SHOCC’s Tactician

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With all the coverage and virulent commentary on SHOCC, Bwog decided to talk with SHOCC member Anthony Walker to find out what the organization really stands for.

B&W: Your web site defines a hate crime as, “any and all forms of speech, writing, literature, or expression that stereotypes, marginalizes, denigrates, and isolates an individual or group based on an aspect of his or her identity. Hate crimes challenge an individual or group’s sense of self, safety, and belonging within their community. Hate crimes on campus deny the safe space to which all members of a university are entitled. Hate crimes on campus make Columbia a dangerous place to be.”

When a hate incident is defined by anything that may be considered offensive to someone’s identity, doesn’t that make it possible to censor any speech at all?

Walker: I don’t actually feel 100% confident answering this question for the group. I am by no means an expert in hate speech, and I wouldn’t want to say something or represent the group’s stance in a manner that isn’t absolutely accurate. I will say this though: the actions that SHOCC has protested and responded to this year are clearly instances of hate crimes. The question of what constitutes free speech in the instances of “hate” that we stand strongly against are not at all ambiguous or arguably an exercise of freedom of speech. I definitely agree with you and think that SHOCC would agree as well. The aim of the group is not to censor dissenting opinions or unpopular beliefs; our aim is to make our campus a safe and inviting space in which we all feel comfortable. This might not be exactly what you were looking for, but I hope I brought some clarity to the issue.

A lot of people are troubled by SHOCC’s tactics. The name alone suggests that its methods are confrontational, and necessarily in opposition to the administration. Given that you’ve had a number of recent successes, do you believe Bollinger and the Columbia community are necessarily opposed to diversity?

I’ve heard this criticism a lot– that SHOCC’s methods are confrontational, but I think when you look more deeply at the tactics we are using, they are not in the least bit confrontational. The three days of action that took place last week involved an awareness campaign in the form of flyering and creating “safe space” circles on Low Plaza. I found the “safe space” circles to be extremely creative because in a sense it became a visual representation of what we are asking from the administration, a more safe and inclusive campus. What gets lost in the way that this campaign has been editorialized is that while all of this direct action is taking place, the group is still constantly in meetings with administrators to work through these issues. The direct action we have decided to take is a direct response to our feeling ignored and further marginalized by the administration’s decision to ignore our concerns. We do not stand in direct opposition to the administration and understand that we need the allied support of the administration to see the better Columbia we envision to take form. We recognize and appreciate the recent successes we’ve had with the administration but realize that there is yet much work to be done. The University is not opposed to diversity– we find that it is simply a matter of priority and working on a different timeline. SHOCC is pushing to accelerate that timeline and do it in a way that will be beneficial to the entire student body but focuses on moving students generally pushed towards the margins towards the center of debate. I think the strength of the name speaks to the seriousness of the group and the dedication we have to eradicating the persistence of hate on our campus.

Following up on the last question, what is anti-oppression training? It seems like the vast majority of students here, minority and not, really support diversity on campus (although, as a white male, I could be misreading this). Am I unwittingly oppressing you?

I think this is a good question and one of the demands that is met with the most hesitation from community members. I think what turns people off is the phrasing “anti-oppression” training which leads many to believe that the focus is on reforming the oppressive masses to be more understanding of minority students’ concerns- that is not the aim of the proposed training. The name of the training is not important, we as a group are more concerned about the substance of the training. Anti-oppression, diversity, whatever… but what we really envision this training to deal with is addressing the power of privilege and understanding what it is like to be a member of a marginalized community. Diversity training usually takes the form of a session targeted at being tolerant of our differences and proves to be extremely ineffective. I think what we would really like to see is a training that engages everyone to understand how one can receive unrealized benefits due to the color of their skin, the socioeconomic status they were born into, their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs, etc. These are things that all people need to understand and work on, marginalized and majority alike. It’s not about finger-pointing and labeling people as oppressors– it’s about creating a culture of being understanding and aware of our differences to create a community that knows how to engage comfortably and respectfully with one another.

What, for SHOCC, would constitute a more balanced core curriculum? What would you add (and why) and what you drop (and why)? Specificity would really be appreciated. Also, since we can’t study every culture, western or non-western, which cultures would you select from (and again, why)?

This actually may be one of the biggest confusions about what we are advocating be done to the core– it’s not really about adding or dropping as much as it’s about changing the manner in which it is taught to be more inclusive of other cultures. A more balanced core curriculum would not take a massive overhaul, and that is not what we’re advocating for. The core is western civilization 101, and there is no problem with that, as long as it acknowledges the cross-cultural exchange that took place and does not give only western culture credit for advancements in thought, the arts, and politics. We think that this is extremely important because it sets up a dichotomy of all other cultures being inferior to western civilization.

