A College-Level Challenge: When Free Speech Sounds Like Cyberbullying
A University of Chicago student who happens to be white objected to an undergraduate anthropology class titled “The Problem of Whiteness.”
Daniel Schmidt, a sophomore who didn’t know the lecturer, was outraged — and he showed it in a tweet that happened to include the lecturer’s photo and email address.
If you know anything about the bottomless hunger of online culture, it won’t surprise you to hear that a storm of hate mail inundated the inbox of the lecturer, Rebecca Journey, after Schmidt’s description went out into cyberspace.
Contrary to the insistence of Schmidt and other misreaders of her class title, Journey was not promoting anti-white hatred.
“Anti-white hatred is now mainstream academic inquiry,” Schmidt said of her class.
Not quite, although I am sure that mislabeling innocent academic study as “hatred” helps to wake up the fearful masses. Conservatives have generated similar mileage from insisting that a “Black-supremacist” version of critical race theory is lurking under every bed.
With inflammatory rhetoric aimed at her from the Twitterverse and other social networks, it’s understandable that Journey, a new Ph.D. recipient, postponed her new class to the spring while the university addresses safety concerns.
She also hopes the university will deal with the complaints she filed, accusing Schmidt of doxxing (public exposure of her personal information on the internet) and harassing her.
For his part, Schmidt strongly denies encouraging anyone to harass her, and the university reportedly dismissed her claims. Under the university’s widely praised commitment to academic freedom, speech is restricted only when it “constitutes a genuine threat or harassment.”
But the rest of the academic year has tested how well the university’s principles can keep up with a new and rapidly changing media environment in which a single tweet can trigger a hailstorm of reactions.
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