Dawn Bliesener vs. Jay Bergman, CCSU, and the World

Before you go any further, please read this NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/14/nyregion/free-speech-faces-a-test-on-campus.html?smid=fb-share

I need to set the record straight.

This article is not perfect, but it certainly is 85% non-bias. But the journalist misses several important points, and certainly did not dig deep enough for more information. The reason why I am writing this is because Dawn Bliesener is my mother, and I was living with her when this incident occurred, as well as after the fact. I saw the damage that it did to her, not just her grade point average, but the personal wounds Jay Bergman inflicted.

This is not a blog entry where I am going to slander Bergman and hail my mother. I have this freakish ability to treat everyone equally, and a person who gave birth to me is not immune from that treatment.

First off – Jay Bergman is a white man. He works as a history professor at CCSU. He encounters a large variety of people, day in and day out. Despite that, he lacks the sensitivity to understand that putting up fliers which are opposed to affirmative action, can greatly effect the atmosphere of the CCSU campus, as well as the mind-sets of the students residing there. When a student took down one of these fliers, Bergman complained that his right to free speech was violated. In other words, Bergman has the right to say whatever he wants, but a black student does not have the right to an education, according to his political views, anyway.

What the article doesn’t tell you, is that Bergman approached my mother, automatically yelling at her. He never asked her what she was doing, or tried to resolve the situation in a professional manner. He became so enraged that at one point, his spit was spraying my mother in the face. Anyone on the receiving end of that behavior would feel threatened.

Yes, my mother removed the flyer from the bulletin board. Yes, she did so because she was offended by it. While Bergman may have the “right” to say and post whatever he wants, students also have the right to be safe from racism while on campus. Anti-affirmative action fliers are not educational material, and are instead a political view. And while I will always respect political views (no matter how vile they can be), I will also hold people accountable for the things that they say (and do).

That is what this article fails to touch on. The fact that a white man did what white people often do – act however they want, say whatever they want, and assume that they will get away with it. When my mother said that she did not care about his rights, and that she had the right to remove anything she found offensive, she meant that she had the right to protect herself, and other students, from racism.

Would I remove the flyer? No, I would not. The first step I would take would be to approach Bergman directly and try to reach a compromise, at the very least. It’s in my nature to be that way, to try to resolve things as comfortably as possible. My mother taking down the flyer, put herself in a position to be told “Hey, you can’t do that”. CCSU would not have been wrong in telling her to avoid doing that again, and peacefully ask her to next time try to discuss the issue with the instructor. But CCSU never did that.

You did not see what I saw. Following this incident, my mother was threatened by CCSU with expulsion. Yes, expulsion for taking a piece of paper off of a bulletin board. After all of the investigations and interviews, my mother’s grade point average dropped significantly. I won’t say how far it dropped, for privacy reasons, but I will say that the atmosphere of any school, public or private, can greatly hinder any student’s educational success.

I was told by more than one witness of the incident, that Bergman followed my mother down the hall, still yelling at her, and prompting her to hide in the office where she worked. No student should ever feel that afraid on a college campus. No person should ever be treated that way.

If CCSU had responded to my mother’s complaints about the fliers from the get-go, then perhaps this would have never happened. If Bergman truly felt this was a topic worth discussing, he could have organized a forum, maybe brought it up in one of his classes if it was pertinent to the subject matter of the course, or found another way to vent his feelings about affirmative action that wasn’t so blatant.

It’s also important to note, based on the information from the article, that other individuals working within CCSU had said the fliers were all over the place. When my mother wrote in her complaints that she does not pay these instructors to waste time making copies and pasting them wherever they can find two inches of space, she was not exaggerating. These fliers were EVERYWHERE. Any time that public school was closed, I typically went with my mother to her on-campus job or to her classes. I saw these fliers, and I remember thinking to myself, “Why do you need so many?”

In terms of what is and is not acceptable to say… As Americans, we are within our right to have any kind of opinion about what anyone else says. Free speech does not make you immune from other free speech.

However, it can often be difficult to tag a news article or another piece of literature as hate speech, despite how obvious the implication may be. The law looks for specific language and terms which clearly identify something as a hateful attack on a group of people on the basis of gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity. Do I think that anti-affirmative action fliers are hate speech? I do.

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