What do you think of the matzo-swastika incident, and what should be done in response?

It’s really unfortunate that these types of incidents continue to persist on our campus. I think it just speaks to the very culture that SHOCC is trying to change. In the absence of being able to identify the perpetrators I really feel that education around these issues is the only way to really respond. Yes, the university should take a stance against this incident verbally, but that also needs to be backed up by some show of support in the form of an awareness forum. This is happening all too frequently.

Why do you think criticism against SHOCC has been so virulent, and do you think most people on campus agree with you? Are most white/straight/general majority students consciously or unconsciously racist?

I think that criticism of SHOCC has been so virulent because people don’t have a clear understanding of exactly what the group stands for. That is partially the fault of the group, but some responsibility has to be placed with the community as well. Our meetings are open. We hand out pamphlets to any and everyone willing to take one. I won’t make a guesstimate on whether or not most people agree with the aims of the group, because I believe that most people sincerely have little understanding of our concerns. I don’t at all believe that most white/straight/general majority students are racist consciously or unconsciously, but I do believe that it is unfortunate for one, let alone six, racist incidents to occur on our campus. Who is to say that the perpetrators are all white/straight/general majority students? The aim of SHOCC is targeted at making this a campus that all people feel safe and comfortable as members of. Our goals transcend race and the changes we would like to see implemented though would affect most noticeably marginalized students, they would be beneficial for all. Its also important to notice that racism is not the driving force of this movement, hate is.

Bwog sez: Walker answered our questions with honesty and respect. We expect the same from the comments.

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  1. I'm Impressed  

    Such moral indigation, Bwog. But, as you wish.

    I don't agree with Walker on every point, but this strikes me as a very reasonable and sincere account of SHOCC's goals. If their public face weren't so offputting—the constant press releases, the black-clad cultish assemblies at Low—they'd have a lot more luck with this agenda.

  2. appreciative  

    Thanks for this interview, bwog. I'm glad you're taking SHOCC seriously since so many people have not been.

  3. A Bit Confused  

    Walker did indeed shed light on SHOCC's position, but I'm still unclear about its position on the core curriculum. We hear a lot about what SHOCC's position is not, but only that it should be "more inclusive of other cultures." What does that mean in terms of actual curricular change?

  4. balance is nice  

    Well, that eradicates a few of my misgivings about the group. It'd be nice if their materials (the eight demands, etc.) were a little clearer so that the average student isn't left thinking "minority supremacy".

  5. i would still like to know:  

    1. what they mean by "safe space." shouldn't the whole campus be "safe space"? if what they mean is circles of activist students on the plaza, what do they want from the administration?

    2. specifically, how would they change how the core is taught? and BC's core?

    3. what specifically would anti-oppression training be like? who would lead it?

    • Stephen  

      I agree with that, shouldn't the entire campus be a safe space?

      • bws  

        the problem with making the entire campus a "safe space" is that it's entirely impracticable. events will continue notwithstanding even the most draconian of crackdowns on free expression among the student body. there will always be racists among us, and if shocc doesn't realize this, it will have to reevaluate its naive idealism before anyone is able to take it seriously.

        moreover, shocc must still answer the question of why it's desirable to limit free discourse overall. their structuralist interpretations of "power" are troubling when they run up against a millian discourse about the marketplace of ideas. shocc's ideals are already embraced by the majority of the student body; it's unlikely that transmitting ideas about "power" etc. are going to be likely to transform the opinions of those who already swim against the tide of overwhelming public opinion. shocc seems intent on converting the minority who don't subscribe to campus' majoritarian leftism, and one wonders if the price- censorship, extra (and redundant for most) classes, the alteration of columbia's treasured academic traditions- is worth it.

  6. thanks!  

    A very good, productive interview.

    BUT it is still disconcerting that that Anthony had to somewhat duck the very first, fundamental question about the group's problematic (to say the very least) definition of "hate crime." Why is there such a grey area about this central term of their cause? I get his point that this hasn't been a huge issue in practice so far (although, frankly, that's debatable: reasonable people might very well disagree about whether the stupid conservative group's anti-affirmative action bake sale rises to the seriousness of being a "hate crime," for instance). But, SHOCC should be clear on its core principles and target.

