Free Speech

Art History Professor Condemned by Stanford Undergraduate Senate

Her crime? Spelling out what the rap group N.W.A. stands for, and quoting one of their lyrics.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

From the Senate resolution, which came out about a month ago, but which I only learned about several days ago (underlining added to note some key phrases):

WHEREAS on April 28th, 2020 in the course titled "Introduction to Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity," Professor Rose Salseda was invited to teach and said, "nigga," while reciting lyrics to the 1988 classic by N.W.A., "Fuck tha Police;" and

WHEREAS on May 4th, 2020, in the course titled "Riot!: Visualizing Civil Unrest in the 20th and 21st Centuries" Professor Salseda wrote "Niggaz" twice while writing the full name of the group N.W.A and discussing their artwork, and …

WHEREAS use of the n-word by a White person or Non-Black person of color is offensive and highly inappropriate, especially in courses whose teachings intend to value and center Black liberation; and

WHEREAS this is not the first incident of racial violence against Black students in which a non-Black lecturer has employed and said the n-word while teaching, but hopefully will be the last; …

THEREFORE BE IT BE RESOLVED BY THE UNDERGRADUATE SENATE

THAT the Undergraduate Senate is appalled by and condemns Professor Rose Salseda's continuous aggressions against the Black community and Black students, particularly her repeated use of the n-word in Canvas discussion board communications on May 4th, 2020. Reckless actions of this manner and Salseda's disturbing presence teaching Black art and art history in our intellectual community must be dealt with….

THAT the Undergraduate Senate calls for the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity to reconsider what courses Professor Rose Salseda can teach (i.e Introduction to African-American Art), bring her back to Introduction to CSRE to listen / fully take ownership of her actions, participate in identity and cultural humility training ….

Prof. Salseda, an assistant professor, apologized; nearly everyone does, of course. What have things come to, though, that university professors (and surely also students) can't accurately quote important music, literature, or film that they are discussing? (Unless, of course, they're the right color.) Presumably Stanford professors discussing the lyrics would be required to say, "I don't know if they fags or what / Search a n-word down, and grabbin' his nuts." (Or should it be "I don't know if they f-words or what …"?) I wonder what the members of N.W.A. would think about that.

And of course you can't simply play the song (or the movie, whether it's To Kill a Mockingbird or Pulp Fiction or Godfather, Part II or The Shining or Rocky or Platoon or many others), as the UCLA Ajax Peris incident shows: He was faulted both for reading a passage with the word "nigger" from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail and for "show[ing] a portion of a documentary which included graphic images and descriptions of lynching, with a narrator who quoted the n-word in explaining the history of lynching." Presumably you'd have to edit the song or video to bleep out the word—bleep it out not for the sake of small children, but for the sake of adult university students.

It's as if the Stanford Undergraduate Senate decided that, to protect Holocaust survivors and their children or grandchildren (perhaps now, or perhaps in 1960, when there was an ever closer connection between some students and the Holocaust), all swastikas in photographs, on maps, or in movies had to be fuzzed out, and when talking about death camps, you'd have to say "Au-place" and "Tre-place" (at least unless you were Jewish). Are swastikas offensive? Of course. Can seeing them be upsetting to people for whom the Nazi reign of terror hit close to home? Sure. But it seems to me that American universities should show and talk about history as it is, without fuzzing or bleeping or expurgating. Likewise for showing and talking about film, music, literature, and legal disputes.

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  1. So since the Stanford Undergraduate Senate used the words “nigga” and “niggaz” in their resolution, they should also be condemned, right?

    Seems only fair (unless, of course, all members of the Stanford Undergraduate Senate are Black persons of color).

