Syracuse University, with a record of censoring offensive speech, is defending a professor’s social media posts about the 9/11 terrorist attacks that many found offensive.
In a Twitter thread that is now private, Jenn M. Jackson wrote that Americans “have to be more honest” about the nature of the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001. “It was an attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalistic systems that America relies upon to wrangle other countries into passivity,” she claimed. “It was an attack on the systems many white Americans fight to protect.”
Jackson, who uses the pronouns she/they, is an assistant professor of political science whose area of research is “black politics with a focus on group threat, gender and sexuality, political behavior, and social movements,” according to her biography on the university’s website.
“White Americans might not have really felt true fear before 9/11 because they never felt what it meant to be accessible, vulnerable, and on the receiving side of military violence at home,” another post read. “But, white Americans’ experiences are not a stand-in for ‘America.'”
Jackson’s remarks triggered widespread anger on social media, with many accusing her of racism and legitimizing terrorism. Broadcast journalist Megyn Kelly, a Syracuse graduate with a degree in political science, called out Jackson and referred the professor’s remarks to the university, “you ok with this?”
In response to the criticism, Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud and Dean David Van Slyke issued a joint statement, saying that Jackson “has the right to free speech, however uncomfortable it may make anyone feel.”
“Some have asked the University to condemn the professor’s comments and others have demanded the professor’s dismissal. Neither of those actions will happen,” the officials added. “Speech can be offensive, hurtful, or provocative.”
The statement comes a year after Syracuse suspended chemistry professor Jon Zubieta for using the terms “Wuhan flu” and “Chinese Communist Party virus” in his syllabus notes to describe the novel coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan and became a global pandemic because of the Chinese communist regime’s coverup of the outbreaks.
Zubieta, who has been teaching chemistry at Syracuse for 30 years, was placed on leave after some students from China expressed being offended by his descriptors of the virus. The university reinstated Zubieta this March under an agreement that he would retire in 2023.
“My intention was to mock the euphemistic conventions of PC culture rather than the Chinese people or their great heritage and traditions,” Zubieta said in a statement released by Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit group focusing on First Amendment rights on college campuses. “The actions of the university in placing me under suspension and in practice seemingly supporting the accusations of racism and sinophobia are deeply disturbing.”
According to FIRE, which had advocated for Zubieta’s return, the history of Syracuse punishing Zubieta and other faculty members for potentially offensive speech has made it harder for the university to defend Jackson on the ground of freedom of expression.
“Just as that statement offers valuable lessons for other institutions, so too does its genesis offer caution about the importance of consistency,” Adam Steinbaugh, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said in a news release.
“Time will tell whether Syracuse’s praiseworthy embrace of freedom of expression is sincere,” he said.