarding the questions you pose, Oh Benevolent Host…

    Sit down. I have something to tell you, and it’s going to make you sad.

  11. DHMCarver

    My despair at such pieces is always ameliorated by remembering the Oberlin College Choir Update you posed to this entry back in May: http://blog.simplejustice.us/2015/05/10/sharp-words/ [I thought the link would be OK as it is a link to back to you.] If the choir at a place as liberal as Oberlin can call out this kind of nonsense so sharply, I think the answer is more likely “a few special snowflakes inflicting their deeply-held passionate feelings on everyone else” rather than “a condemnation of how students have gone off the deep-end”.

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