(Refers to events noted in prior posting.*)
I applaud the activism of students who demonstrated on March 2 to show their strong disagreement with the punishment that the UCLA administration has fixed in the sexual harassment case that has distressed my department, the student body and the entire campus for many months now. By the protesters taking this issue public, the most important effect they may have is to alert the student body, encourage those who have suffered sexual harassment to come forward and make potential sexual harassers reconsider taking actions that they once thought no one noticed or cared about.
But I also write to ask the protesters to think more strategically as to how and where they deploy their protests, keeping their attention on where the power lies in such cases. This power lies with the university administration, going beyond individual officers to the larger university’s shifting sense of who and what it serves most essentially: education, students, the larger community or the protection of its own institutional, legal and economic interests.
After going to the chancellor’s office, the protesters marched into the history department offices and stayed for a full 20 minutes, frightening staff, mostly female and young, the last people they should be targeting. The chair and the rest of the departmental leadership were not there, and in any case, they are legally prohibited from commenting on the case and lack any power to determine its outcome. More than half the history department faculty has signed its own letter of protest to the administration.
Righteous anger is a powerful weapon for change, but it needs to be directed thoughtfully.
Ellen DuBois, Professor of history and gender studies