    1. Likely they all just deferred to someone of color and let them decide what to write.

    2. I’m warning you. If you say Jehovah once more…

      1. Nice reference!

    3. Student Governments tend to be Black because the minority office gives them lists of student contact information.

      1. Random capitalization has become a reliable indicator of a disaffected, stale-thinking writer.

        1. another brainless comment by the big clinger

        2. The APA style manual specifies “Black” *must* be capitalized.
          The other is because I don’t consider them “governments.”

        3. So you’re criticizing the authors of the Undergraduate Senate resolution? Good to know.

      2. Look, Ed made something else up! It must be a day ending in “y”.

      3. Student governments also tend to disproportionately give power to so-called marginalized groups.

        You have the “student representatives” from each college, then the “women’s representative(s), the Black Caucus representative(s), the GLBT representative(s), etc.

        The student governments don’t see a problem with this sort of racial and sex based discrimination.

    4. It appears that a majority of the Stanford Undergraduate Senate is not black.

      1. Nor is the majority of BLM. Your point is?

        1. The person above me, to whom I replied, had posited a hypothetical with an exclusion, namely: “unless, of course, all members of the Stanford Undergraduate Senate are Black persons of color.” I went and looked at the apparent racial makeup of the Stanford Undergraduate Senate to determine if the exception applied, and when I found out it did not, I replied to tell the person who posited the hypothetical. To inform them.

  2. So….

    The large amount of music available which uses this word should be banned from Amazon? Which is owned by a white dude. And other major sites owned by white dudes?

    Just curious.

    1. C’mon lets at least not uncharitably presume things that weren’t said.

      The obvious argument here is that there is a social norm about literally saying the word as a white person not being somehow involved in transmitting speech which includes it. Just as Bezos isn’t blamed for selling a book which makes some stupid claim in it or even on the hook for libel he wouldn’t be seen as the speaker of works that his company sold.

      1. No, it’s about power and bullying.

        And Orangeman Bad — that’s what this is really all about, and the backlash to this is going to be nasty.

      2. “…about literally saying the word as a white person…” or as a non-Black person of color, per the Undergraduate Senate. So, in this country where white slave owners raped Black women with impunity, how do we decide who is a Black person of color? One drop?

        1. If the person identifies at black at that moment then they are a black person of color.
          Didn’t your mom teach you anything about color-fluid people?

      3. :::laughs in Rachel Dolezal and Shaun King:::

    2. Mansions rely on sales to white kids. Just don’t sing along out in public.

      As far as this resolution by a student model government goes, it’s the thought that counts: violating the First Amendment through government punishment of disfavored speech, to cheers of the masses.

      “So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause.” — Senator Padme, in the tiny minority

      You don’t need a First Amendment to say things the masses and government approve of.

    3. “The large amount of music available which uses this word should be banned from Amazon? ”

      Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the city” includes a prison guard telling and inmate, “Get in the G-D cell, nigger.” Does the guard’s color affect the discussion?

  3. The use of the N-word by a non-black person is in all cases a hate crime. Any person other than a black person needs to tried for such hate crime. Until the non-black people learn that there will be tension between the other races and the black person. The black person needs to be treated as special by the white people and hope it will not take as long to reverse the hate and disrespect for the black person that it toke to bring the world to this point. Among other things this would mean that in communities which the black people are in the majority all police and political offices the black person would be in the majority. In the police all managing officers would be black. All police in these areas would patrol in pairs with at least one black senior officer who would be in command and determine the action to be taken and who would also be responsible if any thing goes wrong.
    More important would be the education of the children. Because of inequality of opportunity in these areas they have a much lower tax base to provide education for their children therefore the support of these schools would be taken over by the state and provided with the finance need to educate the children. In absent of the state taking over these schools the federal government would be required to do so and provide the funds. But in either case the education of the children would supervised by a black educator without interference by either the state or the federal governments.

    1. You tried to hard. Be more subtle next time.

      1. Let me quote Ibram X. Kendi:

        “To fix the original sin of racism, Americans should pass an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals. The amendment would make unconstitutional racial inequity over a certain threshold, as well as racist ideas by public officials (with “racist ideas” and “public official” clearly defined). It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.”

