"Fuck this cis white bitch." That's the message, you will recall, that Reed College students placed at the podium where Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce was speaking. Peirce is a queer, genderfluid woman—her movie, which debuted in 1999, is about the murder of Brandon Teena, a young transgender man.
The students who insulted Peirce—who shouted "fuck you scared bitch" at her—and tried to stop her from speaking are ostensibly allies of the trans community. They think the film is outdated, made money off of anti-trans violence, and should have cast a trans person in the lead role. (Keep in mind how difficult a feat that would have been in 1999.)
And, as Dean of the Faculty Nigel Nicholson pointed out in his letter, these students essentially refused to educate themselves or grapple with a different perspective. They had already made up their mind about Peirce—she was a transphobic bitch—and thus the only possible response to her presence on campus was to scorn and censor her.
The comments on the Bully Bloggers recap of the incident are illuminating. One person insisted that Boys Don't Cry deserved criticism for its trans politics in the same way that The Birth of a Nation (the original, not the similarly named 2016 film) deserved criticism for its racial politics (which are explicitly white supremacist). Another commenter, a self-described transmasculine Reed student who participated in the protest said the goal was to strip away Peirce's "sense of entitlement" and chide her for a lack of "understanding of transness."
But the most revealing comment came from Lucia Martinez, an assistant professor of English at Reed who identifies as a "gay mixed-race woman." Martinez wrote:
I teach at Reed. I am intimidated by these students. I am scared to teach courses on race, gender, or sexuality, or even texts that bring these issues up in any way—and I am a gay mixed-race woman. There is a serious problem here and at other [selective liberal arts colleges], and I'm at a loss as to how to begin to address it, especially since many of these students don't believe in either historicity or objective facts. (They denounce the latter as being a tool of the white cisheteropatriarchy.)
How many professors must confess that they live in terror of their far-left students before we start taking them seriously? Before we recognize that a thin-skinned, easily-offended super-minority of students has gained the power to censor academics and other students for broaching controversial subjects? Before we are prepared to do something about it? This is the elite American college campus: a place where even queer, leftist professors and filmmakers are afraid of being sent to the guillotine by self-professed radical students.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.