In the lower frequencies, I also noted the number of those who “liked” particular comments, but did not — perhaps could not — respond or retweet. Often, such a “like” comes from someone in a vulnerable position. -K’eguro Macharia
Graduate students do not have academic freedom.
We are not protected by tenure. We are not protected by university codes on research. We are at the mercy of our committees, and then of a capricious and cliqueish job market. We do not get to intervene in metadiscussion about our fields, because we are presumed not to know enough: not the history, not the various affiliations and friendships, not the flash points.
If the discussion pertains to the specific lot of graduate students, we still damn ourselves by speaking up. In that moment, advocating on behalf of students as a student positions us as peripheral to the main conversation. Later (or, for me right now, simultaneously), it marks us as suppliants rather than peers when we hit the job market. Centering our voices on the issues that harm us most of all foils our careers.
Faculty, please listen to the silences.
I am not going to weigh in on the case of Avital Ronell, found responsible by NYU for sexually harassing her graduate student. I’m going to skirt the content of a letter in Ronell’s defense, written in apparent haste, signed by luminaries of literary theory and then leaked to Brian Leiter’s blog. What we are talking about, have been talking about, are power dynamics between faculty and their graduate students. Especially, for this discussion, in literary theory.
Almost always, the only graduate student cited or included in these discussions is the complainant or a single outspoken graduate student at NYU.
In The New York Times, Zoe Greenberg cites the letter, Diane Davis (faculty), and Dana Bolger (in her capacity as a co-founder of a major Title IX activist movement and senior editor of Feministing, not as a law student).
Without the complainant or Ronell, 2 faculty sources; 1 law student; 0 grad students*
In Vox, Anna North cites the letter and Greenberg.
1 faculty source; 0 grad students
On Facebook, Jacob Denz (alt-ac?) posts about his experience as Ronell’s student.
unclear; 0 grad students
In the Chronicle, Katherine Mangan cites the letter, Davis, Judith Butler (faculty), Brian Leiter (faculty), Joan Wallach Scott (faculty), Slavoj Žižek (faculty), Christina Hoff Sommers (thinktank scholar and former faculty), Rebecca Schuman (alt-ac), Scott H. Greenfield (lawyer), Beatrice Louis (lawyer), Bolger, Dillon Sampson (grad student in Religious Studies), and a petition by Ronell’s “current and former students.” This petition that includes current PhD students and is spearheaded by grad students Elisa Santucci and William Cheung does not appear again. Sampson is not cited in his capacity as a grad student.
6–8 faculty sources (Sommers and petition); 1 alt-ac; 1–2 grad student sources (petition)
In Jezebel, Esther Wang cites Davis, Leiter, Žižek, Ilan Safit (visiting scholar), and Kathy Slade (alt-ac).
4 faculty; 1 alt-ac; 0 grad students
On Bully Bloggers, Lisa Duggan (faculty) cites the letter and Marcia Ochoa (faculty).
3 faculty sources; 0 grad students
On Twitter, Jack Halberstam (faculty) links to Duggan.
2 faculty sources; 0 grad students
“Current grad student who experienced abuse very similar to the Ronell case and this made me physically sick. These people are disgusting.” — tweet from a grad student, no longer public
On Medium, Amy Elizabeth Robinson (alt-ac) cites the letter, Davis, Scott, Žižek, an anonymous Facebook post by a former Ronell student, and her own graduate and visiting fellow experiences.
4 faculty sources; 1 unclear; 1 alt-ac; 0 grad students
In a blog post, Chris Kraus (faculty) discusses the issue.
1 faculty source; 0 grad students
In the Chronicle, Corey Robin (faculty) cites Melissa Gira Grant (non-ac).
1 faculty source; 1 alt-ac; 0 grad students
In the LA Review of Books, Jon Weiner (faculty) cites the letter, Butler, Leiter, Žižek, Emily Apter (faculty), Cynthia Chase (faculty), Jonathan Culler (faculty), John Hamilton (faculty), Barbara Herman (faculty), “Lady Professor” commenting on the NYTimes piece (faculty), Gayatri Spivak (faculty), an unnamed professor, and Sam Weber (faculty).
14 faculty sources; 0 grad students
In Inside Higher Ed, Colleen Flaherty cites the letter, Butler, Duggan, Robin, Leonard Cassuto (faculty), Kathleen Fitzpatrick (faculty), James J. Marino (faculty), Robinson, and Wang.
