The Cowardice of Hate

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Back in November, I wrote about returning to school, a woman of cumulative years in the throes of selecting a college major — along with thousands of teenagers.

It has now been two weeks since the spring semester started at Cal State University San Marcos, and, well, wow. Simply, wow. Dinner-table conversation has certainly been invigorated with the daily diary entries of a mad coed in her prime.

I am immersed in a university community unlike anything I experienced in what my new peers would consider the olden days. I’m awash in the contemporary jargon of academia that requires more memory capacity than I can muster; in students who looked askance when I first took a seat among them instead of heading to the front of the class; in professors who pronounce their charges “stupid clay” whom they must mold and professors who are as eager to teach as to learn from their students; in youthful fingers furiously texting under desks, while I rub my arthritic basal joints; in snippets of the fearful braggadocio of lingering adolescence.

My enculturation thus begun, I have already learned all sorts of great stuff — a trove of revelations.

I’ve learned that, despite having avoided deconstructing anything since my days of building and demolishing forts with the kids on my block, deconstruction is now an honored academic device; one, it turns out, I am bound to employ in order to make the grade.

I’ve learned that I am exhibiting an adjustment reaction to post-feminist spread: I fear my ovaries will be gradually crushed by young women who claim their rights but are discomfited by the second-wave feminism that won them, while my aging hips gradually exceed the breadth of those annoying study-top chair-desks.

I’ve learned that school is a hell of a lot more fun than it was when I thought I had to go to college. In those days of yore, professors were just extensions of parents hounding us to brush our teeth before bed. I wasn’t about to do anything any old fart told me to do, when I could traipse off to march for the Equal Rights Amendment or for social justice or for better French fries in the dining hall.

[caption id="attachment_9804" align="alignright" width="285"] Excerpt, Koala at San Marcos, Winter 2011[/caption]

And I’ve learned that some students wield their freedom of speech as a weapon, while disdaining the rights of others to speak freely. In contrast to the campus activists of my past, who exercised their right to free speech in order to publicly oppose racism, sexism and homophobia, a vocal minority at Cal State San Marcos (CSUSM), the staff of The Koala, exercise their free speech in order to publish racism, sexism and homophobia — along with rape and abuse scenarios and pedophilia — sheathed in the guise of  humor, or so they describe it.

Their retreat behind humor is reminiscent of my long-ago breakfast with racist Tom Metzger, founder of White Aryan Resistance (WAR), who proclaimed his WAR tabloid’s caricatures of lynched African Americans as humor.

Oh — and here’s a “wow!” — I’ve learned the Koalans do not like to be criticized. In fact, it makes them so uncomfortable that they attempt to intimidate their critics into silence — with obscenities, intended slurs, threats and deception. (They also remove their faces from Facebook pages and hope their parents don’t find out what it is they are actually doing at college.)

The Koala crew launched a wee bit of an online attack in response to my last column on the publication (profanity alert: avert your eyes oh faint of heart). They posted such descriptions of me as an “old wrinkely [sic] homosexual” who doesn’t belong at CSUSM and should depart posthaste, “a dumass,” “a complete retard” and “completly [sic] fucking retarded.” They implied I should be “scared [they] might do something to” my photo, “[l]ike... photoshop it and post it up in an upcoming issue? Too late...”

The folks who posted these comments used pseudonyms, other students’ names without their permission (surely a no-no!), and the paradoxical nickname “Balls,” which lent no credence to the commentary, given that Balls hadn’t the gonads to use his or her real name.

Speaking of which, while the university staff response has ranged from gracious and helpful to passionate and determined to scurrying into the rapid deployment of avoidance tactics, the administration’s response for the news media was unfortunate legal pabulum: “The Koala is not currently a registered student organization at CSUSM and expressed views are solely those of The Koala and its members. While The Koala falls under the first amendment's freedom of speech, its content does not reflect the core values of CSUSM such as inclusiveness, diversity and respect.” Neither does Mary Had a Little Lamb, and I hope that’s not the best they can do.

Wouldn’t it be dandy if they were to broadcast a message to the university community that said something substantive? It would be even dandier if the administration would muster the chutzpah to, if not condemn the publication for what it is — hate speech, albeit legal — at least address the palpable fear the publication’s content elicits in some students, a fear likely prolonged by the administration’s prolonged silence.

Much more clear and direct than the administration’s response, were the reactions of the publication’s first issue advertisers, who were apparently hoodwinked by the publishers: They have both withdrawn their ads, and one of them wrote, “Cougar Book Rentals will not be advertising in the Koala newspaper in the future, due to the offensive nature of the content. We neither condone nor appreciate the content, nor did we have access to it in advance.”

Ah, the joys of a free market — and free speech — including the snippy little comments that came my way indicating that the loss of some advertisers has tweaked the Koalans a bit, revealing a possible vulnerability and their ignorance of the actual meaning of free speech. They wrote that by encouraging folks to contact the publication’s advertisers, I violated the Koalans’ free speech and “dictate[d] the thoughts of others.”

Alas, they are wrong: Were I able, I would “dictate” some common sense into the Koalans’ predominantly young white male thoughts, but I can’t — and their older editor-in-chief just might be a lost cause, given the years he’s devoted to the various Koalas.

What I will do is continue to pursue their advertisers, because I learned long before arriving at CSUSM that passive avoidance of overt hate is often the death knell of freedom. In this case, the rights of the students targeted by The Koala’s content are at risk: Their right to free speech and to a public education free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation are at risk of being lost to fear and bullying.

Thankfully, I’m too old to succumb to that idiocy. Besides, I’m having too much fun.

Love, K-B

Crossposted at The Progressive Post and  San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.