        1. Harrison Bergeron was a cautionary tale, not a playbook.

    2. … is in all cases a hate crime.
      Your concept of crime is so fluid that it is just a Stasi inspired excuse for retribution and punishment.
      The black person is not special,
      The white person is not special;
      the yellow person is not special.
      See how that works?

  4. Can someone in academia let me know what would be the practical result of her simply ignoring this resolution and continuing to do what she does?

    1. Riots and firings – – – – – – – –

    2. You’ll be kicked out of the college’s Democrat Party Supporters Facebook group and be uninvited to the weekly Progressive Democrat cocktail hour.

  5. Again with the “racial violence”. If the administration had any guts, they would go to the signers of that petition and say “the accusation of violence is defamatory. You change that right now or everyone who signs this can get a San Jose State degree or something, because y’all will be out of Stanford for academic dishonesty”. If they want to present petitions against professors, the accusations therein need to be accurate.

    There is no “racial violence” in a non-black professor saying the n-word in class. This whole thing of people thinking they have a privilege to lie and conflate language they dislike (and to be clear, have a right to dislike and protest) with physical violence is absolutely disgusting. It lies at the heart of a number of free speech battles.

    And it carries deep historical ironies too- back when leftist speech was censored all the time, its critics claimed it would directly lead to violence too. But this is even worse, because the causal chain is omitted and the speech itself becomes the violence.

    1. WHITE SILENCE = WHITE SUPREMACY = WHITE VIOLENCE

    2. Or go to the Senate and condemn them for using the words “nigga” and niggaz” in their condemnation.

    3. This time I have to agree with Dilan

  6. That “resolution” is a racist diatribe.
    Oh, wait. Stanford.
    California.
    Stanford Prison Experiment.
    Never mind.

    1. If you think roughly the same thing wouldn’t have happened at basically any other elite or near-elite university anywhere in the country, I’ve got bad news for you

  7. I disagree with you on the benefits of literally saying the word (feel that virtually nothing is lost from the classroom by not doing so) and that as stupid as it is a cultural norm has developed that (in most contexts though for understandable reasons not in the courtroom) that does make even mention somewhat offensive.

    However, I wanted to be clearly on the record saying how awful the student behavior is in this case and how much worse what they are doing is than any disagreement about whether one should try to avoid mentioning he word.

    I mean this is essentially a power trip to get someone fired or severely damage them professionally just to show that they can. There is no plausible theory they could articulate on which the need to humiliate and genuflect to their power could be justified. It doesn’t help end racism it just produces resentment.

    1. “I mean this is essentially a power trip to get someone fired or severely damage them professionally just to show that they can. ”

      This is under-discussed, but so many of these controversies are really about the fact that throwing power around and bullying people is fun. One kind of bully becomes an abusive cop. Another sort of bully does this, whether at a college or on Twitter. In both cases, it is a form of sadism- pleasure taken at bringing someone to heel.

      In contrast, having discussions of these issues is NOT fun for this type of person. As they so often say, “I’m so tired”. It’s worth noting what they are really tired of- having to actually defend their ideas with reasoned argument rather than force submission to them.

  8. But I do think it’s unclear what the reaction would be to merely playing a movie with the word in it would be. People tend to just throw in all accusations they can once they decide to go after someone so it’s inclusion in the complaint in the other case really isn’t that dispositive.

  9. Czech dissident and writer (later president) Vaclav Havel once created the fictional nation “Absurdistan”, a country where all communications between the people broke down. No one knew what words to use, what they meant. That was fiction, right?
    What is particularly puzzling is how members of one group must be extremely and, absurdly?, careful with the words they use – or quote someone else using – because they may cause distress to members of another group. But members of that other group have no limits at all on what they may say. You can be called a racist, Nazi, fascist and evil and essentially exiled from your world.
    Absurdistan here we are.

