Kieran Bhattacharya and UVA’s Macroaggressions

He didn’t make it to the second year of medical school at the University of Virginia by being a slacker or none too bright. So when Kieran Bhattacharya decided to raise questions to a panel discussing the fashionable if unempirical notion of microaggressions, he chose to ask some questions. Pointed questions, but just questions.

Bhattacharya: Hello. Thank you for your presentation. I had a few questions just to clarify your definition of microaggressions. Is it a requirement, to be a victim of microaggression, that you are a member of a marginalized group?

Adams: Very good question. And no. And no—

Bhattacharya: But in the definition, it just said you have to be a member of a marginalized group—in the definition you just provided in the last slide. So that’s contradictory.

Adams: What I had there is kind of the generalized definition. In fact, I extend it beyond that. As you see, I extend it to any marginalized group, and sometimes it’s not a marginalized group. There are examples that you would think maybe not fit, such as body size, height, [or] weight. And if that is how you would like to see me expand it, yes, indeed, that’s how I do.

Bhattacharya: Yeah, follow-up question. Exactly how do you define marginalized and who is a marginalized group? Where does that go? I mean, it seems extremely nonspecific.

Adams: And—that’s intentional. That’s intentional to make it more nonspecific … .

After the initial exchange, Bhattacharya challenged Adams’s definition of microaggression. He argued against the notion that “the person who is receiving the microaggressions somehow knows the intention of the person who made it,” and he expressed concern that “a microaggression is entirely dependent on how the person who’s receiving it is reacting.” Id. He continued his critique of Adams’s work, saying, “The evidence that you provided—and you said you’ve studied this for years—which is just one anecdotal case—I mean do you have, did you study anything else about microaggressions that you know in the last few years?” Id. After Adams responded to Bhattacharya’s third question, he asked an additional series of questions: “So, again, what is the basis for which you’re going to tell someone that they’ve committed a microaggression? … Where are you getting this basis from? How are you studying this, and collecting evidence on this, and making presentations on it?”

There’s audio of the interaction, lest anyone question whether the characterization is fair, although it would similarly be fair that he be entitled to get more heated about the panel than he did, considering how college admins have shown exceptional latitude to students screaming at profs about their racism, sexism and other Nazi-like qualities. But not Kieran Bhattacharya, who made the mistake to question dogma, setting off a series of “unfortunate events.”

But Nora Kern, an assistant professor who helped to organize the event, thought Bhattacharya’s questions were a bit too pointed. Immediately following the panel, she filed a “professionalism concern card”—a kind of record of a student’s violations of university policy.

“This student asked a series of questions that were quite antagonistic toward the panel,” wrote Kern. “He pressed on and stated one faculty member was being contradictory. His level of frustration/anger seemed to escalate until another faculty member defused the situation by calling on another student for questions. I am shocked that a med student would show so little respect toward faculty members. It worries me how he will do on wards.”

Kern’s promiscuous use of adjectives to color Bhattacharya’s otherwise fairly moderate questions as a potential psychological threat to patients borders on the absurd. There was nothing disrespectful at all in challenging a panel of academics to explain and prove their point, particularly when their contention is grounded in nothing more than vapid beliefs. But it got worse from there. Much worse.

Soon after that–literally still the same day of the panel–Bhattacharya received an email from faculty asking him to “share his thoughts” so as to help him “understand and be able to cope with unintended consequences of conversations.” The tone of the email is polite and professional, but the text hints toward an attempt at entrapment. You’ll see this a lot in woke spaces–invitations to come to an understanding with one another that are, in actuality, attempts to get a person to say something cancellable.

Bhattacharya took the bait, and, well…

During Bhattacharya and Peterson’s one-hour meeting, Peterson “barely mentioned” Bhattacharya’s questions and comments at the panel discussion. Instead, Peterson attempted to determine Bhattacharya’s “views on various social and political issues—including sexual assault, affirmative action, and the election of President Trump.”

At this point, the kid was fucked.

UVA ultimately suspended Bhattacharya, required him to undergo psychological evaluation and barred him from campus. He sued, and Western District of Virginia Senior Judge Norman Moon denied UVA’s motion to dismiss.

Certainly, Bhattacharya’s line of questioning concerned Rasmussen enough that she mentioned the need to “make sure to open up the floor to lots of people for questions” and ultimately called on another student to ask a question. Id. But Bhattacharya’s allegations do not show that his statements had a “direct impact on [other] students’ educational experience” or “had the  potential to impact patient care.” Keefe, 840 F.3d at 531. Indeed, Bhattacharya’s comments are a far cry from the comments at issue in Keefe.

While Judge Moon held that Bhattacharya’s complaint stated a plausible cause of action, as is the test for a F.R.C.P. §12(b)(6) motion, it’s still decidedly unsatisfying in its description of UVA’s reaction to any challenge to its ideological requirements.

