Faculty and students at Reed College are fighting back against far-left student protesters trying to shut down courses that don’t comply with their rigid social justice standards.
At Reed College, which Princeton Review called the most liberal college in America, Steve Martin’s 1978 “King Tut” Saturday Night Live skit caused an uproar with student protesters. “That’s like somebody … making a song just littered with the n-word everywhere,” one member of the Reedies Against Racism (RAR) activist group said of the skit.
Much of the social justice outrage at Reed College is directed at a mandatory freshman class entitled Humanities 110, which aims to “introduce students to serious college-level work, to introduce them to Reed’s distinctive approach to teaching, and to provide an opportunity for rigorous writing instruction.” In a column for Reed College magazine, Professor Peter Steinberger explained the significance of the course. “Perhaps most importantly, Hum 110 seeks to introduce students in a systematic way to the various disciplines—history, literature, philosophy, aesthetics, social science—of which the liberal arts are composed,” he wrote.
But Reedies Against Racism see the course in a much different light. “We believe that the first lesson that freshmen should learn about Hum 110 is that it perpetuates white supremacy—by centering ‘whiteness’ as the only required class at Reed,” the group wrote in a statement that was sent to incoming freshmen. They claim the texts assigned in the course are written primarily by European authors. The groups argue that this is “Eurocentric,” “Caucasoid,” and “oppressive.” Humanities 110 “feels like a cruel test for students of color,” one RAR leader told a local radio station. “It traumatized my peers.”
Because of their anger over the course, RAR decided to protest every single Humanities 101 lecture that took place. One professor of the course, Lucía Martínez Valdivia, wrote an op-ed last week for the Washington Post detailing her experience with the protesters.
“At Reed College in Oregon, where I work, a group of students began protesting the required first-year humanities course a year ago,” Valdivia wrote. “Three times a week, students sat in the lecture space holding signs — many too obscene to be printed here — condemning the course and its faculty as white supremacists, as anti-black, as not open to dialogue and criticism, on the grounds that we continue to teach, among many other things, Aristotle and Plato.”
Fortunately, Valdivia isn’t the only community member committed to fighting back against RAR’s tyranny. “This school year, students are ditching anonymity and standing up to RAR in public—and almost all of them are freshmen of color,” the Atlantic noted.
“To interrupt a lecture in a classroom setting is in serious violation of academic freedom and is just unthoughtful and wrong,” wrote a Reed student from China. The student distributed a letter of dissent against RAR:
We believe that RAR’s tactics of protest effectively silence debate, encourage self-censorship, threaten academic freedom, and greatly impede the education of the class of 2021. We do not approve of the the way freshmen who have questioned the protests have been shouted at and intimidated by some protesters, nor do we approve of the disrespect shown to faculty. To that end, we ask RAR to reconsider their tactics and stop protesting within Vollum during Hum 110 lectures.
At the beginning of the 2017 academic year, a group of RAR students who attempted to derail a class were challenged by a large group of students who wanted the class to proceed.
Support for RAR seems to be dropping rapidly. Only 100 students were involved in this year’s boycott efforts of Humanities 110, compared to the nearly 400 students who were involved in the protests in 2016. During a recent protest effort, a student named Pax was encouraged to see students follow the professor into another classroom and away from the protesters. “The thing that heartens me,” said Pax, “is that most of the student body followed the professor into another classroom, where she continued the lecture.”