7 faculty sources; 1 alt-ac; 0 grad students
“Right, nah, I’m fucking sorry but this queer non-binary queen has something to say. I am absolutely disgusted and dismayed at those I consider my academic inspirations, Lisa Duggan, Jack Halberstam, Judith Butler, and other queer theorists coming out in support of Avital Ronell.” — since-deleted tweet from a grad student, August 20, 2018
In The New Inquiry, K’eguro Macharia (outside the US academy, but former faculty?) cites the letter, Butler, Duggan, and Halberstam. He notices the silences.
5 faculty sources; 0 grad students
There’s back-and-forth in my hallway. Is it worth talking with our faculty about this all? Sending one of us alone? Would they even have that conversation with us at all?
Alums reach out to see if they can help us. Help — because they realize that this matters to and affects current students.
I have critiqued the stars
that were in the academy
and which you were probably idolising for decades
they were untouchable
so protected and so wrong
— since-deleted tweet from a grad student
In The New Republic, Josephine Livingstone (alt-ac) cites the letter, Duggan, Halberstam, Kraus, the anonymous Facebook post by a former student of Ronell’s, and Andrea Long Chu (NYU grad student).
4 faculty sources; 1 unclear; 1 alt-ac; 1 grad student
In a blog post, Natalia Cecire (faculty) cites the letter, Butler, Duggan, Halberstam, Macharia, Sara Ahmed (faculty), Lee Edelman (faculty), Emma Heaney (faculty), Marisol LeBrón (faculty), Annie McClanahan (faculty), C. J. Pascoe (faculty), Juana María Rodríguez (faculty), Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (faculty), her own experience with undergrads, and Chu.
14 faculty sources; 1 grad student
In The Cut, Amanda Arnold cites Butler, Duggan, Halberstam, Kraus, Robin, JK (faculty), Livingstone, Chu, and — finally, more than one! — Aylon Cohen (grad student) and Séan Richardson (grad student).
6 faculty sources; 1 alt-ac; 3 grad students
I’m allowed by various grads to share reactions and private conversations, but only anonymously. We’re worried about retaliation. I’m leaving my own responses out there — elsewhere — anyways.
At punctum books, Dr. Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei (alt-ac?) gives an account of having been Ronell’s graduate student.
0 grad students
On her own blog, Melonie Fullick (grad student) cites Ahmed, Butler, Wiener, Joshua Clover (faculty), JK (faculty), Robinson, and Chelsie May (grad student). Fullick’s piece is shared less widely.
5 faculty sources; 1 alt-ac; 2 grad students
In The Guardian, Laura Kipnis (faculty) covers the case.
1 faculty source; 0 grad students
In The New Yorker, Masha Gessen cites the letter, Butler, Duggan, Kraus, Leiter, Robin, Žižek, Jeremy Fernando (faculty), the anonymous Facebook post by a former student, and Chu.
8 faculty sources; 1 unclear; 1 grad student
Plenty of ink. Many cite no grad students at all apart from the complainant — who is no longer a grad student. Outside of those, if we omit the two parties in the case, then at best people are citing two faculty for every one grad student. Elsewhere, it’s fourteen to one.
In total, the grad student sources are the collective signers of the ignored petition, Andrea Long Chu, unrelated religious studies student Dillon Sampson, Aylon Cohen, Séan Richardson, and two students inserted by Melonie Fullick into the conversation — herself and Chelsie May. Chu appears in four different pieces, wedged into the role of Speaker for All Upset Grads. Scapegoat for All Unruly Grads. Meanwhile, Elisa Santucci and William Cheung’s individual names never appear at all.
I count approximately forty different faculty.
We know our situation and why it is so hard for us to speak on this. But we have voices. On all sides of this we’re feeling angry, upset, scared, betrayed, exchanged, sick, erased, shut out, and hyperaware of the divisions emerging. We have whispered conversations in hallways, all-caps outbursts in private messages, texts back and forth full of concern and affection, counsel for one another on not engaging with the prominent scholars.
Or less prominent.
Or even any faculty.
We use Twitter in no small part because when we ignore that counsel, it lets us actually interact with those whose words are given priority, unlike the closed decorum of Facebook. We’re writing around the edges, reading your words, arguing in the quote-tweets, glossing the margins. Are you aware you’re speaking to us? Aware that we’re listening /in? Aware that we see ourselves at the bottom of this all?
What questions do you have for us?
*The numbers are going to be imperfect. I have a dissertation to write.
**Anonymous screenshots shared with the permission