Allow me to preface with the fact that I am a firm believer in free speech. I am a firm believer in speaking my mind. However, as much as I believe in the power of free speech, I firmly believe in respecting my peers.
Sitting in a classroom is not necessarily a comfortable experience; the lights are oppressive and the chairs are uncomfortable. Despite all of the discomfort and the desire to be anywhere but in class, Reed College students recently had to deal with someone who was trolling everybody in class. Suddenly, their class felt like an unsafe environment. For a survivor of sexual assault, this scenario is a nightmare.
Jeremiah True, a 19-year-old Reed College freshman, was recently removed from the discussion portion of his mandatory humanities class for making offensive comments about rape culture and rape statistics. His professor decided to ban True from discussion after listening to several students confide in him that True’s comments were upsetting.
Though True has been banned from the discussion portion of his class, he is still receiving credit for the course, completing assignments, and regularly meeting with his professor. True is not having his education revoked; he is instead facing consequences due to his blatant disrespect for others.
True identifies himself as a free speech activist and claims he is entitled to freely discuss his opinions in class, but he is failing to acknowledge his classmates’ feelings of safety.
True’s professor delivered a practical and fair solution with regard to his students’ struggles inside the classroom. True is not banned from the course, and he is not having his education taken from him. He is simply facing consequences for his disrespectful actions.
True’s comments are direct triggers for survivors. In a culture that often causes survivors to question what constitutes rape, and that encourages feelings of shame while often not receiving justice for their aggressor’s actions, True’s comments are heartbreaking. Rape culture is everywhere around us: in the music on the radio, on the streets where people often feel fear when they walk home, at parties when asking a friend to hold their drink while they pee, and especially all over college campuses. Rape on college campuses is an epidemic, and the worst part is that not much is being done to stop it.
By disciplining True in this way, Reed is acknowledging the sexual assault problem and is taking proper action. True’s professor is pushing boundaries in order to protect survivors from shame and fear, but he is also making a point that rape culture will not be tolerated in an academic environment. However, with the professor’s actions to ensure a safe campus, he is still acknowledging the importance of True’s education, therefore still allowing him to participate in the course. True’s exemption from discussion is a powerful and effective method to secure every student’s academic success.
In addition to students feeling unsafe due to True’s comments, he now threatens that he will “rain hell” by bringing a media storm down upon the Reed campus. I am scared for the students of Reed because not only must they recover from the damage of True’s words, but also his threat. He is demonstrating an aggressive attitude by once again disregarding and disrespecting his classmates through a battle with a campus that is just trying to protect its students.
I beg True to step back, to not “rain hell” on the campus, and to let his classmates find peace. His free speech battle expresses a lack of concern for anyone other than himself. He needs to face the consequences of his actions, which include him receiving credit for the course he was kicked out of, and regularly meeting with his professor in order to obtain the academic tools he needs. The situation represents a campus taking a stand against sexual assault while still considering True’s academic success. Please, True, step down.