A doctoral student and instructor in our Department of Comparative Literature, Cinema & Media, who was among those who protested the appearance of Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of Washington, has since the event been the target of hateful internet bullying, sexual harassment and violent threats.
Alan-Michael Weatherford, who teaches diversity and queer studies courses, has been subject to a series of homophobic threats such as: “alan-michael-weatherford IS A FAGGOT WHO NEEDS HIS HEAD SPLIT” and “W-would it be gay to rape him? I mean, i-it’s not homosexual if the sex is not consensual right?” He has been falsely denounced on the site ratemyprofessor.com for exchanging grades for sexual favors. Emails of faculty in our department have been circulated so that people could send in letters asking for his removal as instructor. Information about his courses, office hours as well as more personal details about him and his mother have been posted on internet. He has received threatening packages to his departmental mailbox.
Fearing for his physical safety and that of his students, our colleague asked another instructor to teach his class on Monday.
This is inadmissible. Our classrooms must continue to provide a place where ideas can be exchanged freely and safely. This is what academic freedom is about. The touchstone document on academic freedom, the American Association of University Professor’s (AAUP) 1940 “Statement”, directs academic institutions “to insure that an individual’s ability to conduct teaching and research without interference would not be violated”.
Our colleague’s ability to conduct teaching has clearly been violated due to physical threats that are not covered by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has cited three “reasons why threats of violence are outside the First Amendment”: “protecting individuals from the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders, and from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur”. R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 388 (1992).
We ask that the UW administration make every effort to protect our colleague from harassment and that it explore vigorously all avenues to hold those responsible for these criminal threats legally accountable. If we let any of us be intimidated and cowed into silence, we will have failed in our mission as educators.