    1. I don’t think it is absurd that black people can say the n-word, or gay people can use certain derogatory terms, or similar rules.

      History does matter.

      The problems here are (1) ignoring use vs. mention, as Prof. Volokh points out and (2) students on a power trip, trying to ruin careers and trample on academic freedom by falsely accusing a professor of violence.

      1. You don’t think it’s absurd that a black academic can quote another person using the word (or lyrics, et cetera) but a white academic *in the same context or setting* can’t? It’s absurd to me that people ignore the context of these words, of how they are being used. And that race overrules context. And that this constitutes violence?
        Those are multiple absurdities.
        And it’s not just young college students on a power trip. It’s here, outside of universities.

        1. S/he belabored that exact point you are making.

      2. “I don’t think it is absurd that black people can say the n-word, or gay people can use certain derogatory terms, or similar rules.”

        Its absurd that they do.

        You don’t see Jews running around saying “kike” to each other. No group has a longer and more violent history of discrimination and abuse. Yet they have some sense.

        If the word is so bad, don’t use it. Otherwise, you are stepping on the message.

        1. Apparently you haven’t been to any nightclubs in the Catskills.

          Jewish people certainly do make jokes about Jews. Sometimes scathing ones.

          1. Of course they do.
            But if you are a goy and you laugh at the joke, then you are an anti-Semite.

          2. Jokes involving casual public use of “kike”?

            Possible but unlikely.

            And “Catskills”? Is this 1950?

            1. How about Mel Brooks’ “To Be or Not To Be” remake, or “The Producers”, both of which are loaded up with jokes about the Holocaust? (When Brooks won a Tony, he thanked Hitler. In front of a mostly Jewish audience.)

              1. So you don’t have any citations of Jews not only using the word “kike” to refer to one another, but that also being generally acceptable to most Jews?

                1. I think you are correct that there is none (or very few) examples of kike. But I ascribe that to timing. I think of artistic freedom starting around the 60s. So, you have black comedians using profanity and all comedians using salty terminology in their routines. But, by then, ‘kike’ was really not used…it had fallen out of favor long before that. And the same with “wop.” People really don’t call Jews “kike” or Italians “wop” any more, so there is no reason for people to use those terms–for shock value, in an attempt to “take back” a hurtful word, etc.. As a Jew, I am glad that kike is, essentially, no more. But if it were still around and widely used to disparage me and other Jews; I am confident that the word would be showing up in music, edgy TV shows, comedian’s routines, etc.. “Nigger,” alas, is still with us. Part and parcel of the original sin of this country. (Well, one of the original sins…I don’t want to minimize the genocide of our own aborigines.)

                  1. Not to disagree with you on any of that, but check out the Wandering Dago food truck case, as well as Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. (Not saying that this sort of thing is particularly common.)

    2. I can’t wait for the purges! Ideology and party above truth and country.

      1. “We choose truth over facts.”

  10. “WHEREAS use of the n-word by a White person or Non-Black person of color is offensive and highly inappropriate,”

    If this is from an official agency of the university, which student governments are, why isn’t it a textbook Title VI violation?

    Would it be acceptable for them to say Black persons can’t say the word “Oreo”? No, Stanford would be on the receiving end of either a “hostile work environment” or discrimination complaint, depending on if it were an employee or student who filed it first.

    1. “Oh no! They’re learning to use our techniques against us!

      But it feels so good in the moment to use our student government to officially punish speech.

    2. It is, but nondiscrimination laws don’t apply when you’re discriminating against white folk.

  11. It’s too bad a university law professor (who I’m guessing has some knowledge of parliamentary procedures), who (usually) supports 1A, and who (apparently) has forgotten that we’re talking about young people (who themselves are developing ideas, thoughts, and morals about right and wrong, and also about the power[s] they have available [i.e. petitions, demonstrations, etc.]), doesn’t see any positive aspects of this situation.

