Quote of the Day: “What is the figure of the censoring student doing?”

In the last 24 hours I have read Sara Ahmed’s wonderful piece on campus culture three times in full, so it’s hard for me to pick out just one favorite quote. Ahmed takes on critics’ simultaneous vilification and dismissal of students who challenge the university status quo as simultaneously immature, intellectually lazy, academically demanding, oversensitive, and all powerful. Ahmed’s piece, which you really should read in full, surveys the criticism (“a moral panic about moral panics”) and then systematically and soundly exposes its logical and ethical flaws.

One of the many things I appreciate about Ahmed’s analysis is how seriously she takes student protest and student experience. She believes that their might be substance to their claims — a frighteningly radical act for an academic today. And she calls out her colleagues who treat student speech merely as censorship and not as substance in itself. So, for the quote of the day, here’s Ahmed on critics’ eagerness to indiscriminately label a wide range of student expression as censorship, referring to a letter written by some British academics about their silencing fear of student criticism:

When students who protest against such-and-such speaker become censors, those [professors] who wrote and signed the letter [against students] become the ones who are silenced, whose freedoms are under threat. So much speech and writing is generated by those who claim they are silenced!

But we can still ask: what is the figure of the censoring student doing. By hearing student critique as censorship the content of that critique is pushed aside. When you hear a challenge as an attempt at censorship you do not have to engage with the challenge. You do not even have to say anything of substance because you assume the challenge as  without substance.

Read the piece on Ahmed’s blog here.

Washington, DC

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at Feministing.com. During her four years at the site, she wrote about gender violence, reproductive justice, and education equity and ran the site's book review column. She is now a Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and also serves as the Board Chair of Know Your IX, a national student-led movement to end gender violence, which she co-founded and previously co-directed. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she is the co-editor of The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future. She has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice at campuses across the country and on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, and NPR.

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at Feministing.com.

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