photo by Oscar Montenegro
By Hannah Grossman and Oscar Montenegro
Hundreds of students gathered on Brooklyn College’s campus Thursday to call for the firing of a conservative professor who wrote a satirical blog post that defended Judge Brett Kavanaugh and appeared to accept sexual assault as acceptable for teens.
Mitchell Langbert, a Brooklyn College professor in the School of Business, posted what he described as a “Swiftian” blog post, centered on controversial Kavanaugh confirmation process.
Students were outraged especially over one line that appeared to undermine the seriousness of sexual assault. Langbert wrote in the now-deleted post, “If someone did not commit sexual assault in high school, then he is not a member of the male sex.”
“If you believe sexual assault is a normal male behavior then you should not be involved in education,” said Molly Clarke, 20, a student protester who was holding a sign that read “you know you’re wrong, Mitch.”
Langbert compared his blog post to Jonathan Swift. Swift was a satirical writer. “If what he said had a satirical tone I think it was enormously in poor taste,” a student named Tyler Adams, 31, said.
There were some students who believed a professor should not be fired for what was essentially a joke. “You can’t fire someone for a bad joke,” said a male nursing student, who Brooklyn News Service is not naming.
Destiny Gabin, a freshman at Brooklyn College, said that if what Langbert wrote was political commentary on Kavanaugh, then the professor should be given a pass. “If that’s what he meant then I don’t think he should be fired,” she said.
Langbert himself maintained it would be ridiculous to believe he tolerates violence.
“I do not favor violence or coercion or any kind of assault. Who would favor that? Why would anyone think that anyone would go around favoring that,” he told Brooklyn News Service, in a Wednesday interview.
“It’s a bizarre deduction that someone would favor assault.” Langbert says he believes the justice system has become a “travesty.”
Questions were raised about the limits of free speech. As a public institution, CUNY (which includes Brooklyn College) strongly embraces the protections of the First Amendment and college officials have asserted professors are free to write anything that does not provoke violence or unfairly damage someone’s reputation.
Halfway through the protest, a male student who was not a part of the protesters began asking questions about the point of the event. Some of the protesters began yelling at him to join the crowd. As the student started walking down the stairs, one of the protestors walked towards him and placed her sign in front of his face to hide him. A woman in the crowd started yelling at the protestor for doing that. The situation began get out of control as protesters had heated exchanges, especially targeting the male student who had been questioning the female protesters.
Later some protesters began screaming at the male student, saying he was demeaning survivors of sexual violence.
“You are the ones yelling at me and cursing at me,” the male student shouted. Apparently the male asked one or more of the women if they themselves had been victims of sexual attacks. One of the women yelled, “You can’t touch people and ask if you were sexually assaulted. Why are you asking us if we were sexually assaulted?”
Members of the faculty intervened and de-escalated the situation and the protest continued.
One person who opposed the protest was a male Christian, who said, “When I saw the provost say they weren’t going to fire him, I was happy,” he said. “It’s like, are we going to consider everything hate speech?”
When an administrator from the Women’s Center approached the students and asked if he could have this discussion with her in her office, to avoid creating another heated standoff, he said, “We are on campus, and I feel we should be able to have discussions about this situation.”
Another student jumped in, saying, “We are trying to have discussions without yelling at each other.”
Lambert may have been pleased with the heated back-and-forth in front of the library.
“The world is full of people with different ideas and if you have a mental breakdown every time you hear someone who doesn’t agree with you,” he said, “then you’re in for a bumpy ride in life because when you get out of college no one cares whether you agree with them or not.”