The hardest part of talking about malignant trends on the broad left is that, well, you’re not allowed to talk about them. It’s no exaggeration to say that criticism has become fully conflated with violence.

The issue here had nothing to do with the tone of the questions, Bhattacharya’s demeanor, aggressiveness, imputed “frustration” or “anger,” but with the fact that he challenged the panel’s, and hence the school’s, embrace of the concept of microaggressions. After all Bhattacharya went through to get to the second year of medical school at UVA, his future hinged on his tacit acceptance of woke ideology or he was, in the minds of his professors, unsuited to be a physician.

23 thoughts on “Kieran Bhattacharya and UVA’s Macroaggressions

  1. Erik H

    I read that story; it’s nuts.

    Also nuts is the apparent rule that grown highly educated adults (medical students fall in this category) are supposed to give some unusually high level of deference to faculty, as if this was a “don’t you question me!” elementary school.

    1. B. McLeod

      But in elementary school, they wouldn’t expel the student or ban them from campus as a mental defective.

      Having to get rid of a person for asking questions is the unmistakable mark of a totalitarian order.

    2. LY

      It appears that they only required to give a high level of deference to progressive faculty as SHG has noted that students screaming in the faces of faculty not deemed progressive enough is allowed and seems to be encouraged.

  2. MLA

    Do these med school profs ever have to deal with actual patients? Because patients are known to become frustrated and angry, and even to question doctors’ expertise. Sometimes they have the nerve to not appreciate it when the doctors ask for their preferred pronouns.

  3. Rob McMillin

    I hope UVa loses, big and quick, on this one. These struggle sessions are insane, and the most appalling part is every one of these cultists draws a salary from the universities. For what? What value do any of these woke zampolit provide?

  4. Hal

    This is really disturbing to read and I feel for Mssr. Bhattacharya. I find the very notion of “microaggressions” offensive. Characterizing something as an “aggression”, of any sort, implies an intent to hurt or harm. Someone can be thoughtless, inattentive, preoccupied, or inconsiderate w/o there being a scintilla of ill intent, let alone a desire to be hurtful or cause harm.

    Allowing inference to trump intent is utterly asinine. One can’t be expected to be constantly questioning every thought, before speaking; “Is there anyway that someone could take offensive in what I’m about to say?”.

    We used to tell children to remind themselves; “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. Words can, of course, be hurtful… still it seems that some adults would do well to recite this as a mantra.

    As Rep. Scott observe; “Woke supremacy is as bad as white supremacy”.

  5. B. McLeod

    He failed to conform his external stereotype. Not bowing to the hat on the pole was bound to upset the small-minded, dogmatic intolerants. Questions about why the hat is on the pole and why anyone should bow to it are even worse. Such questions are “pointed” to the extent of being deemed “weaponized,” as they impertinently challenge the very legitimacy of the hat on the pole. Suggesting that the hat-on-the-pole dogma might lack a rational foundation goes well beyond mere “microagressions” to the point of actual heresy. How could it ever possibly be safe to train such a one to save lives? The necessary course of action was obvious. The transgressor was lucky that kindling was evidently in short supply that day.

  6. Rengit

    Having read the trial court’s opinion, it gets even wilder and more disturbing. Judge Moon should have been a lot harsher towards 1) the demand that Bhattacharya attend CAPS, because they told him his demeanor was threatening and they were convinced he had a psychological problem, then when he told them he objected to being “required” to attend psychotherapy, another member shifted it around that it was only a “recommendation” and that this sort of defensiveness was proof of his need to see a therapist before attending classes again and 2) the immediate issuance of a No Trespass Order from the UVA Deputy of Police, usually reserved for people who commit actual crimes on campus, on vague allegations of threats in online chat rooms that they wouldn’t specify, which was then used to justify prohibiting the appeal of his suspension because it would have meant he had to be on campus in violation of the NTO.

    I see why he argued for a claim under Section 1985(3) for a conspiracy to deny civil rights, because the continued escalation of punishments and barriers seems like a host of powerful people at UVA conspired to put all their wrathful efforts into screwing this kid over.

    1. SHG Post author

      I often avoid lengthy and prolix discussions of the full fact pattern, not because it’s unworthy of discussion but because it would be too long for a blawg post. Usually, a slice of a case is sufficient to make the point rather than squander the point on a cursory description of facts. I wish commenters would appreciate that, but they rarely do.

      1. Keith

        Yes, you are the sampler/appetizer, that’s all good and well, but the court document in this particular case was too salacious to resist as the full course.

  7. Elpey P.

    Since the standards for judging behavior have consistently been shown to be dependent upon allegiance to movement politics, it’s entirely fair to dismiss any concerns about tone and “respect” to be nothing more than concern trolling. For all their phony hand-wringing they actually have zero objection to the behavior itself, just the lack of conformity.

