Dear Alma College:
Dr. Benjamin Carson’s visit to the College is over, and I’ve survived, but not without some bumps and bruises. His visit at the invitation of the College has left me feeling violated and abused. My colleagues and I asked you politely several times (here and here, for example) not to provide a platform for a man who makes daily headlines for his hateful comments about the LGBTQIA community and feminists. You ignored us. You proudly and publicly invited him to campus. Somehow, you managed to escalate the hurt even further by cordially inviting me to lunch with Dr. Carson, hosted by Alma College’s Diversity and Inclusion Office.
My invitation to Dr. Carson’s lunch is a funny story: At first I accepted the invitation because I thought the Diversity and Inclusion Office was hosting a lunch about Dr. Carson’s visit. I thought, surely, that there was no way that the office in charge of promoting equality on campus would host a lunch with Dr. Carson. I sincerely thought the lunch (if it were about Dr. Carson’s visit) was the College’s way of trying to make amends for the wave of hurt and insult that followed on the tide of Dr. Carson’s visit. The day of the lunch, however, and much to my horror, I realized that the lunch was with Dr. Carson. I quickly rescinded my acceptance of the invitation after I realized my mistake because I choose not socialize with or give my precious time and resources away to people who publicly and brazenly spew hate for the people and the causes I love.
Before I start talking about my mistakes, however, let me first discuss the College’s mistakes. The College hosted Dr. Carson under the guise that we value tolerating opinions that are diverse from our own. In doing so, you stood on the throat of inclusion. You’ve left many of us feeling dismissed and disenfranchised. Your cowardly “fix” to the situation (i.e., demoting Dr. Carson from Honor’s Day speaker to a mere guest speaker and facilitating a Diversity Dialogue) was simply a dressed up way of “negotiating with terrorists” who adore a man threatening, with his run for political office, the livelihood and well-being of the LBGTQIA community and people who strive for the end of sexism and gender inequality. The College should have been brave and refused to dedicate time socializing with a person who hates homosexuality and feminism. You should have rescinded your invitation and taught our students a valuable lesson: The First Amendment does, indeed, guarantee everyone freedom of speech, but this freedom does not guarantee free speech without consequences. Sometimes the consequences of being a public bully are that people don’t want to hang out with you and they don’t invite you to come over and play (or in this case pay you to speak to their students). Instead, you punted and it landed on the noses of your LGBTQIA and feminist Scots.
Somehow, you made the situation infinitely worse, yet again, when some students were required to attend his talk as part of a course requirement. I understand that “Due to FEC rules Dr. Carson will be unable to discuss any political matters during his time here on Alma's campus, but will be happy to chat about his rich legacy as an accomplished neurosurgeon, author, and philanthropist” (Direct quote from my invitation to lunch with Carson). Your “compromise” didn’t make the situation any better. In fact, it merely added to the cowardice of the College’s reaction. Perhaps you need to read what you did in black and white: You invited someone with an apparent agenda to marginalize gay and feminist Scots and decided it would be okay as long as everyone promised not to bring up the pink elephant in the room. Shame on you.
Now, let me talk about my role in this disaster. I should have been more persistent and vocal. I should have organized a day without women. I should have rallied people to boycott the talk. Instead, I was passive. I was complicit. I’ve let my students down, especially those who may see me as a role model. Students, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I realize that many of you were hurt by Carson’s visit and I feel responsible because I should have done more. I should have protected you. I’ve learned my lesson about being complicit and quiet. I’ll never again stand on the sidelines while the College invites a bully to campus.
The damage is done, and I’m in my office licking my wounds. So, what’s to be done now? First, a public apology is in order. You’ve hurt many Scots with your actions. You should say you are sorry. Next, you should make it right. I suggest one way to make amends is to state publicly and in no uncertain terms that Alma College is an ally to the LGBTQIA community, that we support marriage equality, and that we’re feminist (Yes, you have to use the f-word.). Don’t use euphemisms in your statement like you’ve done in the past. Although I believe that you never intended to hurt anyone, good intentions and doing the right thing are different. It’s not too late to do the right thing.
Dr. Brandi Stupica
Assistant Professor of Psychology