By Kaitlyn Schallhorn at Campus Reform
A male student at the private Reed College in Oregon gained national attention for supposedly being banned from class discussions as he refuted the widely debunked statistic that says one in five college women have been sexually assaulted, but his story has suddenly taken a weird turn.
In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Jeremiah True, a freshman, said that he received an email from his professor that said he could no longer be included in the “conference” portion of the class. The professor, Pancho Savery, said True made several victims of sexual assault who are in the class feel “extremely uncomfortable” by what they see as “undermining incidents of rape.”
“The entire conference without exception, men as well as women, feel that your presence makes them uncomfortable enough that they would rather not be there if you are there, and they have said that things you have said in our conference have made them so upset that they have difficulty concentrating in other classes,” Savery’s email reportedly said.
According to the professor’s email, it’s too late in the semester for True to transfer to another course. However, Savery promised True that he would still receive credit for the class as long as he completed the final and final paper. Savery also offered to open up his office to True if he would want to discuss any of the class readings with him outside of the classroom.
“Please know that this was a difficult decision for me to make and one that I have never made before; nevertheless, in light of the serious stress you have caused your classmates, I feel that I have no other choice,” Savery wrote in his email to True. “If you wish to discuss this with me, I am happy to come in early on Monday and talk to you before the lecture.”
But in an exclusive interview with Robby Soave at Reason Magazine, Savery—who Reasondeemed an “ ardent defender” of free speech—said it wasn’t True’s apparently controversial opinion that got him banned from the discussion portion of class.
“He was not banned because of what he said but because of a series of disruptive behaviors,” Savery told Reason.
Reed Quest, the college’s student newspaper, also reported that True was known for his behavior and upset students throughout the entire course with his comments. According to the student paper, True reportedly claimed that “lower class people didn’t have the ability to create art” and “we shouldn’t blame the people who were responsible for the Holocaust…because they didn’t know any better.”
In his Reason piece, Soave said that he reached out to True for comment, but the student did not answer any of his questions after Soave denied his odd request.
“Before I interview with you, you must agree to make ‘nigger’ be the first word in your article,” True told Soave.
“Jeremiah [True] has described this as a case of political correctness being enforced in the classroom, and certainly some of the students interviewed by Buzzfeed seem to have taken issue with him sharing opinions they don’t like,” Soave told Campus Reform. “And that’s not a good thing—students should feel free, even encouraged, to discuss uncomfortable ideas without fear of academic reprisal.”
“But the professor told me that Jeremiah’s behavior was legitimately disruptive, and I’m sort of inclined to believe him,” Soave continued. “If Jeremiah’s bizarre request to me about using the n-word is typical of his in-class antics, well, even a free-speech purist like me can imagine some kind of intervention being justified.”
The 19-year-old has created a Change.org petition on Wednesday that pleads to be reinstated to the course’s conference portion. At time of publication, the petition had almost 2,000 signatures.
Reed Quest also reported that True has resigned from his position on the school’s Honor Council, has boycotted the rest of his classes, and is no longer appearing in a spring theater production—all in protest of his removal from the humanities class discussions.
“I believe that I am an emotionally capable, intellectually gifted, cutting wit, hell of a person. I believe I have experienced more trauma and suffering and pain in my life than many of these, well frankly, middle class white girls at Reed could ever know in their lives,” True told Reed Quest.
Ari Cohn, a free speech lawyer with Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told Campus Reform on Thursday that while Reed is a private school, it is not bound by the First Amendment.
“Nevertheless, it advertises a strong commitment to the principles of free speech, which it considers ‘fundamental to its life as an academic community,’ and affirms its community’s ‘rights to freedom of inquiry and expression in coursework, scholarship, and the day-to-day-life of the Reed community,’” he continued in a statement.
Cohn said FIRE is currently investigating True’s situation, but the organization does not have a definitive answer on whether or not True’s removal from class is justified without the full comments of the class discussions yet available.
“Banning a student from a course simply because he expressed views on a topic of classroom discussion that some disagree with or are made uncomfortable by is generally inappropriate,” Cohn continued. “A college campus is precisely the place for students to grapple with ideas and develop critical thinking skills, often by challenging prevailing wisdom and subjecting their assumptions to rigorous testing.”
Kevin Myers, Director of Communications at Reed, told Campus Reform that True was not banned from the class discussion because of his controversial viewpoints.
“Reed College does not under any circumstances remove students from class due to the content of their free and protected speech,” Myers said in an emailed statement to Campus Reform. “The college is committed to maintaining a living and learning environment that is safe, accessible and educationally purposeful. When student behavior substantially disrupts the academic environment, the college has an obligation to respond.”
Neither Savery nor True responded to a request for comment from Campus Reform.
Schools: Reed College