Op-Ed by Hannah Dorsey, history major, Class of 2020. With Steve Bannon coming to campus, the University of Chicago has nothing to gain and so much to lose.
I have a midterm today, and I should be studying. The midterm is for "Histories of Violence in the United States" [HIST 27012, taught by Kathleen Belew, assistant professor of History and the College]. My professor said she studied the white power movement, and I instinctively flinched. In class we talked about slavery, westward expansion, and the constitutive power of violence—its ability to differentiate between in-groups and out-groups. All men are created equal if they are white and own land. All men are created equal if they are white. Free speech and freedom of expression are for rich white men and not for me.
I’m sure you’ve all heard by now that a professor at the Booth School for Business invited Steve Bannon to speak on campus. When I found out I flinched in the same way as I did in class. I’m not sure if I have an anxiety disorder, but I know that the tension in the pit of my stomach, my twitchy hands, and my rapid heartbeat are symptoms of a panic attack. A panic attack like the one I had when I was at Auschwitz in 2014, so overwhelmed by the thoughts of my people, my family, being horrifically tortured to death that my brain started to think I was in danger. I had to rest my arms on a windowsill, watching the cars go by on the road below, to remind myself that I was not in 1944. That I was safe. That I was fine. That there weren’t any Nazis anymore.
Steve Bannon, during his time at Breitbart, “worked to develop and advance an agenda that embraced tactics, values, and assistance from neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups.” He described Breitbart as “the platform for the alt-right,” a racist and anti-Semitic contingent of neo-Nazis. Breitbart articles have downplayed the significance of the Holocaust, derided Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew," and regularly allude to anti-Semitic dog whistles like “globalist” or “corporatist” when denigrating Jewish voices. To treat people like Bannon as merely members of an opposition party instead of the existential threats to democracy that they are is liberalism deluding itself. Steve Bannon might, unconvincingly, downplay his ties to Nazism, but his followers want me to die.
To grant a person like Bannon the honor of speaking at one of the greatest universities in the world is a disgrace to the concept of universities, the concept of speaking, and the concept of freedom of expression.
I took a class on the history of censorship last quarter [HIST 25421, "Censorship from the Inquisition to the Present," taught by Ada Palmer, assistant professor of History and the College] and feel confident that what I advocate here is not censorship. Censorship is an attempt by the powerful to remain powerful. I cannot hurt Steve Bannon by writing an opinion piece for a student newspaper. He could easily retaliate by inciting a riot at the level of Charlottesville to target me, my family, and my friends. The University of Chicago cannot maintain the cognitive dissonance of claiming to stand for diversity and then invite a neo-Nazi to speak. The administration cannot continue to endanger me and other marginalized students and still pretend to care about us. Fascism cannot be given a platform to speak when fascism’s first order of business is the elimination of free speech, the elimination of freedom of expression, and the elimination of me.
I love this school with all of my heart. Everything I say here I say out of a desire to make this institution the best it can be. I recognize the need to engage in dialogue, but I refuse to engage with someone who believes that I and my people and my cultural heritage should be silenced forever.
Excerpt from a longer op-ed, published in the Chicago Maroon on January 25, 2018.