I am hereby skipping my morning run to write a brief response to Professor Rouse's Feb. 8 letter.
Respect for All Involved
I appreciate Professor Rouse very much, and I'm sure I would appreciate meeting and getting to know Professor Rosen, too. I would also love to meet and learn from the Princeton students who walked out of the class.
Intent vs. Effect
No matter the age or experience of a professor (or whether their intention is "good" or "evil"), it is important to continue to investigate how the content and tone of a class impacts white and black students differently (not to mention all the other colors). It is best not to judge whether deep in his heart Rosen had a malicious intent. It does not matter. The point remains that the effect of his words can still be harmful. It lowers the level of discourse and moves beyond intellectual discomfort into an area that can only be described as personal assault, even though the injuries are not visible on the surface of the skin.
Context is Important
It is also probably not a good idea to dismiss the students' response by demoting it to the level of "feelings." All human beings feel things, and those feelings are the synthesis of complex experience, thought, and an emotional understanding of the wider context of our lives. Just as it's important to understand the context of the professor's speech, it is also important to understand the context of a country whose young people are baffled, confused, and deeply troubled by the treatment of black people in particular, and the apparent apathy of professors to address or even acknowledge it as a legitimate issue. Students may not have the words or fully formed arguments for it, but they know it isn't right.
The Role of Academic Institutions
I agree that academic institutions are the place where these discussions should happen. They are also a microcosm or ideal of what the country should aspire to. That is why it's important to have a level of respect, dignity, and decorum in these discussions. We all know that personal insults can shut down a conversation. Universities should investigate how discussion and discovery can be opened up. As Jeff Bezos ‘86 said to my graduating class in 2010, it is our responsibility to be both smart and kind.
All Causes Are Valid, But Some Causes Are Personal
It is also not fair to demand why the students did not walk out when another idea or community was denigrated. I agree that it may be because a certain issue is more alarming and obviously a matter of urgent concern. I don't feel bad for the students who walked out. I feel strengthened by their courage. When all is said and done, I hope they can sit down and put words and arguments to their feelings, so that the older generation (sorry...) may have a window into new and interesting perspectives that have the power to change the world.
Waqas Jawaid '10