Opinion - Saratoga Springs Politics

The below blog posts are written by John Kaufmann.
These opinions do not reflect the views of Saratoga TODAY newspaper.

Monday, 04 March 2024 10:27

Jane Weihe and the Blogger Are Evicted From a BLM “Teach-In” at Skidmore College

By John Kaufmann | Saratoga Springs Politics

Two Scary People

Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Protects Students From Jane Weihe

Saratoga Black Lives Matter organized what they called a “teach-in” at Skidmore College on Friday, March 1. The meeting’s purpose was stated as “How Students Start a Movement from Palestine and Cop City to Saratoga Springs”.

Approximately twenty students, along with the college Director of Religious and Spiritual Life (apparently the title of what maybe used to be called a chaplain) and someone who identified themselves as being I think with the Office of Student Diversity.

Samira Sangare of Black Lives Matter was in charge of the event.

When the meeting began, Jane and I were sitting quietly in the last row of Emerson auditorium. A young man from BLM approached us and asked us politely to leave. We declined.

Jane and I were then approached by the Director of Religious and Spiritual Life. She also asked us to leave. She told us that the meeting was for students only and we were not allowed to attend.

Jane and I initially declined to leave. I was going to try to address the students to talk about the history of teach-ins which began as a response to the war in Vietnam.

In those years, teach-ins encouraged broad discussions. At the University of Wisconsin, where I was an undergraduate, they sometimes included representatives from the government who were there to defend the U.S. involvement in the war. There was no doubt that the exchanges were often spirited, but no one was silenced or asked to leave. People believed in the power of their ideas, and they were happy to defend them.

I agreed to step out in the hall with the Religious/Spiritual Director. She was courteous but insistent that we leave. I noted to her that colleges at one time encouraged dialogue and that it seemed unhealthy (I thought to myself, spiritually as well as intellectually) to remove people from a teach-in because they may not share your views. I was struck by how sad it was that this clearly intelligent and caring person should see her job as “protecting” students from ideas. I thought it was unhealthy for our democracy when people who shut down debate at a college are empowered by the institution.

In the meantime, Jane was still in her seat in the auditorium, and she was being confronted by the administrator from the Diversity Department and Sangare. Jane repeatedly asked Sangare, “What is going to be said here that you do not want us to hear?” Sangare did not reply.

The Diversity Administrator told Jane she needed to leave because she was making the students feel unsafe. Jane pointed out that she is an alumna of Skidmore College, that she is five foot three, and that she is seventy-six years old, an unlikely threatening presence. The Diversity person responded that a “Threat is not always a physical threat and that you should know that.” She told Jane, “I’m on the students’ side. I am here to protect the students.”

I decided that we should leave, and I returned to the auditorium. I thought I would still try to address the students. I was going to talk about the need in social movements to welcome dialogue, but I had gotten only a few words out when, Sangare shouted that I was John Kaufmann and urged people to clap so that I could not be heard which they did. To see them all clapping to silence me was truly disturbing. It was rather cultlike.

There are so many grim ironies here. To begin with, there is the fact that Sangare had repeatedly been instrumental in shutting down City Council meetings by shouting over the other members of the public and the Council.

There is also the obvious issue that a college is supposed to be a place where conflicting ideas can be discussed. Consider this excellent statement from Skidmore’s President, Marc Connor:

The response on some campuses has been, ‘thou shalt not,’ don’t let them say that, shut them down, censor that. And I understand that, you hear speech that you truly hate. The desire is to stop that speech. One of the things I’ve been saying on our campus is, the speech that we hate is not therefore ‘hate speech.’ Hate speech is very specific. It’s connected to immediate violence, intimidation, or harassment. There are things we hear that are offensive, but what that really is, is contested speech. It is speech that can mean multiple things. A slogan that is hateful in one context has a very different meaning in another context. And what is so important about contested speech is it needs to be engaged, needs to be interpreted, and it needs to be debated. And this, again, is something that college campuses are uniquely poised to do great privilege.

Marc Conner to WAMC

Well, apparently, his message did not reach the Religious/Spiritual Director or the administrator from the Office of Diversity or the students present at this “teach-in”.

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