Monday, December 21, 2015

Educators Against Intolerance - An Open letter

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee, 12.10.15
Note: This came to me from a colleague in the English Department at Bloomsburg University. If you're an academic follower of this blog, please consider signing. We in the academy have, I think, a special duty to be out in front of standing up to bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance. Here is a modest opportunity to do just that.

Dear Colleague,

In light of recent events there is a heightened sense of intolerance in the US, especially towards Arab and Muslim Americans. A few faculty members from Harvard, MIT and Princeton have helped draft a letter (pasted below) that speaks out against such intolerance and discrimination. 

This letter is being circulated to solicit signatures from other educators who share these concerns. Once a sufficient number of signatures are collected (ideally by Wednesday December 23rd), the letter (along with the names of the signatories) will be sent to appropriate media/public outlets (such as the NYT) in the hope that they will be interested in publishing it.  

I have already signed the letter and am forwarding this email in case you would also like to do so. Signing the letter only takes a few minutes. Please click the link here to sign:

If you would like to see the names of those who have signed so far please click here

Please also forward this message to other academic colleagues in the US - both those in your department and in other departments/institutions - and encourage them to sign and also forward. Since the hope is to get the letter published, it would be best to not post it for now on social media. 

If you have any questions, you can email:


The Letter:

Recent events have, once again, brutally violated the nation’s sense of security. Many Citizens believe that another terrorist attack is as likely today as it was in the days following 9/11. Almost half worry that they or someone in their family will be a victim of terrorism. 

 But this fear can also disconnect us from reason and have devastating consequences. The reduction in immigrants’ rights codified by the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the restrictions on free speech established by the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-18, and the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII were all policies born from fear, and all resound throughout history as stark contradictions to American values.

 We are concerned that we could head down a similarly dark path today. Hours after the San Bernardino massacre on Dec. 2, 2015, the top Google search in California using the word “Muslims” was “kill Muslims”. Public personalities have openly called for barring Muslims from entering the US and have not ruled out building databases to track American Muslims.

 While denounced by the majority, such rhetoric normalizes intolerance. It permits actions with undesirable and unintended consequences. The visa waiver bill, voted through by over 90% of the House on Dec 8 2015, is one such example. Under this bill, specific individuals from the 38 countries eligible for a visa waiver would be barred from using it. Those newly excluded would include British citizens of Iranian descent, as well as Germans who volunteered for relief work in Syria. As such legislation is often reciprocated by other nations, it may well relegate American Arabs and Muslims to second-class citizen status and deter all Americans from traveling to places where our help is critical.

 Broad-brush, discriminatory and highly visible measures targeting Arab and Muslim populations are likely to create division, not heal it – playing right into the extremists' hands. Making it harder for individuals to travel hurts the very exchange of ideas that fosters tolerance in our society and allows our universities to become world leaders in producing knowledge and promoting free speech and rational discourse.

 Our universities indeed exemplify how we thrive by enabling people from different cultures, religions, political values and priorities to cohabit and work together productively. As we interact with our students, fellow educators, and policy makers, we are constantly reminded of how important this diverse and open exchange is, and the critical part it plays in informing the fabric of our values.  As we see signs of fear clouding our judgment, we are compelled to speak out in defense of tolerance, rational discourse, and basic human values. 

 We therefore categorically reject all forms of intolerance and any discriminatory treatment of Arab and Muslim Americans and other minority groups. We call upon each other and upon our leaders to do the same.


David lauer said...

Intolerance is casting a terrifying shadow across the globe. The "othering" of human beings can only lead to irrational reductionism and a spiral of violence that plummets downward into despair. The US should be a bastion of democratic example, especially its Universities, but it is election year. When people like Donald Trump aim their discourse at the 4th grade reading (and reasoning?) level, and the media feeds off of such childish declarations that seem to reflect the childish mentality of a large part of the populace, we all lose. Unfortunately, such damage is being levied on the educational system as a whole, that we are becoming increasingly de-humanized. The academy is a bubble, albeit an important bubble that may be one of the last fortresses of free thought, at least for a while longer. It almost goes without saying that all academics should sign this letter. But they should also struggle to build bridges with the vast majorities that never pass through the gates to the Ivory Tower to cultivate wisdom, tolerance and greater happiness for us all.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Thanks very much David for your thoughtful comment. Indeed, the New Hampshire primary results of 2.9.16 could not make this any clearer. Unfortunately, the academy is in no way exempt. Between the increasing pressure to convert universities into tax-payer funded job training sites for the multinationals, the far right's aggressive campaign to insure an ignorant and paranoid electorate, and the apathy of a citizenry who's been bought off by both, I'm afraid that even that bubble is become brittle and will soon be blown away by the forces of bigotry and the vampires that put it to the service of power-brokering and profiteering.