Tonight at Amherst College at 8 p.m. there is A Conversation with Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Tickets are required. No bags allowed. Only Amherst students, staff, and faculty are permitted to attend. Amherst College Republicans and Young Americas Foundation are the co-sponsors.
Announcement of the event set off the usual panic and demagoguery, the kind that happens at small, private, liberal-arts colleges that pride themselves on the illusions of tolerance. Amherst being the poster boy (or, poster zie?) for such, the school was already in a roil from national reaction to the release of its very woke “Common Language Guide” (read Maddy Kearn’s report for NRO).
The ruckus prompted wise-guy comments (over “packaging”) by two students on Amherst Republicans’ GroupMe, which in turn launched its own ruckus: Irate Student Government officials took action to force the GOP leaders to step down (read Greg Piper’s report in the College Fix), which is considered an attempt to de facto disband Amherst College Republicans.
Could April have been better scripted for the school’s uber-sensitive types? There has been much pearl-clutching on the campus, and yesterday, in an editorial in The Amherst Student — titled “On Power and Privilege” — there was much consternation over the uproars, and about Political Agent Sessions:
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s visit serves as a culmination of these conversations. This is not to say that these conversations are new, but merely dusted-off centuries-old issues of power that have prevailed in this institution. In his role as attorney general, Jeff Sessions was a political agent who perpetuated xenophobia, emboldened perpetrators of sexual violence, impeded equal employment, supported mass incarceration and opposed the rights of LGBT+ persons dutifully. Now, we must grapple with the power and privilege he represents. We must consider how to best utilize these events to motivate the growth of our campus culture towards a tighter-knit, more-respectful community.
As for his visit, the strategy of liberals on campus has been to buy all the tickets and force the former AG to speak to chairs. Sophomore Olivia Geiger opined in The Amherst Student that the image of a lonely Sessions’s session had its appeal:
My instinct was to not attend because that’s what most other liberal-minded people on campus were planning on doing. That seemed like the answer of how to dissent, and there is something viscerally pleasing to the image of such a slimy man speaking to an empty room.
However, I then realized that the room wouldn’t be empty. It would be full (at least partially) with all the people on campus who invited him here — the people who sent the hateful messages in the Amherst College Republican GroupMe. These are people whom we don’t always notice on such a liberal campus, but people who are very much here and working to unravel many of the beliefs valued by the college and its students.
What to do, what to do? We’re not sure of Ms. Geiger’s plans this evening, but it seems that there will be attendees. Not likely among them, though, will be Amherst president Carolyn “Biddy” Martin, who cast Sessions’s visit as itself a threat to the First Amendment. Per a report in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Martin sees the event’s intentions as cynical, and an attempt to reinforce the conservative perception of intolerance dictating on campuses:
The appearance of Sessions — whose record on race, civil rights, immigration and criminal justice has drawn widespread criticism from the left — is already courting some controversy. In an email to campus last Thursday, college President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin said that the college “has responsibility for security, as it always must, and has decided that the event will be open only to Amherst College faculty, staff, and students.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that freedom of speech is being used today by some in a concerted and cynical way to attack higher education institutions as intolerant,” Martin wrote. “I believe we owe it to ourselves, despite cynical efforts to put us in a defensive posture, to protect the right to expression, even or especially when it hurts to do so, as long as there is no imminent threat of violence or incitement to it.”
Amherst College Republicans leader Robert Barasch, turning his attention from the student-government efforts to nuke his group, nevertheless found the time and manners to invite President Martin, who prefers the familiar, to the Sessions talk. Last Friday afternoon he emailed her (subject line: “Update on Sessions Visit”):
Sorry I wrote the email on word, and forgot to copy it on this email. LOL!
We would be honored to have you come to the speech on Wednesday. But we understand if your schedule does not allow for it. If you want to come, I will assure you front row seats.
I spoke with AG Sessions just now, and he plans on speaking about why Trump was elected in 2016, Trump’s plans for helping the middle class in America, and Sessions will also talk about the Mueller report.
I really hope you can make it. It seems like it will be a very interesting event.
All the best,
Before that day’s close of business, she responded by email:
Why would you think I would come?
Biddy, he was only being polite. And we’ll see tonight how politely the former attorney general, and all his “power and privilege,” are treated by chairs empty and full. By the way, the cost for the drama that passes for “college experience” is not cheap. Amherst reports that for the forthcoming 2019-2020 academic year, tuition, room and board, health care, books, personal expenses, and travel will range from $78,882 to $81,332. Which one may guess can be paid for by those with . . . power and privilege.