When the Left Turns On its Own

On June 1st, the New York Times published an article titled “When the Left Turns on Its Own,” written by guest columnist Bari Weiss. This is part of a series of opinion articles called “On Campus.” The article starts out with a description of a newly controversial person: professor Bret Weinstein of Evergreen State College. Weinstein supported Bernie Sanders, supported Occupy Wall Street, and identifies as “deeply progressive.” The article does not state, however, that he is also a critic of how the left handles itself.

 

 

The article is clearly defending Weinstein, as evidenced by the title and some quotes throughout the piece. These quotes from the article showcase this bias:

  • “He had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation”
  • “It was an act of moral bullying – to stay on campus as a white person would mean to be tarred as a racist.”
  • “Yet reasonable debate has made itself absent at Evergreen.”

Weinstein was challenging a “Day of Absence” that has been a campus tradition since the 1970s. Traditionally, students and faculty of color would organize a day that they would all take off. This year, white students were to leave. Apparently, this decision was made “after student of color ‘voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.'” Weinstein did not agree with the decision.

“There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.”

I am inclined to agree with Weinstein in this case. By participating in this tradition, by the context shown in the article, white students would be showing that they would rather students of color go away.

However, the article fails to make it clear that the decision to have white students leave was not made by white students, but by students of color. This high highlighted in Weinstein’s quote above, and makes the quote clearer.

The article takes time to point out that a social experiment like a Day of Absence could be enlightening by showing the lack of diversity on campus. However, the author only gives a sentence to this thought, and it could have been left out without much change to the story itself.

After protesting the Day of Absence, Weinstein has been called a white supremacist, has been told he would not be sage on campus, and had to hold classes in a public park. (The author uses this as an opportunity to make an unnecessary comment on safe spaces).

The final paragraph of the article likens the experience of Weinstein to the experiences of conservative speakers. By doing this, the author is equating the “deeply progressive” Weinstein with conservative speaker Heather MacDonald, who defends police violence and frequently criticizes Black Lives Matter.

I was not fully satisfied with the information given in the article, so I found information elsewhere so I could see the story from a larger scope. This included buying a 2-month subscription to the Wall Street Journal, reading the LA Times, and going through Bret Weinstein’s very confusing Twitter feed. The LA Times article is linked above, in reference to Heather MacDonald, and Weinstein’s tweets are embedded above.

What I found interesting is that Weinstein himself published an opinion article on the situation in the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ leans conservative, which makes it an odd choice for a progressive to speak. Weinstein’s opinion article was published by the Wall Street Journal on May 30th. 

Weinstein starts off by describing his environment. He talks about holding class in a public park and how protesters were searching cars for him. Weinstein points out that he has been teaching at the institution since 2003. He describes the history of the Day of Absence, and points out that this year, white students and faculty were asked to leave.

“There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles . . . and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away,” I wrote. “On a college campus, one’s right to speak—or to be—must never be based on skin color.”

The quote from Weinstein above is again in this article, and makes more sense in this context. He is saying that there’s a difference between people voluntarily removing themselves for a day and asking another group to leave.

Weinstein then talks about the way Evergreen teaches – with full academic years rather than semesters – and then decides to talk about George Bridges. George Bridges is the president of Evergreen State College.

His vision as an administrator involved reducing professorial autonomy, increasing the size of his administration, and breaking apart Evergreen’s full-time programs. But the faculty, which plays a central role in the college’s governance, would never have agreed to these changes. So Mr. Bridges tampered with the delicate balance between the sciences and humanities…

Weinstein paints the administration of the college as an organization aiming to divide and conquer the faculty.

After reading both articles and going through Weinstein’s Twitter feed, I lean towards siding with Weinstein. However, I have not seen videos from protesters, so my view of the situation is biased. From what I have read, Weinstein is objecting to the demand from one group that another leave campus. This should not be a controversial statement. It is common for people (liberals included) to take things at face value or misinterpret them, so Weinstein’s comments on “A Day of Absence” may have fallen prey to misinterpretation. In any case, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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