Western Civilization Holdout Reed College Under Activist Student Attack

The Reedies Against Racism think a Greek philosophy and literature course is an attack on them.


Under pressure from student protesters, Reed College in Portland, Oregon is considering whether or not to continue requiring freshmen to take a Western civilization course.

Since the fall semester started, the self-named Reedies Against Racism forced cancellation of the opening of Humanities 110, "Greece and the Ancient Mediterranean," at the private, liberal arts school with an enrollment of 1,500.

On Aug. 28, Prof. Elizabeth Drumm cancelled class before it began when protest organizers came to the front of the room to address students. You can see the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mg3i6-J6zI8.

Two days later, students in the class confronted protest organizers Addison Bates, Tiffany Chang and Alex Boyd, who can be seen in this video banging on a table, and calling the faculty's "exclusion" of herself and others from the class a threat and an attack on black students: https://youtu.be/Sgyb8dH5vFQ?t=5m2s.

Boyd, Bates and Chang left as the class started. School officials have since banned them from protesting in the classroom for interrupting. Reedies Against Racism did not return Reason's request for comment on their protest.

The protest of the class, which mostly covers ancient Greek literature and philosophy, and is the only course on campus required for all freshman, began in earnest a year ago in the fall, coinciding with rallies on campus in support of Black Lives Matter.

Lefty protesters have not confined themselves to race matters. As Reason reported in December, students brutally heckled director Kimberly Pierce when she came to screen her 1999 film, Boys Don't Cry. Students who accused Pierce of transphobia yelled "fuck you, bitch" at her while she tried to conduct a Q&A.

This past summer, a committee drafted an alternative course outline for the class which is scheduled to be voted on by faculty sometime this fall, Kevin Myers, a spokesman for Reed College, said. A decision on changes in the course was moved up due to the protests, Myers said.

Attacks on the supposed racist underpinning of Western Civilization courses is more than thirty years old. In the 1980s, Jesse Jackson marched with students at Stanford to get the course removed. Over the decades, the class went from backbone of a liberal arts curriculum to anachronism. In 2016 a conservative group at Stanford tried to bring back a Western Civ requirement, but students voted against it by a margin of six to one.

Reed College is one of the rare holdouts.

Critics like Reedies Against Racism say such courses uphold white supremacy and ignore the contributions by other cultures. Proponents believe they examine a vital part of the development of Western civilization, attested to in some of the world's most important works of literature and philosophy.

Last year's protests at Reed were quiet and for the most part undisruptive. Students sat behind the professor three days a week holding up signs. After Drumm walked out on the first class this year Reed officials sent a guideline on dissent via email to Reed students. The guidelines have been in effect for decades and affirm that dissent is accepted as long as it does not comprise force and doesn't disrupt the activities of the college.

Reedies Against Racism responded on their Facebook page by calling the email a threat to black students and contended that free speech was only tolerated by the Reed administration for white students.

This past Friday, Prof. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, the lecturer for the day, held class outside to avoid a confrontation with about twenty protesters. The class went on without interruption and, according to a student who attended the lecture, addressed the protests, saying extremism is based on the "ignorance of complexity."

"My biggest concerns are obviously the methods of protesting," said Sicheng Zhong, a freshman in the class told Reason. "It is extremely disruptive and violates our right to learn."

Zhong said he met with the leaders of Reedies Against Racism multiple times to express his concerns. He said some students are very disturbed by the methods and the messages of the protest.

"They're language policing really upsets me," he said. "They are using words like racist and white supremacist to describe our professors of color, one who is Iranian and another who is lesbian and Latina."

Another student who wished to remain anonymous echoed the concerns.

"Last year the protesters even went as far as calling a Jewish professor a white supremacist. These professors have worked all their lives to get to this position, and what they are saying is despicable."

Despicable or not, Reedies Against Racism has promised protests of Humanities 110 at every class, three days a week, for the rest of the semester, or until the curriculum is changed.