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‘Beyond dispiriting’

It’s beyond dispiriting that TNH neglected to fact-check this story, or to speak with the professors involved. For the hundreth time: there was no cabal “calling for expulsion.” One professor used that word, but she did so in a private comment on a private Facebook post (which was screenshot and re-circulated by a conservative website that explicitly targets perceived “liberal bias” in universities). My colleague was expressing genuine grief and fear; and in fact she retains the right to do so, as a private citizen, despite the beliefs of the aspiring constitutional scholars represented in TNH’s pages.

For my part, I called for a “conversation” with the masked protestors, not in the service of punishment, but of education. I want these two to know the history of scientific racism dating back to eighteenth century textbooks that placed African-Americans lower down on the evolutionary scale; I want to remind them that on that very morning of Nov. 15, a public official in West Virginia resigned after having called Michelle Obama “an ape in heels” on Twitter. I want them to hear the responses of many UNH community members to the appearance of that Harambe suit, including one African-American professor who found it a painful “reminder that our very humanity is up for debate.”

If these counter-protesters—and anyone else in this community—can know and hear all of that, and still find it appropriate to attend an anti-racist solidarity march in an ape suit, well then, that is their legal right, just as it is their legal right to wear a white hood or burn a flag. But (speaking for myself here), I am not sure that canned rhetoric about “free speech” and “bipartisanship” are going to serve us very well if we want UNH to be an intentional, caring and intellectually robust community. I welcome open and honest debate about the president-elect’s position on the TPP, and I welcome honest questions about why the Harambe meme might be problematic. I do not welcome the hate mail I have received for the last three weeks (“f you, you f’ing female body part, why don’t you just go kill yourself, your Women’s Studies degree is worthless”), and I can’t welcome white supremacy, homophobia or other forms of hate, either. Will TNH be calling for “bipartisanship” when students of color are physically assaulted and harassed (as is already happening)? Where will you be when the deportations start? WHO will you be?

Siobhan Senier

Associate Professor

English and Women’s Studies

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