Vanderbilt Hustler’s Editorial Board Statement Against Swain

 In Constitutional Rights, Featured, Race Relations, Religion, Uncategorized


Read the Vanderbilt Hustler’s Editorial about whether I should be allowed to remain at Vanderbilt.

The students of Vanderbilt have expressed shock and outrage over the course of the past six days about the broad condemnation of Muslims in Professor Carol Swain’s opinion piece published in The Tennessean. She wrote that Islam, unlike other religions, is an “absolute danger to us and our children.” Following its publication, many Muslim students found one another, hoping to alleviate their fear by sharing their reactions. Some gritted teeth; some wept; some simply stared at their screens. Knowing that such vilifying commentary originated from a member of the Vanderbilt faculty made the attacks painfully personal.
Swain has undoubtedly abused her position as an academic at a respected institution by perpetuating a myth that seeks to shut down debate and discourage the legitimacy of the place that Muslim individuals hold in American society. Her poorly supported argument and unprofessional conduct on social media following the backlash against her editorial is a stain on the reputation of of our institution. In fact, many feel that Swain’s actions have created an environment that feels unsafe to some of her students.
For all of these reasons, the gut reaction of some on our editorial staff — like that of many other students — was to call for administrative action against Swain.
Section IV, Ch. 1, Section A of the faculty manual states that grounds for disciplinary action include “gross personal misconduct rendering the person unfit for association with students or colleagues.” Many whom we’ve spoken to feel that her actions meet this standard.
But what would disciplinary action against Swain say about the value we place upon problematic opinions on our campus?
Sophomore Jeffrey Greenberg pointed out in a guest column that “the First Amendment has no function if it falters in the face of disagreement. The most vile, hate-filled speech is the most important to defend.” He concluded that “the only way to defeat an ideology is to face it and dismantle it piece by piece—not by locking it in a cage, which only allows hatred to fester and grow—but by exposing it and disinfecting it in the sunlight.”
If Swain’s expressed beliefs about Islam are indeed an ideology ingrained in the minds of some of those who share our classrooms, how might we ever foster dialogue that helps reshape opinions if we are intolerant of problematic (and yes, even hateful) positions?
Beyond conflicting with our commitment to the values of the First Amendment, taking action against Swain would not be without other consequences. The university has already faced criticism from some about the nondiscrimination policy that caused more than a dozen religious organizations to voluntarily leave campus three years ago. If the administration were to fire a tenured professor for publicly expressing a sentiment that is (unfortunately) held by a significant number of people, the university would undoubtedly be under fire from alumni and others. Swain would be held up by far-right conservatives around the country as proof that “liberal propaganda” dominates elite universities and that conservatives are under attack from the “PC police.” It wouldn’t be the first time Professor Swain has leveraged tension with the university to garner public attention. While Swain’s brand of conservatism can come as a shock to many students from more liberal backgrounds, for students from certain areas of the country, Swain’s sentiment is disgusting and disappointing, but not particularly shocking.
So what do we do?
We must recognize that Swain’s speech has ironically highlighted exactly what we value about a place like Vanderbilt: to be pushed beyond boundaries and exposed to new ideas fosters intellectual growth, creating the active citizens the university strives to produce.
We can make our commitment to our Muslim peers clear and apparent in more productive ways, independent from the university. Speak out, write and continue to show support for fellow students. You can even turn your back on speech you find hateful or refuse to enroll in Swain’s classes. But top-down institutional change often has little effect on actual discrimination — and no disciplinary action against Swain would be an end-all solution to anti-Islamic sentiment on campus. Censorship does not breed tolerance.”

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