    We’re in volatile, stressful times, and some colleges students went too far (I agree) with their message.

    They didn’t riot; instead they used very measured procedures to make their voice heard.

    Seems like a good university law professor would say, “OK, I disagree with the message but applaud the effort and skills. Let’s continue this dialogue.”

    (And yes dumbasses I know Prof. Voloky is not at Stanford.)

    1. Yeah, to me the headline isn’t that undergraduates don’t quite get freedom of speech, it’s that the university isn’t correcting them.

      1. One simply cannot criticize the vanguard of the proletariat.

        1. Now complete the dynamic, as Lenin showed us how. Eventually, the left wing of the vanguard will be suppressed with prejudice by the Party’s opportunist right.

    2. But would apedad extend the same nonchalance toward the excesses of the Young Americans for Freedom? Say they were attacking a female professor for not wearing a bra, saying that only men can go braless?

      1. “But would apedad extend the same nonchalance toward the excesses of the Young Americans for Freedom? ”

        Sure he would.

        [now laughs uncontrollably]

        1. IIRC, a couple of weeks ago I wrote something like, “I’m glad Bob from Ohio is allowed to spew his ignorant views.”

          1A is the best thing we have and it (and it alone), is the one thing that makes (and keeps), our country great.

          I guess there’s a question about who said it first but, “‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

          Prof. Volokh disappoints us here, because this blog is just a right-wing, cry-baby whine – and has nothing about him being a university law professor.

          I come to VC for the law aspects, not the cry-baby aspects.

    3. “They didn’t riot; instead they used very measured procedures to make their voice heard.”

      The thing being criticized is their use of a “measured procedure[]” incorrectly. How could Professor Volokh make his point while simultaneously praising the procedure? The procedure is the problem.

      Is your point that he should have said at the end of his post “At least they didn’t riot, so that’s a win”? Because I think that would have been considered racial violence by the very people he’s criticizing here.

      What “effort and skills” do you think should be applauded, exactly?

    4. instead they used very measured procedures to make their voice heard

      So you consider lying about what the professor did (explicitly claiming that she engaged in “racial violence”) to be a measured procedure? I can see that, given your complete lack of regard for honesty.

  12. How about a simple resolution saying that non-black professors/academics should be careful with using racial epithets. Even in an academic setting and even when quoting another person using it or lyrics, et cetera?
    Just be careful, consider the feelings of black students. Talk to some of them before thinking of using it and if you can, just don’t.
    Thank you.
    But something like that would only occur in a far off land that existed to some degree years ago. That country is long gone.

    1. What about a far off land where every perceived grievance is not accompanied by a resolution… at all?

      Although I suppose the entire purpose of a Student Senate is to give students an opportunity to issue meaningless resolutions so they can learn about group dysfunction.

    2. To start with, because that implies that the only racial epithets that exist are about blacks. As opposed to the epithets that exist about asians, whites, arabs….. Which reminds me, it’s strange how I’ve yet to hear a black person condemned for using a racial epithet.

  13. Vt principal fired for writing:
    “While I understand the urgency to feel compelled to advocate for black lives, what about our fellow law enforcement? What about all others who advocate for and demand equity for all?” Riley wrote. “Just because I don’t walk around with a BLM sign should not mean I am a racist.”

    1. They only fired him? They should have burned him at the stake for heresy. Hell, they should have burned every member of his immediate family and all of his friends for heresy too…people need to be protected.

  14. Its crazy that Prof. Volokh is looking to the student council to have nuanced ideas of freedom of speech. This intro course was probably the first course on race that a bunch of these freshman black kids ever had in their life, and within that context she said the n-word. Then when students asked her about it she said something on the lines of “I can say it because I have black friends” instead of “Using the n-word was relevant and necessary for the less I was teaching.”

    This is a meaningless statement by a counsel of children, but its shocking that freedom of speech professor guy is so hurt by words that he has to go cry about it online.

