Rally for Right to show support for professor

By Dennis Papini Guest Columnist

 An assault on any one member of our campus community is an assault on all members of our campus community. At the recent TEDx Brookings meeting, professor Laura Renee Chandler discussed the rewards and challenges of bringing African American Studies to SDSU and the importance of creating spaces for constructive dialogues about difficult histories and experiences. Little did she know when she proposed that topic that she would have an opportunity to share with the audience her own “constructive dialogue about difficult histories and experiences.”

A few weeks ago Professor Chandler was introduced to comments directed at her from an anonymous blogger on Reddit. The nature of this posting was so venomous and filled with violent threats that Ms. Chandler, who had just returned to campus after the illness and death of her mother, was hesitant to attend and instruct classes for fear that the anonymous and cowardly author of this diatribe might be in one of her classes and pose a legitimate threat to her safety and well-being. Unlike the author of the offensive posting, Ms. Chandler summoned her courage and confronted this difficult experience by returning to the classroom to fulfill her assigned professional duties and responsibilities. I am proud of Professor Chandler for exhibiting the quality of character and strength of conviction that permitted her to constructively face this situation. There are times when we, as human beings, find ourselves under duress, and we literally feel the competing impulses to fight or flee from threats. Ms. Chandler’s mother, family and friends raised a fighter.

As an academic leader responsible for establishing an inclusive and welcoming academic environment at SDSU, I remain deeply troubled by this incident. If someone had told me that this kind of attack would be launched against a faculty member (or student) because of their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation (you pick the characteristic) at this institution I would not have believed it. Along with my faculty colleagues, we actively recruited Professor Chandler to our campus because of the quality of her instructional and scholarly work. How better to prepare our students for the realities of a global economy than to expose them to faculty and peers that embrace and reflect the breadth of human diversity and similarity. What personal and professional responsibilities do I have as both a human being and as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to speak out about and provide leadership on assaults such as this?

I have openly wondered if I have performed this valued colleague a great disservice by bringing her to SDSU. I feel a responsibility for her personal happiness and professional development, and I wonder if these can be realized under the current circumstances. These conflicting feelings alternate with the realization that this incident illustrates exactly why Professor Chandler is so critical to our ability to adequately prepare students for the future, and a constructive dialogue is the only way to respond. It is simply not acceptable to sit back and say nothing because the incident is embarrassing, upsetting, shameful or socially awkward. Any amateur historian can readily cite examples of terrible things that have happened when good people did nothing.

Next Monday, Oct. 13 is Native American Indian Day, a celebration of the history, culture and traditions of indigenous peoples in North America. I invite students and faculty to attend the Rally for Right to show support for Professor Chandler and all others who have experienced a “difficult history or experience” at 10 a.m. at the west entrance of The Union. There will be a few brief speakers followed by a period for reflection. You, too, must decide whether you will sit idly by when you witness intolerance or whether you will stand up for what is right.

Dennis Papini can be reached at [email protected].