Saturday, May 24, 2014

Intellectual Debate Stifled Via Fear Tactics at Vassar College

Several months ago, the truth behind several incidents of racism, sexism, and homophobia at Vassar College caught the attention of the national media. It was, in fact, a transgendered student named Genesis Hernandez, (the Vice President of Student Life and a member of the Bias Incident and Response Team), and his girlfriend who carried out these “bias” incidents to draw attention to the fact that they felt Vassar College and its students acted in a discriminatory manner.
This blog released an article discussing the falsified bias incidents as well as the broader context of prejudice on the Vassar campus. It seems that Vassar College has a history of showing support for minority groups on campus by belittling and suppressing others. Since the original information came to light in November, further incidents have been brought to the public’s attention. One student, a freshman at Vassar College, related a disturbing incident to this author in an interview last month. During his freshman orientation this past summer, an event entitled “Who Is Vassar?” was held. Although it was not an official part of the freshman orientation, faculty members were present. The presentation consisted of poetry readings, most of which described Vassar as a racist, homophobic, sexist, and unfriendly environment. The freshman stated to this reporter that there was then a question and answer session, where he asked, “What goal do you guys have for the campus?” The panel, including Genesis, immediately pounced on the freshman’s word choice, saying that “you guys” was an offensive term. They proceeded to publicly berate him for over twenty minutes. This gross overreaction was nothing short of bullying and intimidation of a student who was only trying to help promote equality on campus.

 After the true nature of the “bias” incidents came to light, Genesis was asked to leave Vassar College. A current student at the school stumbled upon his most recent bid for attention and forwarded it to this blog. Apparently, Genesis has started a GoFundMe page asking people for money to help him defray the costs of transferring to a new school after leaving Vassar College. The page, of course, does not mention why he had to leave.

 In recent weeks, Vassar College has found itself in the news again, this time for repeated incidents of anti-Israel sentiment that have been carried too far and bordered on threatening. Shouting down dissenters and blocking students from class have occurred on more than one occasion. The behavior has prompted a flurry of articles through multiple news outlets, including two articles in the Daily News as well as Legal Insurrection.

 Unfortunately, these are not the only incidents of aggressive and inappropriate behavior from Vassar students attempting to suppress the beliefs of others. Last Spring, a group of students began a fossil fuel divestment movement, encouraging Vassar to take Vassar’s investments out of oil-based companies. Julian Hassan, then a Junior at the school, disagreed with this plan and attempted to promote an alternative viewpoint. He arranged for a speaker from the Center for Industrial Progress, Alex Epstein, to give a lecture entitled “Fossil Fuels Improve the Planet”.

The response from the Vassar Greens student environmentalist group was rage. A large poster that Mr. Hassan was using to promote the lecture was ripped and hung upside down in the College Center. Members of Vassar Greens actually posed for photographs tearing up fliers for the event. No administrator stepped in to put it right side up or make things right. Mr. Hassan felt that Campus Activities’ attitude seemed to be “It’s best not to get involved.” That did not work well. The day before the lecture, Mr. Hassan was bribed to cancel the talk by student editors of Vassar’s newspaper The Chronicle. At the lecture, a group of students staged a walk-out, wearing Dick Cheney masks and denouncing the speaker as they left. Other plots to disrupt the lecture were discussed and posted on Facebook, though they were not carried out. One student, Robert Rohan, threatened to harm himself at the lecture. A screenshot of his “really surreal protest idea” is posted below. (Warning: language)


Several online sources, including National Review, wrote articles discussing the divestment controversy and Epstein’s lecture.

Another topic of contention among students and faculty is the idea of white privilege and discrimination of minority race students. One outspoken voice regarding this topic is that of Kiese Laymon, the co-director of the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence at Vassar. He is known to be romantically involved with Acting Dean of the College, Eve Dunbar. Dunbar will only be in this position until the end of June, and Mr. Laymon was reported to have stated at an event on racial profiling that when Dunbar steps down, the college will return to white supremacy.

 In addition to his position at Vassar, Mr. Laymon is an author who frequently writes on topics related to racial inequality. A video taken at a book reading held at Oblong Books and Music contains the following excerpt: “Five years after getting kicked out of school I was offered a teaching job at Vassar College...What the alumnae house lacked in televisions it made up for in the spooky pictures of little beady-eyed white children....I called grandma from the room, and told her that Vassar didn’t feel like home. I didn’t like the way the white kids were looking at me, and I didn’t like how Vassar felt like a guarded castle. Grandma said the northern, rich white folks loved to put ghost-looking pictures of white children on the wall...”

 Many students at Vassar have read Mr. Laymon’s books. These words are doing nothing to fix any sort of racial inequality that exists on campus. On the contrary, this is the sort of language that makes enemies, creates resentments, and deepens racial divides. Continuing on the same theme, Mr. Laymon recently posted a Facebook status that describes how he feels about the racial inequality at Vassar.



It must be noted that every time the N-word was used (5 times, by the way), it was in all capital letters. Clearly, the man’s point is that he feels Vassar treats minority race students as inferior, but if he intends to be taken at all seriously, this in not the way to make his argument. It bears repeating that Mr. Laymon is the co-director of the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence. If this is how he promotes inclusion, it is likely that this committee will not be very effective.

 With each of these incidents, Vassar College is making its message very clear: Do not disagree with the popular sentiment on campus. Intellectual discussion of differing opinions is not encouraged. Instead, scare tactics are used to ensure that all students keep in line. While the administration has stepped in to address some incidents, such as that which resulted in the expulsion of Genesis, the general atmosphere of suppressing dissent has been largely tolerated.

The problem at Vassar College is not one of gay rights or anti-Semitism or environmentalism. It goes much deeper than that, and is much more sinister. Vassar College has become an environment where intellectualism has been cast aside in favor of mob rule.

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