Like many of my classmates, I was surprised and disappointed to hear of the recent claims leveled against Professor Charles Bu of the math department by Professor Thomas Cushman of the sociology department. Headlines of allegations of communism and disloyalty seem more at place in a Cold War movie than our bucolic little campus.
To be clear, this article is not meant as a personal attack on either party, nor is it meant to champion or condemn any ideology. It is not meant to elicit apologies forcefully or to shame or victimize any person or group of people. Rather, it is meant to survey student reactions, continue the discussion and hopefully promote the peaceful and respectful coexistence of different opinions.
Some students may be wondering why this developing story has caused the response from Asian and Asian American students that it has. However for many students, myself included, the connection is a very personal one. For many students of Chinese descent, the reason that we are here in the United States in the first place is because our families faced persecution at the hands of the Communist Party.
Thus, statements like the one Cushman released show a monolithic view of Chinese students — that all must fall into the same political category based on ethnicity alone. It is because of this historical and emotional gravitas that many students simply can not see the statements as just flippant charges.
One student I spoke to who asked to remain anonymous noted, “Personally speaking, my parents and their generation have extremely emotional connections to that time period in China, so accusations from someone who never experienced what they [the Communist Party] did is incredibly disrespectful.”
Claire Tam ’15, a political science major, built upon this by adding, “As someone who studies marginalized populations as well as a student of Asian descent, I find Professor Cushman’s remarks to be very triggering. We can see that throughout history the culture of intolerance and distrust has very real consequences.”
This is not just an issue that affects one demographic however. We all should be concerned with the matter at hand. Some students of Asian descent find the prospect that they may be viewed differently by professors on the basis of race unsettling. Most students, however, are worried about the effect of this particular conflict on our community as a whole.
Melodie Ha ’15 noted, “[This] has made Wellesley into a place where people do not feel comfortable or safe anymore. For professors like Bu, it has suddenly become a hostile work environment. Moreover, it is also a hostile environment for some students who want to learn.”
According to another student I interviewed, such confrontational statements made against another member of the community by a professor have made students decrease their faith in professors in general. Another student questioned whether she would have to wonder if she was being viewed differently by professors on the basis of her ethnicity, a prospect that had never occurred to her before but now will always follow her.
Yet another student noted, “Wellesley isn’t just an academic institution — many of us live on campus, so it doubles as a home. It’s especially harmful that the atmosphere of intolerance occurs here because we have to live in that space.”
If we as students must be “accountable to the community for our actions” under the Honor Code should not all members of the community be as well? The legality of Cushman’s statements is clear; we live in a nation protected by freedom of speech and so he is well within his legal rights to speak as he wishes.
However, statements meant to defame another person or group of people are completely inappropriate in the professional and academic sphere.
Although the statements may not have been intended to be malicious, it is important for us as academic leaders to use our freedom of speech responsibly and in a way that reflects our values of “honor, integrity and respect.” We can only hope that the parties’ eagerly anticipated joint statement can clarify the past few weeks and reaffirm dedication to these core values.
Although an earlier statement released on Monday through College Announcements suggests that perhaps a more positive dialogue is developing, there are still many more conversations that need to be had. The College’s greatest strength is the diversity of our student body and faculty. Wellesley is an institution at which all views and all opinions are equal and valid, a privilege that is unfortunately denied to many in other places in the world.
Condemning others for their beliefs is a blatant violation of this academic sanctity, and we simply can not remain idle. A culture of exclusivity has absolutely no place here at Wellesley. In the words of Ha, “[It] is just unacceptable. If Wellesley expects Chinese people, let alone any minority, to feel safe on this campus, then some serious changes need to be made.”