Bert the Turtle Meets Fear & Loathing on Campus

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There was a turtle by the name of Bert

And Bert the Turtle was very alert

When danger threatened him he never got hurt

He knew just what to do – 

He’d duck and cover, duck and cover

He’d hide his head and tail and four little feet

He’d duck and cover!

You may not remember Bert the Turtle, spokes-reptile for civil defense during the Cold War. In the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s and early 1960s, children were forced to conduct air-raid drills. When the warning bells would go off, we would quickly leave the classrooms, line up along the hallway walls, kneel, put our foreheads to the floor and cover our heads.  This was so we would be protected if an atom bomb was dropped on us!

Of course, ‘hands over your head’ is not a particularly effective protection against nuclear explosion – but that was really not the function of the drills. Their purpose was ideological – to scare the crap out of everyone – a population instilled with fear is more easily manipulated by those in power.

We had our own little taste of this methodology at Central Connecticut State University this past week, when the military swarmed the campus, complete with armored personnel carriers and helicopters, in response to even less of a threat than the 50s big red bogeyman. In this case, it was a student wearing a Halloween costume.

He hid beneath his little shell until the coast was clear

Then one by one his head and tail and legs would reappear

By acting calm and cool he proved he was a hero, too

For finding safety is the bravest wisest thing to do

According to the New York Times, the person to alert the university of a threat was an ex-cop, ex-marine named Nicholas Federici.   In behavior reminiscent of George Zimmerman, the slayer of Trayvon Martin, Federici called the campus police and gave fanciful descriptions of the danger, then followed the suspect to his dorm.  The alleged perp later turned out to be a likable young African-American student, David Kyem, son of a CCSU professor.

Federici reported that Kyem had “a thousand-yard stare.”  (How he could simultaneously see this while describing that he was wearing a mask and dark goggles remains unexplained). Another student chimed in that “It seemed like he was walking with an agenda.”  Such racist assumptions – such as how black men look at white women, being uppity, etc, are the historic precursor to racist victimization.

(Is it the same Nicholas Federici that was in the Marines at Fallujah? He has the same name and age.  At the time, he was widely quoted as saying that “The main thing is to hold our ground and kill as many faggots and bastards as we can”).

And now his little friends are just like Bert

And every turtle is very alert

When danger threatens them they never get hurt

They know just what to do  

Based on the phone call, and perhaps others, the forces of law and order swung into action. Since the campus is heavily monitored, and since Kyem had to swipe his ID in order to get into the dorm, police could have simply gone to his room to see if there was any problem. Instead, a military invasion and occupation of the campus was unleashed.

The offensive involved numerous nearby police forces, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. This scale of the operation and the involvement of federal agencies indicate that this was not a homegrown initiative.

But while it may have involved major players outside the campus, there certainly would be a willing partner in a college administration chiefly characterized by its lack of vision and willingness to thwart the academic initiatives of the faculty..  From sexist hiring and promotion policies, to intrusive spying on faculty, to the harassment of street artists – the CCSU administration has been chiefly noted for its thuggish behavior.  Only a few years ago, the administration made news when it defended the racist hazing of a young Kenyan track team member who was forced to drink blood.  Recently, tens of thousands of dollars were given to the chief spokesperson for racist bullying when a Vance lectureship was awarded to Rudolph Giuliani.

They duck and cover, duck and cover

They hide their heads and tails and four little feet

They duck and cover!

There has been little visible opposition to the invasion.  While the CCSU faculty are dedicated and progressive-minded, they have been severely weakened by years of being ground down by bureaucracy.  The Senate functions largely is an organ of the administration.  The AAUP has been debilitated by longstanding subservience to management – cheerleading givebacks and concession contracts and turning a blind eye to assaults on academic freedom. The union has remained paralyzed as education deformers implement plans that essentially begin to dismantle the CSU system

Overall, the ruling class (yes- there is one) has made inroads in creating a climate of fear and intimidation that is certainly not unique to Connecticut.  Earlier, faculty had approved a fear-based document on campus safety.  (see: https://academeblog.org/2013/09/13/fear-and-loathing-on-campus/)

While the lockdown was in effect, faculty and students were in genuine fear. One student related that since there was no lock on the classroom door, her teacher went to the next classroom and asked a colleague if they could join them in a locked room. They were denied. (That should make for an interesting future working relationship).

In fact, many of the faculty have been so beaten down over the years that they have developed a sort of academic Stockholm Syndrome. Following the suspension of civil liberties with the military occupation of campus, a number of gliberal professors publicly thanked the police.

Stockholm syndrome is a state of mind in which hostages develop empathy toward their captors. This psychological phenomena is generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk to the victims. They essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.  So, if the police don’t shoot you, they are heroes for keeping you safe! (Admittedly, since it is estimated that police kill 500-1000 individuals a year, surviving an encounter and feeling relieved is not an entirely irrational feeling).

He hid beneath his little shell until the coast was clear

Then one by one his head and tail and legs would reappear

By acting calm and cool he proved he was a hero, too

For finding safety is the bravest wisest thing to do

David Kyem has been charged with “breach of peace.” He is being scapegoated for the irrational behavior of the administration and state.  Speaking for President Jack Miller, CCSU spokesperson Mark McLaughlin stated that students who behave in a similar fashion (Wear a costume? Look distant? Walk fast?) will face similar consequences. “We will come down on that person like a ton of bricks,” he said. “Because student safety is our primary concern.”

Whoa – talking tough! Does that mean they will not tolerate sexist harassment?  Will the administration stop defending racist hazing? Are they finally going to clean up the toxic waste dump we call an art building? Probably not – I think he means that they will gang up on any other black student that they can isolate and demonize.

Those of us that would like to see an open campus must reject those politics of fear and militarism. The students and faculties of CCSU and every other campus deserve better than being regimented and forced to engage in exercises that instill fear and distrust in our sisters and brothers. Now is the time to advance the struggle for academic and artistic freedom. Now is the time to demand an end to government surveillance and the frame-up of whistle-blowers.  Now is the time to demand an end to the wars and occupations that deplete the country of all its resources.  Now is the time to demand an end to student debt slavery. Now is the time to extend solidarity to those who fight for peace and social justice.

Now is NOT the time to duck and cover.

And now his little friends are just like Bert

And every turtle is very alert

When danger threatens them they never get hurt

They know just what to do

They duck and cover, duck and cover

They hide their heads and tails and four little feet

They duck and cover!

They duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, and cover.

         ——–   Bert The Turtle (The Duck And Cover Song) by Dick ‘Two Ton’ Baker, 1953

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