It’s not too much to expect that adults will have the maturity to recognize as much. Yet growing factions on the right and left routinely engage in this behavior. They fixate on and amplify the most polarizing words in our society, not only when doing so is unavoidable, or serves some constructive function despite its costs, but even when the words in question are uttered by an otherwise obscure person, like a Fresno State creative writing professor, and when the better course is simply ignoring the words. In this case, ignoring the tweets would’ve restricted them to a fleeting moment in the Twitter streams of a tiny number of people. No one would’ve thought about profane Barbara Bush insults ever again.
Instead, critics deliberately made this a national story.
And most of the ostensible damage caused by Jarrar’s remarks—the hurt caused to various people mourning the former First Lady, the hit to Fresno State’s reputation, the polarization that hyperbolically insulting one another’s tribal figureheads fuels—are inseparable from the people who could’ve ignored the tweets, or quietly criticized them in one Twitter thread, but instead took public umbrage and needlessly spread the words to millions of people. Their participation in call-out culture did no good and exacerbated harms.
Now consider some of the local reactions, as reported in the Fresno Bee.
Fresno State faces all sorts of enduring challenges; it’s an imperfect institution. Yet, the paper reported, “Fresno State President Joseph Castro said he’s been inundated with calls from community leaders expressing their outrage over Jarrar’s tweets.” Surely there are dozens of better uses of the time of these community leaders, and dozens of wrongs in Fresno that are more deserving of their outrage.
“As of Thursday none had threatened to close up their checkbooks if Jarrar isn’t terminated,” the newspaper reported. Two contrasting alumni viewpoints follow:
Los Banos farmer Joe Del Bosque, a 1975 Fresno State graduate, said the professor’s tweetstorm won’t dissuade him from donating to university projects, the student cupboard and scholarship funds. “I did read her comments, and I was rather dismayed by that,” Del Bosque said. “I’m a big fan of Mrs. Bush, and I’m just a person who doesn’t talk about things that way, but I don’t see that as a reflection of the university.”
...Ed Dunkel Jr., a second-generation engineering graduate from Fresno State… is taking a wait-and-see position. “But candidly, I have a lot of friends that I’ve been talking to, and these are people who donate now and talking about holding back, and some are even questioning whether to send their kids to Fresno State,” said Dunkel, who has been recognized for his financial contributions as a member of the university’s President’s Circle for Excellence.
Joe Del Bosque is exhibiting more circumspection here. Fresno State serves more than 24,000 students at any one time. Its faculty exceeds 2,300 people. It offers undergraduate degrees in 60 fields. The decision to support it financially, or not, might reasonably turn on any number of factors, but the most ill-advised thing tweeted out by one of its faculty members is not one of them. By any rational standard, her tweets are totally marginal to the work of the institution, and seizing on them says as much about the loss of perspective many suffer when exposed to jarring moral difference than any defensible calculation.