Our freedom of speech has been subjected to countless batteries of condemnation and censure, and frequently from college professors.
An example of such inhibition recently took place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in a class titled “Literature and Cultural Diversity” taught by Professor Elyse Crystal. The popular elective concentrates on the studies of a wide range of literature, from African-American books to gay and lesbian stories.
Professor Crystal, who is a contracted lecturer at UNC, has taught this class for several years, and according to students, has always encouraged an open-forum environment in which she said topics would be freely discussed, considering the wide range of topics that would be covered. In one recent case, however, the class was not as open as students initially would have hoped.
During one particular class, Professor Crystal held a discussion whose subject was “Why do heterosexual men feel threatened by homosexuals?” Several students spoke up to say that they felt a man’s masculinity or masculine power might be threatened, whereas others believed that “threatened” was the wrong word altogether, and that none of them shared that sentiment concerning homosexuality.
During the 30-minute discussion, one particular student named “Tim” raised his hand. “I don’t think that men feel threatened either,” he said, “threatened is probably the wrong word to say.” He went on to say that as a Christian he would “feel uncomfortable having to explain to my son at a baseball game why two homosexual men are kissing.” Tim also spoke about an incident in which one of his close friends who is also heterosexual received a love letter from a homosexual man, and that as a result his friend felt “disgusted and dirty.” It was at this point that class was ending, and no further discussion concerning this topic transpired.
It was what happened afterwards that created a storm of controversy and was clearly an open breach of what a teacher’s guidance should be. One particular feature of the class was an online listserv, which also served as an e-blackboard in which Professor Crystal encouraged students to post their feelings and messages, which would then be seen by the entire class.
It was on this class listserv that Professor Crystal sent out a mass email concerning this particular discussion. Here is how the email went: “Let me start off my [sic] saying that I apologize to all of you for not having made clear the first day of classes what I will make clear here and now: that I will not tolerate any racist, sexist, and/or heterosexist comments in my class. What we heard Thursday at the end of class constitutes ‘hate speech’ and is completely unacceptable. It has created a hostile environment. I am deeply sorry and apologize to those of us who are now feeling that the classroom we share is an unsafe environment, for those of us who feel vulnerable or threatened. I will do my best to counter those feelings and protect that space from further violence.”
Upon reading this highly inflammatory and accusatory email, Tim was, not surprisingly, shocked and completely taken aback by the professor’s severely harsh comments. He quickly responded with an email of his own that was posted on the same listserv as well, in which he said, “all I did was raise my hand, and explain to you, as a Christian, what many Christians feel about the issue … nowhere did I ever say I hate homosexuals or that I wish to harm them, nor do I wish either of the two.”
He went on to incredulously repeat the professor’s charge that “by stating I would feel uncomfortable … I have created a ‘threatening and violent’ environment.” Above everything else, Tim concluded with the inarguable statement that “one of the great things about this university and this country is the constitutional right that everyone has the chance to speak and have their own opinion.” This of course is completely indisputable, as our freedom of speech has been one of our country’s greatest achievements.
To exacerbate matters, Professor Crystal accused Tim of being “privileged” while questioning whether “he has earned all he has.” Not only did Professor Crystal unfairly attack his opinion, contradicting her claim that the class was an open forum, but she also let her blame tread into his personal life, where she clearly had no place. Through her labeling of Tim, Professor Crystal implied that he had been easily handed everything in life, though he insisted in class that this charge was far from the truth.
Tim explained that he paid for his own college education, drove a 20-year-old car, and paid the several loans he has had to take throughout school. Though he explained to the class that he works eight-hour days while attending school full-time, Professor Crystal still believed him to be an example of “privilege,” and overtly ridiculed him for it in front of the class.
Sadly enough, Tim found himself defending not only his views and background, but his overall character. In doing so, he stated, “I invite anyone over to my hall’s common room to watch the Simpsons … and I will try to make a friend out of you, and hopefully you will see that I am not a hostile, violent, or hateful person.”
The reaction to her biased and biting email was tremendous, and in general quite supportive of the student to whom the email was initially addressed. Mike
Adams, a fellow professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina at
Wilmington and a columnist for Townhall.com, wrote several articles concerning the matter. It was perhaps here that the majority of attention was attracted, as several people unrelated to the university were infuriated by Professor Crystal’s behavior, and accordingly wrote letters.
In response to the letters, as well as complaints within the school board and student body itself, Professor Thompson, the chair of the English Department, responded with not only a publicly sent letter but disciplinary action as well. “We are here at UNC to promote responsible and respectful exchange, not to discourage or censor it,” he stated. Shortly thereafter, Professor Thompson ordered an apology letter to be issued from Crystal, and announced that he would be personally monitoring her class for the rest of the semester. As many know, such disciplinary action is rare if not non-existent, therefore making it greatly encouraging to see such a professional reaction.
The reaction had unfolded so greatly that U.S. Representative Walter Jones, a
Republican from North Carolina, became involved after learning of the incident. Charging that the professor’s behavior could meet the legal definition of sexual harassment, he contacted the U.S. Department of Education regarding the matter. Rep. Jones brought forth an irrefutable point when he acknowledged that “had Mrs. Crystal substituted the work ‘black’ for ‘white,’ ‘homosexual’ for ‘heterosexual,’ or ‘Muslim’ for ‘Christian,’ she would have been suspended or fired immediately.”
A junior at Kent State University in Ohio, Vani Murthy is an intern at Accuracy in Academia.