When I moved back to Stanford last week for the first time in over a year, I grinned almost childishly when I saw the Hufflepuff name-tag on my door. For all that’s strange about campus during the pandemic, it was nice to see my new dorm continue the Stanford tradition of each house choosing a fun theme: “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”
What’s not to love? Oh, how naive I was...
As it turns out, choosing a beloved children’s fantasy series as a theme for a college dorm in 2021 is dangerous territory. Being well-versed in the ways of the woke, I admit that I should have seen it coming. But I did not, and was completely floored when student staff read the following statement during our first virtual house meeting:
“We want to acknowledge that J.K. Rowling has made many transphobic, anti-semitic, and racist statements over the past year. Her beliefs do not reflect our values as a house, and we want to make it clear that we do not tolerate comments like hers in this dorm. Our theme… is intended to make this space safe and fun for you this quarter.”
The Transphobia Accusation
J.K. Rowling is not “transphobic” or bigoted against transgender people, and I would submit that assertions to the contrary are misinterpretations at best. Rowling is a longtime supporter (both vocally and monetarily) of LGBT rights and charities, including transgender rights. But last summer, she drew the ire of activists and the media for several tweets, including one ridiculing the term “people who menstruate.” She also said this:
“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
The concept of “transphobia” is not without basis. Transgender people obviously face great adversity (from violent crime, depression and suicide, bullying, etc), even in LGBT-friendly countries like the US. But unfortunately, activists are now using the taboo of “transphobia” as a cudgel to silence all legitimate questions and criticisms about the impacts of new gender ideologies, including negative effects on LGBT youth.
Demonizing women’s rights activists, academics, physicians, and even heterodox transgender thinkers, does not protect transgender people. The abolition of critical thought on sex and gender-identity is not inclusion, and it does a tremendous disservice to the people who need sound advice the most: LGBT youth.
For more on this, please read Rowling in her own words and decide for yourself whether she is truly a bigot, or just a woman trying to make sense of a very complicated issue in a conscientious way.
The Racism and Anti-Semitism Accusation
Now, to the the far more ludicrous accusation, that Rowling has made many “anti-semitic, and racist statements over the past year.” Let me be very clear here: no such statements exist. This is a delusion, a complete fantasy (and if any reader can point me to such a statement, I would be very interested to see it).
It’s perfectly clear that Rowling is opposed to anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom and racism everywhere. Harry Potter stands as one of the great allegories against ideologies of group supremacy and discrimination in popular literature.
The Moral Panic
Right now, we are living through a moral panic. This panic goes by many names (wokeness, cancel culture, identity politics, etc) and it is corroding major institutions, including journalism, government, and academia. When otherwise thoughtful and well-intentioned people — in this case liberals concerned about racism, broadly speaking — get caught up in the panic, evidence and process become secondary considerations, and narratives take over.
Rowling’s witty heroine Hermione Granger once observed that "Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself." Our moral panic has produced an environment where the fear of a word like “racism” has disproportionately increased fear of the thing itself. Let me explain:
The goal of increasing societal awareness of racism where it exists is both laudable and desirable. But we are no longer in a stage of increased awareness — or even hyper-awareness — of racism. We are now witnessing the mass hallucination of racism. The obsessive search to uncover bigotry in everything and everyone has led people to see bigotry where none exists. The bizarre claim against Rowling is just one very small example in a large body of evidence that points to this trend.
The ever-wise Albus Dumbledore once said: "It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends."
As much as I wish it were the case, neither I nor this campus newspaper can save a liberal institution like Stanford from implosion without help from some brave liberals. In order to restore a culture of tolerance, good faith, and dialogue at our school, we need real liberals to show courage against the panic. Unfortunately, the fear of being accused of any ‘ism’ or ‘phobia’ means that most are more likely to join the panic mob than stand against it, especially if that means standing with The Stanford Review.
The scapegoating of a children’s fantasy author for fabricated claims of racism is a very bad sign at a university, even if she’s very wealthy and secure in her livelihood, as Rowling is. But I’m not worried about protecting a billionaire; I’m worried for the students who are expected to learn in an environment where false claims of bigotry are not just acceptable, but official policy.
Thoughtcrime at Stanford
This brings me to the most chilling part of the house theme statement: the implied threat that if you don’t join the witch hunt, you’ll become the next target. “Her beliefs do not reflect our values as a house, and we want to make it clear that we do not tolerate comments like hers in this dorm.”
We weren't asked whether J.K. Rowling’s beliefs reflect our values, we were told that they don’t. No examples of “comments like hers” were given, but we were still warned that they won’t be tolerated. Just what sorts of comments do they mean — perhaps the “anti-semitic and racist” ones that they made up?
Like J.K. Rowling, I believe in both equal rights for trans people and the reality of sex as a category. If that now constitutes thoughtcrime at Stanford, then I should probably start packing my bags. I think we deserve to know the position of university leadership on this issue, including the faculty and administrators who are responsible for our residential education. Is Stanford a safe space for thought, or from it?