    1. The outrage is selective.

      Racial slurs — no problem.

      “Cop succor” or “slack-jaw” — alert the Board of Censors!

      Maybe it’s partisanship rather than principle?

    2. he has to go cry about it online

      You mean, like you’re crying about his commentary?

      1. A full grown adult is crying about children’s words, and I’m talking about the adult. It’s a bit different.

  15. I agree with Jean-Paul Marat. A few thousand dead politicians, academics, and journalists will solve most of our problems.

  16. This is the phrase that really explains what they want:

    “participate in identity and cultural humility training”

    They demand that the prof learn to be humble before them.

    1. The cultural/diversity training is always the weirdest part about student demands. They know enough to be outraged, they know that something needs to be changed, but not enough to tell us what it is, and so the solution must be outsourced to people who know better. That’s a sensible approach if you’re dealing with, say, identifying that drinking water is poisoning people but not knowing enough to solve the problem. But it makes no sense in this context. If the students know what the professor did wrong, here, the solution is not to have somebody else train the professor on how not to do wrong. It’s just to prohibit whatever thing they think the professor did wrong.

      The entire remedies selected shows profound weakness. It’s a demand that they “reconsider” what courses the professor teaches? If I was a fellow traveler I would find their admonition limp.

      Anyway, it’s 20-year-olds being 20-year-olds.

      1. What stands out to me is not just the “must have training” part (I agree that it’s an odd demand), but how that training is now being named.

        When I was younger, it was “awareness”. Later it became “sensitivity”. Now it’s “humility”–and that’s horse of a different flavor.

        1. All three words have the same defining characteristic, in that they’re vague. Like “problematic”. The words are vaguer substitutes for what the complainer finds objectionable. 1+1=3 is not “problematic”. It’s wrong, mathematically. A white professor punching a black student while yelling racial slurs is not “problematic”. It’s battery, assault, racial violence, etc. The students know enough to be troubled by something, but lack the confidence to cure it directly. So they end up loading terms on the diagnosis side (“racial violence”) that they then undermine the remedy (“reconsider”). The solution to racial violence cannot be more “sensitivity” or “awareness” or “humility”. Racial violence must be met with violence (specifically, criminal charges and imprisonment).

          1. I disagree that “humility” has a vague meaning in this context.

  17. It’s all so tiresome.

  18. Millennials and their successors, are almost exclusively, worthless. I blame their parents. All of their parents should be sentenced to an hour of performing Monty Python’s, “Fish-Slapping Dance,” twice daily until the situation improves.

    1. What’s the point of the millennial slander here?

      Could you explain what you think millennials had to do with this? The students at Stanford today are not millennials. They overwhelmingly aren’t the children of millennials. Generation Alpha, Millennial, and the Silent Generation are the only living generations that can’t reasonably be blamed for what is happening in the OP.

  19. We use euphemisms in other contexts, yet everyone understands what word is being avoided. We could do it here if only we could agree on what to choose as the euphemism.

    I could choose one, but it wouldn’t catch on. I think the most common way for euphemisms to catch is for them to be used in movies, theater, or a famous speech. Saturday Night Live could easily coin a euphemism for the n-word that would catch on.

    1. Saturday Night Live could easily coin a euphemism for the n-word that would catch on.

      And what makes you think that such a word, once coined and entering the popular lexicon would not immediately be weaponized by the same forces that have weaponized such other words in language?

      1. Yep. When you target the words instead of the usage, you get word treadmills.

  20. Stand your ground. Don’t apologize. Look them in the eyes. Tell them they’re wrong. Keep doing it.

  21. Are swastikas offensive? Of course.
    I recall going to an international market in Virginia. There were products from Asia with swastikas on the packaging. I also recall that swastikas were used by American Indians. The New Mexico National Guard used to have a swastika on its unit patch as a symbol of its heritage.

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