Trump’s Weaponized Base Is Going After Academics — I Know Because I Was Targeted
In Trump’s America, academic freedom is under siege.
Academic censorship is nothing new — especially for scholars of color — but in Donald Trump’s America, the issue has taken on new and frightening dimensions. Trump’s emboldened base, en masse, has been attacking leftist educators with renewed vigor since his election, and universities across the country have wasted no time caving to alt-right (read: white supremacist) pressure to discipline professors, freedom of speech/academic freedom be damned. In a peculiar twist of logic, members of the alt-right have positioned themselves as victims of discrimination, and as such, have demanded that universities take action to “protect” them.
Sadly, many are.
George Ciccariello-Maher was censured and is the subject of an ongoing investigation by Drexel University over a tweet mocking white nationalists. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor was bombarded with death threats for calling Trump a “racist, sexist megalomaniac” in a commencement speech at Hampshire College (though the school defended her, a rare occurrence). Johnny Eric Williams was placed on leave by Trinity College for using a hashtag drawing attention to systemic racism. Lisa Durden was fired from Essex County College for defending a black-only Memorial Day event while appearing on Fox News. This is just a small sample, all since November’s infamous election.
Inevitably, these stories get some press, then are largely forgotten. But the repercussions reverberate long after the news cycle has moved on.
I know because Trump’s weaponized base came after me, too.
I had been an adjunct professor at Rutgers in the Women’s and Gender Studies department since Fall 2013. On November 15, 2016, two NYPD officers showed up at my Brooklyn apartment around 9 p.m. They entered without permission and after numerous refusals on my part and threats of force on theirs, transported me by ambulance to Bellevue Hospital for what they said was a mandatory psychiatric evaluation required by Rutgers University.
An anonymous complaint from a parent claimed I forced students to destroy an American flag, threatened every white student in class by saying I would shoot them all given the chance, then returned home and tweeted proof of my dangerous behavior. (I guess it should also be noted at some point that I, myself, am white.)
Any piece of this complaint could’ve been easily corroborated or disproved by 60+ students or a scroll through my Twitter feed. Instead, Rutgers escalated the after-hours complaint — logged a week after the “alleged events” — from the parent to the Dean of Students to Rutgers Police to the NYPD, all in roughly three hours. No one even attempted to contact me before NYPD showed up at my door. (I later tracked down police reports from the NYPD and Rutgers. They can be seen here and here.)
When the cops arrived, I tried to explain what had actually happened that fateful day. Yes, I had tweeted about the flag from my personal account.
And yes, the day after the election, I had brought an American flag to class. My students were largely women, people of color, immigrants or children of immigrants, and LGBTQ+ folks — all groups with a lot to fear under a Trump administration. We had discussed the campaign throughout the semester; the events closely mirrored themes of the course.
Anticipating my students’ anger and frustration at the election results, I brought the flag as a way to spark conversation. If students wanted to engage in therapeutic protest using the flag, I was also amenable. Nothing happened; I never even removed the flag from its shopping bag. I simply referenced it as present, which was enough to spark a productive conversation. I returned the flag, unharmed and in its original packaging, to the store later. Another fact I publicly tweeted.
Our class conversation jumped from topic to topic that day. Some students shed tears. Some expressed outrage. Some were shocked to silence by the election results. We commiserated in a friendly fashion. At one point, I made a jocular, off-the-cuff comment about the Second Amendment and police brutality, insinuating that conservative white people and the NRA would care a lot more about gun control if they were constantly being shot at. Students laughed. It would be a stretch of any imagination to consider it a threat. I tweeted a similar comment later as well, framed by the events of my day and by my personal frustration with the election results.
The tweet was admittedly provocative. I was angry. But it was posed as a rhetorical question regardless of the semantics of “when” versus “if.” Either way you slice it, it was not a direct threat against a particular person. And it was a personal communication on Twitter. Moreover, this was not the way the comment was phrased in class, but the complaint blurred the two.
This is the whole truth at the core of the fabricated complaint. Whomever made it or passed it on to a parent knew it to be an exaggeration, a grandiose lie.
The doctors at Bellevue performed a full evaluation, but rushed me through the steps once I explained. They were outraged and stunned at the waste of time and resources involved, but were personally empathetic. Suffice it to say, I passed the evaluation easily.