    So it's heartening that Anthony doesn't stand fully behind their published definition. But, the fact remains: why is SHOCC as a group still standing behind that way-way-too-broad definition? And how could they have thought to even word it like that in the first place?

  7. quiqui  

    Great reporting, bwog. Walker does indeed sound very reasonable and approachable... which flies in the face of how shocc has been presented to us so far (Nell Geiser's spec columns, that other crazy spec columnist McKean--not actually sure if he's related to shocc but he's always screaming about the core and how much we all suck in general--, the fliers, the pageantry of the protests, etc.) I think that what Walker is saying here is acceptable to most students, and that if this were the manner in which shocc were indeed being publicized overall, kids would pick up the message and get behind it. The problem is that his attitude and approach hasn't been the norm so far at all, and that's why shocc has been ineffective at reaching students. A little less shocking and a little more talking would go a long way.

  8. bw  

    most of these answers feel like deliberate cop-outs. we're still left doubting how a hate crime is definable, wondering why anti-oppression training wouldn't involve "finger pointing" if its aim is exclusively to "identify privilege" (which, supposedly, many at this university benefit from), and we still don't know how it's to be acknowledged in cc or other core classes that western civilization has been influenced or instigated by others (I hope this doesn't involve reading voluminous, tiring, and ultimately still very controversial accounts like "black athena"...in terms of other approaches, has walker not noticed how cc mandates the reading of muslim andalusian scholars alongside aquinas in terms of the debate on faith and reason?) shocc still needs to sit down and hammer out these proposals more concretely rather than mounting spectacle-pageant protests on the steps. the student body would much rather see a cogent, well-written editorial piece delineating the specific changes desired than endure vague demands spouted through megaphones.

  9. um  

    "safe space" isn't a made up term.

    all it means is that in a multicultural university, where people are regularly making belittling, naive, condescending or stupid remarks, it's good to have physical places on campus where that doesn't happen.

    given that racist comments are regularly scrawled in bathrooms, on people's doors, written in textbooks, etc etc etc, it makes sense to me that there be places on campus that were retreats away from that kind of behavior.

    i agree with most of the posters here that most Columbians aren't big-R Racist. But almost all of them do make stupid comments periodically, and it's good to have places where that doesn't happen.

  10. um2  

    a key comment i left out:

    very generally (and i'm totally making some untrue assumptions here)

    there are more students in any given majority than in the corresponding minorities. and so people of color have to deal with more stupid comments per (day/week/class/person) than white people. similarly, glbtq people encounter more homophobia than straight people encounter anti-straightness (if that's a word).

    if people in these various minorities feel like they can't be in the dorms/classrooms/halls/Low without dealing with this shit, I understand the need for at least a little space where they can be entirely free of it for a bit, before coming back into the midst of it.

  11. Anti-SHOCC student  

    "I will say this though: the actions that SHOCC has protested and responded to this year are clearly instances of hate crimes."

    Good start, bwog. But you need to follow up at statements like this. I agree with comment 6, that some of the "Hate crimes" are not hate crimes at all. The C4 anti-affirmative action bakesale is a great example of this. The point of the bake sale was to show the racism inherent in the affirmative action process. It might have been silly, it might have been very unoriginal, but it surely is not a hate crime. Or is it a hate crime to disagree with affirmative action? Perhaps future interviews with Shocc members might question their inclusion of this as a hate crime. I think many people have the same problem with SHOCC that I do; that they are use the term hate crime way too loosely, and in general are seeking if anything, more racially-based programs in housing, group space, and curriculums.

  12. in response to anti-shocc  

    Did you pose any of these questions to the students who were out on Low holding discussions? I did. The 6 hate crimes that they have been referring to do not include the C4 bake sale, but are very specific incidents of graffiting (swastikas in butler, john jay, lerner, etc).

    I encourage everyone to end unproductive speculation and try talking to some of these kids yourself.

    • Anti-shocc  

      I did pose this question to the students on low plaza. They told me it was an example of the racist students on campus , and felt threatened by the implications of the event. Heck, the protesters from 2004 were pissed off at that, some jokes at ORGO night, and a cartoon in the FED,that paragon of good taste. I still don't really understand why anyone gives in to these punks. BY THE WAY, they have been talking about 7 (not 6) hate crimes, and their old website (the one with the background map illustrating "safe spaces" vs "hate crime locations" ) listed the C4 bake sale as a hate crime. Also, they include a bottle throwing incident from St. A's, which I personally would describe as a "drunken preppy fuck" crime rather than a "hate crime" but thats neither here nor there. Its not unproductive speculation to assume that any dissent from their race based diversity paradigm is a thoughtcri-whoops I mean hatecrime.

