BY ALAN-MICHAEL WEATHERFORD
This is a cross-post of an editorial by Alan-Michael Weatherford. It originally appeared as a guest editorial on the website of The Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Washington.
The Daily Editor’s Note: Story includes vulgarity, anti-gay, and transphobic slurs.
When internet hate-monger and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopolous spoke on University of Washington’s campus on January 20th, numerous protestors and supporters were beaten and bloodied. One in particular, an antifascist medic helping people, was shot and is in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center as of this writing. In the wake of these events, students are now victim to internet harassment and threats from right-wing hate groups (that may or may not self-identify as such). In fact, I am one of them.
Now for those of you who may not already know my case, let me provide a little context. I helped organize and participated in a coalition of UW students, faculty, and employees that put on a day of resistance by hosting a series of peaceful teach-ins in the Odegaard Library, across from Kane Hall hosting Milo. Before leaving campus for Westlake around 4pm, most of us covered our faces to shield ourselves from right-wing supporters of Milo (some of whom belong to neo-nazi groups operating in Washington state). There were students of color, trans students, undocumented students, and students with disabilities that were specifically targeted and filmed by the aforementioned neo-nazis (many of whom are not affiliated with the university). While the optics of a group of folks covering their faces might come across as threatening, we were left no other choice, provided that the University failed to protect its own population. And so, by serving in place of the University to protect those more vulnerable than myself, I become the target of a horrendous campaign.
Saturday morning, January 21st at 4am, I woke up to several homophobic and transphobic slurs as well as (sexual) threats on my twitter, Facebook, UW email and ratemyprofessor.com platforms. These attacks included:
- Receiving several photos, memes, and messages derived from two youtube videos of myself.
- Finding three entire 4chan forums dedicated to doxxing me, a form of publicly outing and targeting individuals by listing their personal information widely.
- Being referred to by the slurs “fag” and “tranny,” and being specifically labeled the “antifa fag.”
- Receiving the following comments and threats:
- “alan-michael-weatherford IS A FAGGOT WHO NEEDS HIS HEAD SPLIT”;
- “hows the electric therapy from mike pence going, gaywad?”;
- “bend over they are coming.”
- “W-would it be gay to rape him? I mean, i-it’s not homosexual if the sex is not consensual right?”
- From an e-mail named Craven Morehead, I also received: “im gonna beat yout faggot ass bitch. youre done for.”
- Being libeled on my ratemyprofessor.com profile with comments such as:
- “He once pulled me after class and tried to touch my p*nis when I asked if he could look at my assignment again because I thought that I deserved a better grade. Extremely dangerous man, be careful!”
- “I went to speak to him to see if he offered extra-credit for bad grades and he started to get very ‘suggestive’. He sat on his desk and said ‘you have to earn that grade, big boy’, before spreading his legs. I got so uncomfortable that I tried to leave, but he blocked the door. He told me that he would give me an A if I didn’t report him.”
- “[…] I feel very scared being in his vicinity”
- “I do not recommend this professor, if you disagree with him you might get physically attacked.”
These are followed up with various other ones stating that I am anti-semitic and even violent with “a bat.”
Let me just say very clearly that having an entire internet presence solely dedicated to finding, contacting and harassing with the promise of potentially harming you is petrifying. All of this is especially shocking, provided that I was just recently nominated for a Distinguished Teaching Award and have a great track record in teaching my own courses. Yet, because I teach diversity courses, such as my queer studies course CLIT 240 dedicated to Postcolonial and Queer of Color Critique, it has actually made me an exemplary target. As of today, these are still coming in — precisely at the moment when I am about to embark onto the job market.
In addition to attacking me on the internet, they have taken actions to reduce my sense of physical safety on campus as well as to affect my professional relationships with my departmental colleagues. They have spammed my UW email account with listserve confirmations; they know where my office is in addition to my office hours; and I have started to receive packages to my departmental mailbox, some of which hinted to include Pepe the frog figurines (an image often sent to victims of online harassment). A list of various professors’ emails from my own department — especially my chair’s — were slated to send in “honest letters by the community,” asking for my removal as an instructor. There is even a post that is attempting to find the bus that I ride in order to further harass me. And, I later learned that night that they know my biological mother’s personal information.
What is perhaps most alarming is that one of the 4chan commenters is seemingly a student on UW’s campus. I was able to determine this, because they posted the following in identifying me: “UWfag I remember seeing this guy all the time. He was an instructor for spanish before my math class last winter. Can confirm. https://www.washington.edu/students/timeschd/WIN2016/spanish.html Span 103 section c.” I have no idea who this person could be, which makes me more than scared to continue teaching at this moment. In fact, I have another friend and colleague who taught for me on Monday. Not only could I put myself at risk but also my students by entering into my own classroom. It is incredibly easy to find which course I teach now, at what time, and where. This person could walk into my room tomorrow and shoot me and my students.
The antics of Yiannopolous and his followers were well-documented. When the College Republicans invited him to campus, many knew that members of the groups that Yiannopolous often mocks would be even more vulnerable, if he were allowed to come to campus. Harassment of this kind was so foreseeable that in January, 4,600 students sent a petition to UW President Ana Mari Cauce explaining that Yiannopolous’s presence on campus was threatening and that his talk should be canceled in the interest of physical safety. The UW administration heard these warnings, saw all of the evidence, and yet still allowed — no, protected — Yiannopolous in coming to our campus over our students.
I have written President Cauce asking for her support as well as UW protections. I hope she will do what she can, despite her more than disappointing response of “Sent to campus police and student life. So sorry you are experiencing this.” Signed with not her name, but “Sent from my iPad.” Provided that this is the new normal, there is no way to guarantee my safety or the safety of other students now that hate groups have been invited to and have protections on our campus.
As we move forward under the new era of the Trump régime, I ask that faculty, staff, and students take measures to protect themselves and each other on campus and in our communities. We should be angry. We should continue to be vocal and stand up in the face of these cowards who hide behind twitter egg accounts and false Facebook profiles. On the basis of our shared position within the educational community at the University of Washington, I hope that you will extend the protection and empathy to the people who will need your support the most in the coming years — in particular, Muslim, immigrant, Black, Queer, and women identified persons.
Further, I ask that in the future when the University considers upholding free speech at the expense of physical safety, that the administration thinks hard about those consequences. Each of us is granted identical constitutional rights and freedoms, and yet these rights overlay enormous differences in power, privilege and safety. I am urging you to recognize that blithely promoting free speech in all contexts without consciously and intentionally prioritizing the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable will only replicate systems of inequality. As my experience shows, a commitment to equal rights that is decontextualized from considerations of power and equity places those who are already marginalized in even more danger. This is not about resolving some abstract question regarding whether and how we should tolerate bigoted speech in a democracy. This is about the concrete question of whether you are willing to take the measures necessary to protect my safety and my ability to do the work I came to the University of Washington to do.