Editor’s note: The article is published anonymously out of a request of the two authors due to the hostile response they fear their criticism will meet. However, the authors wish to state, and the editors verify, that one of them is a person of color. The text of the petition they refer to may be found here.
One of our student representatives started the year by saying “welcome to the most inclusive college in the world”, and he was right. The petition against racism, presented by three students on April 29, is a joke, and it is an attempt to hide all the actions that the administration has taken so far, which has made our campus a safe space.
First of all, the preamble of the petition mentions Auckland University, and its incidents of students spraying Nazi graffiti on the walls and threatening to gas an entire lab – all happening on-campus. On top of that, Auckland University did not act. This is in no way comparable to the three “incidents” described in the petition. In Auckland, students threatened to gas a lab. This is what racism is.
The incidents regarding the UVs and the AS are not on the same scale, and moreover, do not in any way show that Sciences Po is not acting to fight against what has been identified as racist or hurtful behaviour. Whether this concerns racist UV chants or the writing of l’Afrique, c’est la France on a whiteboard during an AS party, in both cases, the administration demanded a public apology from the associations and a plan to make sure it would not happen again.
The UV affirmed that they condemned all forms of discrimination and that this includes any ongoing use of offensive chants. And the AS wrote in a post on Facebook, February 22: “ [our] association lies far from such degrading, offensive, and inexcusable language.” Therefore, on the contrary, Sciences Po has been responsive and has ensured that action has been taken through a public apology and a plan for further recourse.
Saying that Sciences Po is not a safe space, with absolutely no data whatsoever, is merely the expression of the vocal minority who feels that these three events are ultimately connected and wishes to show the presence of systemic racism in our university.
To quote a Columbia student, “for racists, a single scary encounter with a black person is enough to prove that black people are generally scary. I would be repeating their mistake if I treated a single racist encounter with a white person as proof that Columbia is generally racist.” Therefore, to say that three events are a characterization of a larger problem is problematic, and at least, disinformation.
While mentioning it, the petition also disregards that Sciences Po already prohibits racism in the article 3 in the Regulation on Student Life. What happens if you are insulted, bullied, or discriminated against by Sciences Po students? The administration will sanction such actions, as racism has no place on our campus. Saying that our institution does nothing is a lie and saying that it “needs to take a concrete action” is a tort to the administration and all their work to advance the well-being of the student body.
We already have a safe space, as there are very few cases of physical bullying and insults, and none which escape proportionate punishment. Coming from personal experience, if you get insulted, bullied, or physically harassed, Sciences Po will take care of you and punish the perpetrator(s). This will also take place if one is a victim of discrimination or racist insults, and the sanctions will be fair.
The description of the last incident where a professor claimed that “Code Noir was created to protect slaves, and that the Holocaust was way worse than slavery” shows how the spirit of the entire petition is dangerous. Note, how the French version ends the sentence with a “d’un point de vue légal”, denoting a judgement on legal, instead of human or ethical, grounds – hopefully not a case of intellectual dishonesty. Then, countering a teacher’s surely well-founded opinion on legal grounds would require debate and research, and only then might anyone try to prove them wrong. While accusing the opposition of racism seems like the easy way to make them shut up, showing one’s beliefs and backing them up with facts is the actual answer.
This part begins to infringe on the ability of students and faculty to engage in academic discourse, perhaps even concerning a topic they have studied their entire lives – something the drafters of the petition have not done. In the example, the teacher was in no way discriminating or insulting anyone. Instead of calling for censorship because of legal arguments, we should engage in debate. Following the drafters’ reasoning, if a Jewish student thought the petition’s analysis of the situation to be wrong, could they not label the drafters as anti-Semitic, and make them stand in front of the very committee which the petition wants to create? This part of the petition reflects its global spirit: if one’s opinion on a sensitive academic topic does not please another, they will draft a petition instead of engaging in debate.
Lastly, creating a Special Committee on Student Conduct implies that the administration is incompetent. This committee might even infringe on freedom of speech. Whether one is a teacher, or more appropriately in what concerns the Committee, a student, one might inevitably face an unpleasant academic thesis – we study politics after all – during one’s lectures, essays, presentations or assignments. Faculty members as well as students of Sciences Po need to be able to freely express themselves – dissociating this from insults – even if the results of their thorough research displease others.
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Cover photo by The Health Psychologist