Re: speaking out

From: Lara Beaty (
Date: Mon Jan 31 2005 - 23:26:22 PST

As an "insider," I agree that talking politics and ethics simply isn't
done. It is one of the ways in which I've always felt at odds with most
of the communities I've been in, even when they were "liberal." But I
don't think it is fair to put the responsibility on students. I
remember, during the reign of Bush senior, having a sociology professor
who condemned my class of undergraduates for our apathy. My feeling was
that if he and his cohorts had done so much in the 60s, why had they
all become yuppies? Students need current, present examples.

I desperately want to do more about many current policies of various
institutions particularly because they are so thoroughly related. (I
don't remember where I got the link but it is one suggestion of
how they are all related.) The most basic problem is that I don't know
what to do.

I'm not teaching at the moment, but when I was, I routinely brought up
some of the problems with current educational policies, and students
were generally sympathetic for the amount of detail I was able to go
into in an undergraduate developmental course. In the last classes I
taught, however, I decided to hand out a summary of some research about
the effects of the Gulf War and ensuing policies on Iraqi children the
week the US began bombing. It was a very conservative community, and I
was terrified of trying to discuss this. Some of my fears were about
the possibility of getting in trouble, given that I was only an
adjunct, but most of my fear was about handling an issue that I felt so
passionate about. To my regret, I stopped the student who began to
argue that Iraqi children would be better off without Sadam with the
request that we not debate the war. I did only slightly better when a
girl, with tears in her eyes, asked why there was no research about the
children who lost their parents on 9/11. I'm not sure I understand what
scared me so much. I prefer understatement to passionate discourse, but
that wasn't really the problem. And unlike Jay's concerns about
personal identities and histories, I have never had an issue with
discussing my positions on these two topics.

A part of the fear comes from realistic concerns. With a spouse who is
foreign, two children, and very shaky finances, there are serious
repercussions to consider. But more than that, I feared and still do
much more direct retaliation. Perhaps it has something to do with a
protest against the first gulf war that ended with a car driving
through the crowd and me losing a year and a half of my life. Perhaps
it has something to do with a Palestinian-American friend who used to
joke about the FBI agent listening into our phone calls or the fact
that her Palestinian husband could not go to Mexico for a business
meeting because he had only two weeks notice for the INS. On the other
hand, I avoid most meaningful conversations with my conservative sister

It is not a part of most American practices to talk passionately about
things that matter and it feels dangerous. New York is a little
different, but most places I've been--and I have been all over the
US--are drenched in politeness. When things get ugly, they tend to get
very ugly. But this has to change because it seems to be making people
blind. I've always been skeptical about the value of doing educational
research when education is so undervalued, but it's what I'm trying to
do. I don't have much hope for protests, but I go anyway when I can. I
need to do much more though. What else should WE be doing?

Lara Beaty

On Monday, January 31, 2005, at 09:52 PM, David Daniel Preiss
Contreras wrote:

> For what is worth, and making clear that I am a relative outsider in
> the academic community of the USA, studying there my experience was
> that speaking aloud about so-called political issues was judged
> inadequate for some student colleagues around, who did not want to
> bring this issues to their jobs or to their email inboxes. The problem
> is, of course, that some of those so-called political issues are
> ethical issues. Torture is wrong. Preventive wars are wrong. Killing
> tens of civilians is wrong. Hiding the American casualties from the
> public view is wrong. Making death and genocide relative is wrong. And
> it is totally right to say that they are wrong. What is wrong is to
> keep silence.
> I remember being bitten for raising the issue of Abu Graib when
> sending a link to the torture pics by a student who thought I was
> taking an inadequate stand. What was my right to judge these soldiers,
> this guy implied. I assume he was mad at the fact that I was not
> American as well and was judging American actions. I did not want to
> enter into a discussion about how commonly the USA judge the practices
> of others and how I had a right to openly criticize torture and how
> relevant it was to do that in an academic context. I just asserted my
> right to criticize torture everywhere it happens. Unfortunately,
> during all my years at the USA, I never heard any graduate student
> talking aloud against the Iraqi war or against the militrary practices
> of the government but in some local issues that are politically
> correct. I heard them too much talking about their academic work as if
> that work happened in a miracolous vacuum.
> If the students don't speak out, who does? I remember that during
> those days an email written by Zimbardo talking about students' apathy
> circulated. I wonder how students apathy has been build and fostered
> by the academic community. Do students feel afraid that they might not
> get a job if they come out and talk? Or they do not feel an ethical
> concern about what is going on? I assume that some people don;t speak
> out by academic politeness. But, when does academic politenness turn
> out to be ethically dangerous?
> David D. Preiss
> home page:

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