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Great Awokening, 2

Williams Political Science Professor Darel Paul writes about “Listening at the Great Awokening.” This is a brilliant article, worth reading in full. Relevant controversies at Williams include The Taco Six, Self-CARE Now, UL/Derbyshire, Green/Love Black Joy, and White Male Vigilantes. Alas, I don’t fully trust our busy readership to find the time to do so! So, we will spend two weeks going through the entire article. Day 2.

The preachers of the Great Awokening claim to desire racial equality.

Paul only (?) considers racial issues to be part of the Great Awokening. Is that accurate? I would consider Title IX, sexual assault and #metoo to be almost as important issues on campus. Perhaps also transgender issues? As with racial controversies, Williams has seen sex/gender debate in the past, but nothing as intense as we have seen over the last few years. And what about environmental concerns and the associated debate about Divestment? Again, I am happy to give race the lead part in the Great Awokening, but I think we can’t understand the broader cultural changes without looking beyond race.

Is this true? Or are they more interested in casting sinners into the hands of an angry mob? While it is difficult to discern another person’s ends, it is far easier to know her means. These involve a wholesale transformation of language, the academic curriculum, standards of judgment, disciplinary content and boundaries, academic freedom, even the definition of knowledge itself. This is no passing storm or simple outburst of youthful exuberance. The Great Awokening is a truly revolutionary project. Like all revolutions, it promises considerable destruction on the way to its final destination.

Indeed. Is the French Revolution a better historical metaphor?

Consider this article from the October 13, 1987 Williams Record. A central aspect of the French Revolution was its tendency to eat its own young. Robespierre may have helped to start the revolution, but that didn’t save him from the guillotine. Thirty years ago, Katie Kent ’88 was, perhaps, the single most important leader of the campus left at Williams. She was a force!

Try to put yourself back at the Williams of the 1980s. Many of today’s debates, especially about race and gender, are similar, indeed, almost identical, to those we had back then. Katie was in the midst of it, castigating those to her right with vim and vigor.

If Nostradamus had appeared at a Gargoyle meeting in the fall of 1987 (Katie was a Gargoyle) and predicted that someone in the room was, 30 years from then, going to be the sort of college professor that would cause left wing students to seek their ouster, we would have believed him! Gargoyle had a right winger or two with dreams of an academic career. But none of us would have thought that he was talking about Katie!

This semester, the Thermidorian Reaction came for Professor Katie Kent ’88. Who will they come for next?

Back to Paul:

The Charge of Racist Violence

The foundational claim leveled by anti-racism protestors is that violence is ubiquitous on campus. This claim dominates discourse at Williams. It is said that students and faculty “suffer from the college’s violent practices” as a matter of routine. Dozens of white tenured professors are supposedly “perpetrators of institutional violence” and “fight for a legacy of violence to be maintained” at the college. Minority professors’ “bodies [are] attacked,” and all people of color suffer “intentional violence that comes with being affiliated with this institution.” At Evergreen, even “white silence is violence.”

Violence is not meant to be taken metaphorically. While reports of racially motivated assault or even property crimes like larceny or burglary almost never surface, protestors and activists claim to suffer physical trauma nonetheless. For example, one Williams professor argues “In an abstract world in which you are not a pariah, collective violence is figurative. For targeted groups, in the real world, it is material (stress in emotional circuitry destabilizes the body).” In 2017, psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett expounded this claim in the New York Times, insisting that spending “a lot of time in a harsh environment worrying about your safety … brings on illness and remodels your brain. … A culture of constant, casual brutality is toxic to the body, and we suffer for it.” This is precisely the kind of climate that anti-racist activists say dominates the Anglosphere’s colleges. Hence the insistence that “our very right to speak/breathe” is at stake (Williams) and the cry “You feel stressed? You feel fuckin’ pressure? This is my every day! … I have a fuckin’ right to live!” (Evergreen).

Is Paul’s description of the Williams of today a fair one?

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#1 Comment By abl On June 4, 2019 @ 11:23 am

I don’t think it’s accurate to lump environmentalism in with this social justice resurgence.*

*There are obvious social justice implications of environmental degradation, and there’s been a concurrent resurgence in passion for the environment, but I really do think that these are categorically different and largely unrelated issues. It’s also not largely the same group of people at the forefront of each movement. Left-leaning environmental advocates are more likely to be white or indigenous whereas left-leaning social justice advocates are more likely to be black.

#2 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On June 4, 2019 @ 11:43 am

That’s a great pull from the Record archives. It is kind of amazing to see the arc of Prof. Kent’s relationship with the on-campus social justice movement.

#3 Comment By John Drew On June 4, 2019 @ 4:50 pm

I noticed the article about Rosemarie Tong too. I was starting my second year of teaching at Williams College when her plagiarism scandal broke.

I would say she was the top feminist leader on campus. She was enormously charismatic, charming and loved by many of her students and colleagues. At the time, I remember interpreting her disgraced status as an academic cheater as a natural byproduct of the affirmative action programs which favored women over men. I think I was also gullible enough to believe her story about how her cheating occurred.

Now, however, it looks like she was an out and out liar and that President Oakley was willing to cover up her cheating and protect her reputation. Young white male scholars, of course, didn’t get that kind of slack or enjoy that sort of “feminist” privilege.

Evidently, Rosemarie went on and enjoyed a prestigious academic career despite being exposed as a fraud. See, Rosemarie Tong.

Given the political climate, it isn’t hard to figure out what would have happened to me if I had been stupid enough or unethical enough to plagiarize someone else’s work or to cover up my plagiarism with such a transparent lie. My academic cheating would have been the focal point of Ephblog debate for years…