    A person who agrees with them would be defended and even applauded for anything up to and including bodily harm. A person who disagrees or is skeptical commits violence merely by existing. (Silence, amirite?)

    1. SHG Post author

      The question is how is it that they are so damn good at concern trolling, because they really are very good at it.

  8. orthodoc

    I have to assume that Kieran Bhattacharya knew what he was doing when raised questions to a panel discussing microaggressions. He was a second year medical student, making him not only not a slacker or none too bright, but well aware of what the party line is, and how to toe it.

    This episode reminds me of the story Kosinski tells in Blind Date, of attending a Party-sponsored meeting for all students celebrating Stalin’s latest book on Marxism and linguistics, where his best friend, Romarkin, asked a question:

    “Suddenly, in the midst of the public tribute to Stalin and to his book, Romarkin raised his hand high above his head…. “I have read with great interest Comrade Stalin’s treatise on Marxism and linguistics,” Romarkin announced in a loud steady voice. “This very work,” he said, “unmasked the ideological errors of our leading linguists, and has led to their expulsion from the Party and from university teaching positions. Yet until Comrade Stalin’s book appeared last week, our Party considered these men to be eminent Marxists and authorities in the field of linguistics.” He stopped, glanced around, then continued matter-of-factly. “Of course, in no way do I question the wisdom of the Party’s decision. But no official biography of Comrade Stalin mentions that he was ever a scholar in the highly specialized field of linguistics. My question is: Would you, Comrade, tell us when and for how long Comrade Stalin studied linguistics?”

    “This is no time to dwell on what is obvious,” [the moderator said] “If, in his wisdom, Comrade Stalin has chosen to write on the subject of linguistics, he clearly has earned the right to do so. Any other questions?”

    The meeting ended. People rushed to the exits. Outside, as [Kosinski] and Romarkin were about to turn into a side street, they were suddenly stopped by a group of KGB agents. Romarkin was taken away in a car….
    I agree entirely with Rob McMillin. I too hope UVa loses, big and quick, on this one. But even if Mr Bhattacharya is reinstated, he faces at least 6 more years of training in the same soup (the gulag may be more pleasant), so I have to wonder if this was some part of an exit plan.

    1. SHG Post author

      Glorious exposition, Comrade.

      It occurred to me as well that he might have done a better job of reading the room and realizing that his challenge, valid though it might be, was not going to go over well. That said, this is the third instance I’ve seen involving a med student expelled for heresy. Physicians, heal thyselves.

  9. FF11

    25 – 30 years ago when I was in school, challenging questions were not only tolerated, but they were praised and rewarded. Times have changed … how do faculty expect to be able to support their ideas in front of rivals when they are afraid to do so during internal discussions?

    1. Rengit

      “Peer review” is growing to mean “review by people who already mostly agree with you”, because that’s who people’s peer groups are at advanced educational levels. I suspect then that they won’t be challenged by any would-be rivals of equal rank; since potential challengers are likely to be of a lower rank, as in the instant case, you can always call on your peers to smack them down.

      1. Estovir

        As a regular reader of medical scientific peer review journals, it has become increasingly difficult to digest the monolithic paradigms of these “evidenced based medicine” standard bearers. Not a few medical researchers and clinicians have been stripped of academic titles, scholarly funding and reputation for having the audacity to express a differing view on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. One Asian cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Pittsburg was removed from a prestigious academic leadership position in Cardiology for writing a paper that concluded:

        “Ultimately, all who aspire to a profession in medicine and cardiology must be assessed as individuals on the basis of their personal merits, not their racial and ethnic identities”.

        His paper was retroactively yanked and his reputation suffered an infarct. Sadly there are many more like him and they are proudly broadcast from “scientific journals”

  10. HHope

    UVA’s official stance seems laughable. If that’s how the administrators and professors handle discussion, can it even claim itself to be an institution for “education”? I have heard that UVA is over-rated, this seems to be proofing that point. I feel bad for the alums I know.

  11. V

    Does Bhattacharya have legal counsel now? I notice that he filed the complaint pro se. There must be some pro bono legal organization willing to help him the rest of the way.

    The snowflake movement is now on the precipice of ending academic inquiry (learning).

    1. Keith

      He’s been engaged with FIRE since December of the year in question, they did refer him to counsel.

  12. Michael McCullough

    This is not the University I attended from 1971-1976. The ‘thought police’ are ensconced and empowered under this ‘new think’ authoritarianism; we can kiss the true meaning of ‘university’ good-bye! My utmost respect goes to Kieran, who must have known he would bear the consequences of questioning ‘authority’, however bigoted and self-deluded they be.

Comments are closed.