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Backing for Princeton Scholar, Subject of Threats

June 5, 2017
 
 

Scholars are expressing their support for Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University. The activist and co-planner of the March women’s strike recently canceled planned public talks, saying she received hateful messages and death threats for calling President Trump a “racist, sexist megalomaniac” in a commencement speech at Hampshire College. The American Association of University Professors, which has previously expressed concern over online targeting of academics, released a statement Friday called “Princeton Must Speak Up for Academic Freedom.”

“We join with others in condemning the wave of intimidation and threats that have swept campuses and the country this year,” including Taylor, AAUP said. “We have recently seen a surge in politically motivated, targeted harassment against academics, especially those teaching ethnic and gender studies. We call on the administration of Princeton to speak out clearly and forcefully in defense of the rights of faculty and students, generally, and Taylor, specifically.”

Princeton previously acknowledged the threats against Taylor, but noted she is currently on sabbatical and not on campus. A spokesperson referred a request for comment on the AAUP statement to an expression of solidarity from Taylor’s department colleagues at Princeton, which has since been signed by more than 6,000 other supporters.

“We denounce these acts of racial, gender and sexual violence and the efforts to intimidate and harass Taylor. Her ideas deserve the widest possible audience, free from threat or intimidation,” that statement says. Taylor is a “brilliant and innovative scholar of inequality, segregation and American public policy. Her meticulous, award-winning research on the history and politics of black America is a model, and Taylor has earned the widespread respect of both her peers and her students for her painstaking scholarship, passionate teaching and advocacy for a better world rooted in both. We support her wholeheartedly.”

More than 1,000 members of the Hampshire campus and others have also signed another open letter condemning hate speech and threats directed at Taylor. Noting that the attacks on her are not isolated, the letter expresses regret for what she’s faced as a result of being an invited speaker. “As is expected of any commencement speaker, Taylor addressed with incisiveness, wisdom and rigor the times and world into which a college sends its graduates. Her speech took on this task -- a daunting one today -- with courage, car, and grace.”

Subsequent “threats of violence and the racist, misogynist, homophobic language that accompanies them, are not simply matters of ‘political disagreement,’” it reads. “These threats and this language constitute hate speech, explicitly designed to terrorize and to silence those posing critical questions about the world we live in. In this particular context, they are also a violation of Taylor’s rights to intellectual freedom and free speech, and the rights of our entire community to the same.”

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