      • re: anti-shocc  

        enough with the hyperbole, anti-shocc. it precisely IS an unproductive speculation to assume that any dissent, etc. At that point you're left unable to engage with the fact that many, many students on campus (in shocc and not) are troubled by a series of hateful vandalism incidents. nobody is trying to censor you, impose their will, or dictate what you think, but regardless of whether I agree with all of shocc's proposals (I don't), I think they've made a good faith effort to suggest ways to improve things around here.

        • re: re: anti-shocc  

          Maybe Anti-shocc is being a bit hyperbolic, in so far as this issue hasn't come to a head yet in quite such stark terms. But he is absolutely right that there's a for-now latent but very troubling muddle-headedness in SHOCC's professed understanding of what constitutes a "hate crime." They've been throwing around that very serious term way too cavalierly and without any sort of reasonable definitional criteria.

          That problem is not something to scoff at, and in so doing, dismiss the commenter anti-shocc's completely valid complaints.

          At this point, if SHOCC were to gain mass approval and become the de-facto leader in rectifying issues related to diversity and discrimination on campus, it's not clear that they would do a good job, since their understanding of "hate crimes" is fundamentally flawed.

  13. hi  

    Though Walker knows what he's talking about, the fact remains that the definition the group is using for hate crime is far too open-eneded and, if applied, would greatly reduce free speech that is not really hate speech. Just because something may make someone uncomfortable, or make mention of some "aspect of identity" by no means means it is hate speech. And though Walker is correct about the 6 specific incidents (with the possible exception of the bottle being thrown, which may have been more just a "douchebag crime"), the group should use a definition that reflects what the have chosen to protest, the clear hate crimes, rather than a sweeping definition that is going to get non-racists unfairly caught in "hate crime" accusations.

  14. re-----anti-shocc  

    my objection to anti-shocc is precisely that he's equating shocc's lack of precision about the definition of hate crime (i encourage anyone here who objects to theirs to try to formulate a better one) with censorship, thought control, and oppression. as a group and individuals, i've always found them approachable, inclusive, and open to discussion. these proposals are a starting place for campus discussion, because the administration has been pretty bad about addressing these issues.

    i guess i just don't understand why this scares people shitless. hence all those old comments about "decline of western civilization."

    • anti shocc  

      The reason I'm equating SHOCC using the term "hate crime" to refer to anything they disagree with that deals with race with censorship, is that it is stifling free speech. I think there is a sizable percentage (30%+) of columbia students who either oppose affirmative action, or at least see there are serious flaws in race-based admissions. But who, other than the 8 kids in C4, has the balls to say anything publicly on the issue for fear of being called racists or worse (and entirely possible) having SHOCC describe them as having committed a hate crime.

      Perhaps its SHOCC's demands for more race-based housing, admissions, faculty hiring,changes to CC, etc that concerns students such as myself. http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cssn/shocc/demands.html

      If they want more "diversity" and tolerence, perhaps not seperating themselves in this way from the campus community at large would be a good first step.

      • um, what  

        if you say "i oppose race-based admissions" you're afraid that shocc will come to your door and say you committed a hate crime? come on.

        the problem with the bake sale was the people yelling at black students that they had taken some more deserving white kid's spot, remember? /not/ with the content of the protest.

        • C4 member  

          Thats ridiculous. The Affirmative action bake sale was run by former C4 president Mark Xue, and lasted only a little over an hour before International Socialist Organization members came over and shouted them down. The accusations of white kids yelling at black students that they had taken more deserving students spots did not happen and is news to me. The only, repeat ONLY, people yelling at the event were ISO loonies. As I remember it, C4 only had 2 members there, and both were asian males (which would in itself argue against anyone saying ANYTHING about deserving white students) The protests of two years ago /were/ about the content of the protest, as they said the bake sale was part of the "culture of racism" at Columbia.

  15. damn  

    Chris Kulawik apparently has nothing better to do than troll BWOG.net all day, sad...

  16. My actual name is chris (not kulawik)  

    These are all interesting comments, I think we should all be happy that this isn't nearly as bad as some of the crap people bicker about online.

    I have a completely different criticism (from the previous ones) I've been thinking about lately. If the goal is to engage the --campus community-- to deal with racism, why do SHOCC's lobbying efforts deal with the --administration--? Personally, I think it would be much more profitable to go directly to the students, as opposed to this roundabout lobbying for administrative change.

    Didn't fully justify the point, but I have work to do.

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