In his report Wednesday that the University of Colorado (CU Boulder) is facing backlash for a statement on its “Pride Office” website that claims misgendering people can be considered an “act of violence,” legal scholar Jonathan Turley observed that when schools declare opposing views to be “violence,” they allow professors and students to “rationalize their own acts of violence or censorship.”
It is a familiar position for many in higher education. Opposing viewpoints are now routinely declared to be violence. That allows professors and students to rationalize their own acts of violence or censorship. https://t.co/ptR7bjaN4y
— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) May 31, 2023
The CU Boulder’s guide on pronouns, reportedly written by students, states pronoun usage is a “safety” issue:
It is never safe to assume someone’s gender and living a life where people will naturally assume the correct pronouns for you is a privilege that not everyone experiences. Choosing to ignore or disrespect someone’s pronouns is not only an act of oppression but can also be considered an act of violence.
“It is a familiar position for many in higher education,” Turley wrote. “Opposing viewpoints are now routinely declared to be violence.”
The Shapiro Chair of Public Interest Law at George Washington University provided the recent example of Hunter College art professor Shellyne Rodríguez who was fired by the Manhattan school after holding a machete to the neck of a New York Post reporter along with threats to “chop you up.”
Machete-wielding professor pulls giant victim card in defiant statement after firinghttps://t.co/OwnBUuvcsI
— American Wire News (@americanwire_) May 25, 2023
The school, however, as Turley pointed out, had not fired Rodríguez for swearing at and throwing around the materials set up by a group of pro-life students in early May, claiming, “You’re not educating s**t. This is f**king propaganda.”
Rodríguez called their demonstration “violent” and was caught on video yelling at the male student behind the table that he wasn’t sorry “because you can’t even have a f–king baby,” the New York Post reported.
“This is bulls**t. This is violent. You’re triggering my students,” the former professor said.
Turley observed similar examples at State University of New York at Albany, where professor Renee Overdyke blocked a “violent” pro-life display and resisted arrest, and at University of California at Santa Barbara, where Mireille Miller Young, a feminist studies associate professor, “criminally assaulted pro-life advocates on campus, and later pleaded guilty to the crime.”
Young claimed the pro-life advocates were “terrorists” who had “triggered” her.
“It is that easy,” Turley remarked. “You simply declare opposing views ‘violent’ and then you can justify your own violence as a matter of self-defense.”
Continuing with its “safety” theme, the CU Boulder guide to pronoun usage warns students and faculty that “if someone tells you their pronouns, use those!”
“If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, don’t assume gendered pronouns and use gender-neutral ones, like they or ze,” the guide states.
The document further informs that when a person chooses not to share their pronouns, “it’s safe to use they/them/theirs unless that person tells you otherwise.”
The CU Boulder guide attempts to offer additional assistance on what else is considered “offensive” with regard to pronoun usage, but, in doing so, even admits that “there are many terms that are offensive for people that identify as transgender or any other form of gender non-conforming.”
Turley noted the problem of declaring all speech reflecting an opposing viewpoint as “violence”:
[T]his is a university site and there are countervailing free speech costs to characterizing opposing views on pronouns as violence. We have previously discussed how other countries are prosecuting those who “misgender.” Schools in the United States have promised disciplinary action against any misgendering despite some court cases ruling for faculty with opposing views on pronouns. Even passing out “he/his” candies can result in a university investigation.
“Colorado students have every right to declare misgendering as violence in their eyes, even if many of us disagree,” he observed. “However, the university has an obligation to clearly establish that such views are not the policy or approach of the university itself.”
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