When a college professor upbraided a student in an e-mail to the class over that student’s refusal to accept homosexuality in a discussion centered around that topic, the instructor set off a chain reaction that led to a federal investigation.
“He would not want to have to explain to his six-year-old why two men are kissing at a ball game,” The U. S. Department of Education (DOE) found. “The Student ended his remarks in the classroom by saying that the only way to regard this activity as a ‘threat’ is that homosexuality could be a threat to life, e. g., reproduction or procreation.”
The professor claimed that several students approached her after class and said that they were upset by those comments. That same professor said that their comments prompted her e-mail posted on the class electronic discussion board. What she said in that missive would inflame the community and prompt a congressional inquiry that led to the DOE sending a team of investigators to the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, where the incident took place.
“What we heard Thursday at the end of class constitutes ‘hate speech’ and is completely unacceptable,” Professor Elyse Crystal wrote in her e-mail. “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.
“What we experienced, as unfortunate as it is, is however, a perfect example of privilege that a white, heterosexual, Christian [sic] male, one who vehemently denied his privilege last week insisting that he earned all he has, can feel entitled to make violent heterosexist comments and not feel marked or threatened or vulnerable is what privilege makes possible.”
When the student complained to the school’s administration, the professor was forced to apologize and had to give future classes in front of another university official assigned to monitor the class, both unusual actions. The DOE deemed the actions by UNC-Chapel Hill appropriate but the professor’s behavior considerably less so.
“The plain language of the e-mail connected the student’s status (as White and male) to his speech, characterizing that speech as hate speech,” The DOE found. “In doing so, the Lecturer went beyond a permissible reference simply describing the student and targeted him for criticism in part because of his protected status—thereby establishing that the e-mail itself was based in part on the Student’s race and sex and, as such, constitutes intentional discrimination.”
Professor Crystal’s class was discussing a book entitled Privilege, Power and Difference. The theme of the privilege of whites, particularly males, is a favorite among college professors and administrators, particularly at UNC-Chapel Hill—the DOE report on the case of the hate speech e-mail shows. These school officials, ironically, hold the true privilege in academia through the tenure and authority that protects them.
“A Native American female student complained that an African-American male faculty member accused her of being a ‘white upper middle class female,’ which she denied,” DOE investigators discovered. “The Department chair met with both the student and the teacher and they resolved their differences.”
The Acting Secretary for Civil Rights enforcement at DOE warns school administrators that they cannot hide behind regulations enforced by that office as a pretext for denying constitutional liberties to students whom college and university officials disagree with. In reaffirming the policy of the agency, the acting secretary of DOE’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), gave some idea of the extent of the problem.
“For example, OCR aggressively investigates alleged race or ethnic harassment against Arab Muslim, Sikh and Jewish students,” the DOE’s Kenneth Marcus writes. “OCR has also recently investigated allegations of race and sex discrimination against white, male Christian students.”
“OCR does not tolerate either of these forms of harassment,” Marcus wrote to university officials nationwide.