University of San Diego law professor Thomas Smith is under investigation for comments made on his personal blog. Critics called the post “corrosive” and “reflecting the same unfounded conspiracy theory traffic that contributed to the nearly 4,000 hate incidents reported against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States during of the last year “.
Many right-wing commentators have their panties bent over backwards to dismiss the investigation as attacking Smith’s right to criticize the Chinese government, or that it is part of the CCP’s “propaganda line”.
Well, let’s take a look at the content, okay?
“If you think the coronavirus hasn’t escaped from the Wuhan lab, you should at least consider yourself an idiot who swallows a lot of Chinese diapers. “
Hmmm… Not so much criticizing a government as promulgating conspiracy theories. Cool cool.
After the outrage over the post rightfully became public, Smith made this addendum to the original post:
UPDATE: It seems some people are interpreting my reference to “Chinese rooster diaper” as a reference to an ethnic group. This is a misinterpretation. To be clear, I was talking about the Chinese government.
No apologies to those who have been insulted. No recognition that this kind of rhetoric has fueled hatred towards the AAPI people in this country. Does it really matter what Smith “intended”? Spoiler alert: I also don’t care if I delve into Donald Trump’s “intent” when he repeatedly spoke of “Kung Flu”.
As the American Association of Asian and Pacific Law Students Chapter wrote in its letter to Professor Smith regarding his rhetoric:
The recent anti-Asian hate crimes and sentiments can be traced to rhetoric and conspiracy theories blaming China for COVID-19. As you know, Donald Trump and his administration frequently used terms like “Kung Flu” and “Chinese Virus”. While these terms do not at first glance call for violence or extreme hatred, it certainly has been their impact. The normalization of such rhetoric has a direct link with the rise of racism against all Asian Americans based on the false perception that a racial group could be responsible for the pandemic. These violent crimes are the result of simple words.
Remember, we are in the midst of tremendous violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
According to the “Stop AAPI Hate” report, more than 3,795 incidents have been reported in the past year. This report only covers incidents from March 19, 2020 through February 28, 2021. According to Dr. Russell Jung, professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University, these numbers likely do not accurately indicate the true magnitude of incidents that are more likely than not seriously underreported. “Polls show that nearly three in five Asian Americans have faced direct racism in the past year,” said Dr Jeung. “The most concerted figure is that seven percent of Californians have been victims of racism. That’s almost 400,000 people – 1,000 cases a day – so it’s a pervasive problem. “
But instead of thinking about how his rhetoric can contribute to this odious spirit, Smith shies away from responsibility, accusing readers of “misunderstanding” his dog whistle. The students at USD Law made it clear that they understood Smith’s game:
“I think it finally revealed that he doesn’t understand the harm he’s caused. It’s not what he says explicitly in the message, but that’s the context, ”said Rosa Namgoong, vice president of student affairs at APALSA.
“It’s very hurtful rhetoric that has been used. It’s very confrontational language, ”said Ashley Thompson, USD APALSA event coordinator. “It was very difficult to process and swallow what he said.”
“What he did was ultimately hurtful. And ultimately we want ownership and him to learn and do to do better,” said Thompson.
Students also say it’s important to look at the evil of Smith’s words, not just what he now says his intention was:
For Benjamin Cope, a first-year law student representing the Asia-Pacific Islands Student Association, the impact of words trumps intention.
“It might not have been his intention, but he chose a very, very specific, unique and colorful language,” Cope said. “I know everyone will have their opinion, but as someone who will be and has been affected by comments like this, I feel comfortable saying it was racist, it was offensive. “
And here’s the thing – it’s not the first time students have been concerned about Smith’s blog. As the students’ petition for Smith to be fired, notes:
Over the past few years, law students at SHU have filed formal complaints with our Legal Administration about the offensive comments included on Professor Smith’s blog, which until last year was directly linked to the USD Law website on a web page featuring scholarships and faculty achievements. SHU law students confronted Professor Smith about previous comments in class and in private meetings, but none of our previous efforts forced a disciplinary response from our management that could have prevented the vulnerability and l helplessness that so many in our legal community have experienced this week.
He goes on to note that the only acceptable course of action is to see Smith come out in USD:
Professor Smith must either resign or have his contract with USD Law terminated. Any other response from the University and the Faculty of Law is shameful and performative, and does not protect the safety of our students or the integrity of our institution.
The law school has issued a statement indicating that an investigation will be conducted:
The University of San Diego Law School is aware of the faculty member’s blog post.
Although the blog is not hosted by the University of San Diego, these forms of prejudice, wherever they occur, negatively impact our community. This is especially concerning when the derogatory language comes from a member of our community. A core value of the University of San Diego Law School is that all members of the community should be treated with dignity and respect. University policies specifically prohibit harassment, including the use of epithets, derogatory comments, or slurs based on race or national origin, among other categories.
We have received formal complaints regarding the conduct of the faculty member, and in accordance with academic procedures, there will be a process to review whether the policies of the university or law school have been violated.
While APALSA’s calls to action are much broader than what the law school is prepared to commit to now:
- Immediate investigation + Dismissal of Professor Thomas Smith (joint request with SBA President and Vice President)
- Monthly updates on the progress of the investigation against Professor Smith
- Option for students to withdraw from Professor Smith’s class, which would therefore require greater availability of professors to teach the same subjects
- A request that Professor Smith never be allowed to teach 1L students as they do not have the option of choosing their classes. We would like this to apply indefinitely, not just for a few years like what happened with Professor Alexander
- Formal apology from Professor Smith
- Hire more diverse teachers
- Have a committee of student representatives from each affinity organization to be part of the hiring / interview process
- A consistent reporting system that students can access in the event of offensive behavior by faculty or SHU staff
- Students should be given a Notice of Prior Offensive Conduct when registering for a course involving Professor Smith (and any other teacher who has been reported for xenophobic, transphobic, racist, bigotry)
- Suggest that the Dean’s Diversity Working Group include a representative from each affinity group present at meetings
- If not, ask the 2 student representatives of the working group to contact the organization leadership of the affinity group and keep them informed of updates.
But… it’s law school that still employs Larry Alexander, and has already filed complaints about Smith’s blog (and he owns it), so I wouldn’t be too excited about the potential consequences.
Kathryn Rubino is Editor-in-Chief at Above the Law and host of The Jabot podcast. AtL tipsters are the best, so please tune in with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions or comments and follow her on Twitter (@ Kathryn1).