Thus the attempted shutdown in Claremont.
“The students that engaged in this did so because they have an understanding of something we're all coming to: that we keep us safe, that we cannot depend even on the institutions we pay, whether the police or our universities, to keep us safe,” she said. “So we have to put our bodies on the line to be able to be safe. It doesn't make sense for you to be pursuing a degree somewhere and for someone to put a bullet in your head.”
The notion that Mac Donald would plausibly incite students at Claremont to physically assault black classmates in the dorms after her speech struck me as incorrect and unfair––Mac Donald has been speaking publicly at college campuses and beyond for decades; her frequent speeches have never incited any audience member to violence; and nothing I’ve ever known her to say, in years of listening critically to her words and reading her critics, has ever come close to even attempting incitement.
(For what it’s worth, multiple students of color I spoke to at the Claremont Colleges agreed that Mac Donald presented no threat and disagreed with the attempt to shut down her speech; be wary of any source that treats students of color anywhere as a monolith.)
I asked if anything in the remarks that Mac Donald ultimately delivered, in a live stream at Claremont McKenna, struck Gyamfi as something that could incite violence. “I have no idea,” she said. “If someone writes books and articles that I feel positions Black Lives Matter protesters as terrorists, and that positions extrajudicial killings of black people as acceptable … I'm not going to wait until she says kill the n-words or who cares if n-words die, I'm not going to wait for the outrageous thing to come from her mouth when I know where this could possibly go.”
If any student protesters were earnestly fearful that Mac Donald’s speech would trigger an assault on them, or would include a racial-epithet-laden tirade about killing black people, they would have been well-served by a trusted figure with an accurate understanding of Mac Donald’s views to alleviate their fears with the truth.
I tend to agree with Gyamfi that the punishments were overly harsh.
For me, that’s partly because Claremont McKenna and other institutions sent students lots of unfortunate signals that they could protest without consequence, and partly because semester rather than year-long suspensions, paired with a book report on John Stuart Mill, Henry Louis Gates, and Jonathan Rauch, seem sufficient to send the needed message: attempts to shut down speech will no longer be tolerated.
To Gyamfi, only educational discipline was appropriate, in part because “this was a non-violent protest. They didn't punch anybody out. It was not destructive. They didn't turn over cars or burn anything down. And the way the university responded to the protest clearly is intended to intimidate, to bully, to chill speech, to make people feel that anyone who even thinks about pushing back against one of these alt-wrong people is going to be slammed. You're requiring people to just take it, to hear things that are harmful to hear, to experience things that are harmful to experience, and to hear that pressure makes the diamond and friction makes the pearl. We already understand that no, it doesn't work that way, it shouldn't work that way in an educational institution, and you certainly shouldn't discipline students who are making an attempt to exercise free speech. And that is what they were doing.”