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CUSG Corner: Comments by CU-Boulder conservative scholar Steven Hayward mock students’ experiences

Steven Hayward is the current Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado-Boulder. The position was created last year with the intention to counter a perceived liberal bias on campus. Each year, a new conservative academic will be selected to spend a year at CU-Boulder, teaching classes and contributing to on-campus discussion and dialogue about a number of political issues. The position has the potential to create valuable dialogue on our campus. However, the academic imperative to promote a diversity of ideas and experiences ends when the ideas being expressed are oppressive and discriminatory.

During an interview with Colorado Public Radio in March, Hayward made a number of claims in response to the report that recently came out about the hostile and sexist climate that went unchecked in CU’s philosophy department. Criticizing the report published by the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women, Hayward said the report was vague and lacked clear examples, then continued on to suggest that, rather than involving official university structures in situations where a woman feels she is being sexually harassed, she should slap the person harassing her.

“You know, my mother and my mother-in-law both said, ‘You know when those kinds of things happened to us, usually a lot worse 40 or 50 years ago when they were in the working world, they slapped people.’ Maybe we ought to get back to that,” he said.

This comment ignores very real structures and systems of power and oppression. Physical retaliation is not an appropriate solution to sexual harassment in the classroom. Responding to harassment or abuse with physical retaliation or directly confronting the perpetrator can put the victim at even greater risk. In making these statements, Hayward has engaged in victim-blaming: the onus should not be on the person being harassed to defend themselves, it should be on the person who is perpetrating harassment and abuse, and on the university to create an environment where people feel safe and supported in reporting conduct violations.

Hayward’s remarks on the American Philosophical Association report are far from the only concerning statements he has made in media outlets. In a blog post on PowerLine dated Oct. 1, 2013, Hayward rejected the notion that he should respect the preferred pronouns of a transgender student by quoting a graduate student from another university who wrote: “It is most certainly not my job, though, to cheer along anyone, student or otherwise, in their psychological confusion.” Speaking of university policies protecting individuals based on their gender identities, Hayward then added:

“So why is this gender-bending diversity mandate so prominent at universities these days? The most likely explanation is that it is simply yielding to the demands of the folks who dislike any constraint of human nature in what goes by the LGBTQRSTUW (or whatever letters have been added lately) ‘community.’ I place ‘community’ in quotation marks here because the very idea of community requires a certain commonality based ultimately in nature, while the premise behind gender-bending is resolutely to deny any such nature, including especially human nature.”

These comments invalidate the lived realities of transgender individuals and mock the LGBTQ community as a whole. It is not Steven Hayward’s job to determine whether or not someone’s identity is valid; it is his job to contribute to a campus environment where everyone is respected and valued. These attitudes actively contribute to inequality.

At the end of the day, the comments made by Steven Hayward are representative of a larger problem on our campus. CU-Boulder has a responsibility to promote a diversity of views. The lived realities and rights of women and LGBTQ individuals should not be open to be denied, dissected, refuted or used as talking points in a conflict between liberal and conservative politics. Bigotry is not diversity.