This letter reflects the opinions of English lecturer Jon Bartel. Letters to the editor do not reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Last week President Jeffrey Armstrong addressed students in the Performing Arts Center (PAC), where he claimed that free speech (like blackface and the trash spewed by upcoming speaker Milo Yiannopoulos) is protected and must be allowed on our campus unless it threatens real physical harm to students or faculty. Even then, he claimed, these dangers can be offset by hiring the proper security, as we did for Milo’s appearance last year (to the tune of nearly $56,000).
However, I would like to point out to Armstrong that his statement here presents a level of cognitive dissonance which is stunning for anyone, let alone someone in the highest position of academic leadership. How can LGBTQ students and faculty as well as students and faculty of color at Cal Poly be expected to buy the line that bigotry and racism pose no real threat to our lives when the only way to protect our community from the violence incited by these ideas is to hire more than 100 well-armed law enforcement officers? I find it hard to believe that Kyler Watkins could have made it all the way through college without knowing that blackface is culturally insensitive, but I find it absolutely mind-boggling that Armstrong sees no essential contradiction in claiming that the sort of hate speech that requires riot cops and rooftop snipers is harmless. By that metric, we could, with proper precaution, welcome ISIS to the PAC.
Perhaps most troubling of all, however, is that in the wake of the Lambda Chi Alpha debacle, the Milo event planned for the end of the month should represent a massive, slow-moving softball of a chance for Armstrong to put his money where his mouth is and prove that he actually cares about marginalized groups on campus. Taking a hard line on hate speech and cultural violence would be easily accomplished by simply informing the Cal Poly College Republicans that while hate speech may be “free” it is far too financially devastating for our university and as such we will not be welcoming Milo (a man who defends and glorifies his own molestation as a child, encourages college students to profile their Latinx classmates and report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, perpetuates debunked conspiracy theories about “liberal” black market fetal tissue sales, etc.) back to our already seething campus.
Why our president refuses to quickly make good on his assurances that he stands with marginalized groups is beyond me, especially when presented with such an obvious, easy and convenient chance to do so. Instead, he bats not an eyelash at the possibility of once again spending nearly 1.5 years’ worth of my salary as a 4/4/3 adjunct – a lecturer teaching four courses in the fall and winter and three in the spring – on one evening’s worth of security merely to save face with the same crowd that cast their eyes down in shame as students marched past them on Friday during Open House.
So I ask Armstrong, with all due respect, “Who are you protecting?” Certainly not marginalized students, staff and faculty. But then again, we’re not where most of the money comes from. And we all know you have to spend money to make money.
In concern for our community,
Jon Bartel, M.A.
*This letter has been edited for clarity.