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.