Not that I haven’t fallen into this trap before. Like others, I blindly jumped on the bandwagon when the UVA rape case went public in Rolling Stone and I bit. It was a lie and I fell for it because I chose to fall for it. Not my proudest moment. Confirmation bias is a powerful drug, particularly when the risk of questioning, even taking a “wait and see” approach, is tantamount to being an apologist for the other team.
But the story out of Boise State was just the sort of thing that people believed would happen when academic ideologues pushed critical race theory, and so when the story broke, it proved their point and they grabbed it.
On March 15, Boise State received a complaint from a “community leader” who is not a student at the school alleging that he had viewed a video on a friend’s phone that showed a white student being “forced to apologize … for being ‘white’ or for the student’s ‘white privilege,’ ” and being taunted by other students, according to the report.
A day later, the university suspended all 55 sections of a course entitled University Foundations 200, a required course that had nearly 1,300 students enrolled during the spring semester. In a statement, the school said it had been made aware that a student or students may “have been humiliated and degraded in class.”
Not only did the knee-jerk reaction cause the shutdown of a course for almost 1,300 students, but it drove the Idaho legislature to “do something.”
While the investigation was ongoing, the Idaho Legislature passed a bill that, among other stipulations, banned schools from requiring students to “affirm” or “adopt” the belief that an individual could be responsible for historical actions committed by members of the same identity group.
In early May, lawmakers cut Boise State’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, by $1.5 million after many Republican lawmakers objected to what they called social justice programming in schools as well as to the university’s attempts to create a more ethnically diverse student body.
The point isn’t whether you think these reactions are good or bad, but that they were reactions to what happened at Boise State. It’s akin to the response to the UVA rape lie, that even though it never happened, it could have happened so at least it started a discussion and that discussion was worthy in itself. Except it was a lie, and to rationalize why lies might have “silver linings” is to justify lying. There is no justification for lying here, no matter what your belief about the horrors of mandatory campus diversity courses.
The Boise State story smelled from the outset. There was purportedly a video of a student of a student “degraded” by being forced to apologize for being white. The video was never produced and never seen by anyone other than an unnamed “community leader” who was not a student who claimed to have seen the video. No student came forward to say they were the person “degraded.”
According to the report, the university did not know which course the complainant’s allegation pertained to, but it “surmised” that it was a section of University Foundations based on the subject matter. The report does not identify the name of the complainant, but [Boise State President Marlene] Tromp said that “it is a person who is very broadly respected, and whose words we took seriously.”
In the scheme of unreliable sources, there have been worse, but there have also been far better. That does not prove it didn’t happen, but it’s very far away from proving it did, unless it confirms one’s bias and one really wants to believe it’s true. The burden of proof is on the party asserting that it happened, and this falls far short of meeting any reasonable burden.
But Boise State, in an excess of caution and given the pervasive climate of hysteria, reacted anyway by canceling class so that no further trauma would befall a student. They then retained counsel to conduct an investigation. The law firm, Hawley Troxell, interviewed about 30 students and “multiple” instructors, and created an email address for students to submit any “concerns” they had.
Though the firm did not uncover “any evidence” implicating any Boise State instructor in a violation of the school’s nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policy, the school did find one instance a week before the complaint in which a student reportedly called an instructor’s logic “stupid” during a debate about universal health care in a UF 200 course. After the comment, other participants in the class objected to the student’s word choice. The student, who later told investigators that she had not called the instructor “stupid” but rather had called the “instructor’s logic” stupid, reportedly left the class early that day in tears.
Could this have been the incident? Even though it’s not a student being forced to apologize for being white, perhaps this was the source. Even so, it’s not the same scenario and does nothing to rationalize the initial lie.
Based on interviews with the concerned student, the instructor and eight other students in the section, the firm determined that the instructor, who told the class that she understood the student had intended to speak only about her logic and who checked in with the student after class, had responded “appropriately.”
There is much to challenge about the use of critical race theory, the requirement that students not merely be taught about this perspective, but indoctrinated into and it and compelled to embrace it through pedagogy and social pressure. But that does not make a lie any less a lie, and it does not make a lie that confirms one bias any less wrong than a lie that confirms any other bias.
It can be hard, when a story picks up a head of steam, when media or your “thought leaders” tell you it’s true and repeat it, spread it and you, like them, really want it to be true because it proves those thoughts floating through your head were right all along. And it can similarly be hard to come to grips with that reality that it isn’t true, was never true, and you bought it anyway. There’s a very strong tendency to fight against the lie because the lie doesn’t change the underlying point in the minds of its believers. That’s what happened with the UVA rape case. That’s what can happen here. But it’s still a lie. Maybe it will happen someday. Maybe not. But this is not the story that proves anything because it was a lie.