Thursday, November 26, 2015

Claire Potter, Blacklisting, and the Shaming of Sexual Abuse Survivors

This Woman Shames and Abuses Sexual Assault Victims
[To get full context about this post, see this link. In the comments' section there are multiple comments from someone going by the name Tenured Radical.]

Claire Potter is a fellow Yale grad who ran a blog for the Chronicle of Higher Education for a while. It was called Tenured Radical. Some of her favorite themes were pop culture generally, politics, educational policy, and in particular, sexual assault.

She used to teach history at Wesleyan University in Connecticut but recently switched jobs to the New School for Public Engagement in Manhattan. I have never met her personally. Since I am politically conservative, I do not interact much with liberal editorialists. To broaden myself, for several years, I was a fairly devoted follower of Tenured Radical. This was the only left-wing blog I followed because I honestly enjoyed the challenge of interacting with views quite different from my own.

Many of Claire Potter's posts were entertaining and sometimes smart. I engaged them in good faith. She was often heated and hostile toward conservatives, but in the spirit of engagement, I still gave her posts a full hearing and posted my reactions to her musings. I would leave one comment and then leave the discussion thread, since I generally avoid getting into back-and-forth in forums. Much of my interaction with her was cordial. One of her guest writers, Judith Brown of Wesleyan University, even responded to the comment I left about possible new directions in trades education by emailing me and exchanging various thoughts on how best to prepare students for life after a liberal arts education. Other than this friendly and very brief contact with Judith Brown, which had absolutely nothing to do with Claire Potter, gay issues, or sexual assault, I had no contact with Tenured Radical people outside the forum itself. I never initiated any contact with Claire Potter or said I ever wanted to contact her. I never sought to have anyone I know contact her or anyone who knew her. I never said I was going to have anyone I knew contact her or anyone who knew her.

It was a huge surprise on November 25, 2015, when Claire Potter, using her avatar Tenured Radical, went into the comments section under the Inside Higher Ed article about my difficulties at Cal State Northridge. She posted a comment outing herself as one of the trolls--and it seems, even, a main and leading troll--who sought to poison my workplace against me.

Unbeknownst to me, Claire Potter called people at my University to tell them she feared for her "physical safety" because of my presence in the comments section on her public blog hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education and billed as a place to exchange opinions. According to her she got the top lawyers in the CSU involved. She also claims publicly now that she received information from Northridge suggesting that I had a pattern of making people (I presume she means women and gays) feel unsafe. I can't imagine Northridge officials volunteering information to her about these supposed other similar complaints, so it looks most probable that she went fishing for gossip about me.

I feel seriously violated and betrayed, especially because of what she based her supposed fear for her safety on. Mind you, I live in Los Angeles and she lives in New York City and we have no common friends or acquaintances. We work in different fields and belong to completely different political camps. There is virtually zero chance that we will ever cross paths. She is far more famous than I am. That she would look up my workplace and spend time talking to "authorities" overseeing me is shocking. That she would disclose to them my history as a sexual assault survivor and imply that I might be violent and dangerous because of my having survived sexual assault, is utterly beyond the pale, especially for someone who has established herself as a leading spokeswoman about sexual assault and Title IX.

I do not think the academy can sink any lower than Claire Potter has sunk. But... the good news is, we now have a clear lead on the subterranean and sleazy trolling network that we suspected all along was behind the putsches against me, John McAdams, and Carol Swain. It actually helps us tremendously to have one name that we can connect to all the backchannel manipulation, since so many of the trolls who engage in these character assassinations do so behind fake names and avatars. (Potter appears to be specializing now in gamer culture and social media, so she may know or might be some of these fake Internet phantoms like Pink Agendist; it will be hard to know without more investigation.)

As Mark Bauerlein and I had both indicated in our answers to interviewer Colleen Flaherty, as reported in Inside Higher Ed, there were too many signs of outside influence to doubt that off-campus groups had played a role in whipping hysteria against me and inspiring students to defraud the discrimination complaint system in order to try getting me dismissed.

The simplest explanation is of course the most likely one: Someone who knew the process of campus discipline, knew something about me and where I might be vulnerable, and had experience with Title IX complaints, was coaching the students in the hopes of filing a dramatic charge against me, boldly enough to override my tenure.

Some clarification finally came with the disposition letter on October 16, 2015: In that document, for instance, the fact that Complainant A met repeatedly and at length with one administrator who had no role in the proper chain of command laid out by the Faculty Guide. That administrator had multiple conflicts with me in the wake of off-campus trolls pressuring her to punish me for my off-campus work on children's rights.

But still, there were unanswered questions. More light was shed on the bizarre Reagan Library affair when Claire Potter outed herself as one of the trolls who contacted Northridge to complain about me. According to Potter's comment under the Inside Higher Ed article, she considers me "deeply disturbed" to the point that FIRE should be "wary" of assisting in my academic freedom matter. She claims that I visited her blog, Tenured Radical, "repetitively" and left "unprovoked" comments. She mischaracterizes my stance on gay parenting by saying that I based my whole stance on children's rights on my experience as a teenager being sexually exploited by older gay men. Anyone who knows my work at all knows that I ground my argument about children's rights in a broad swath of humanities-based and social-science research, including interviews with dozens of other COGs. Nobody who's ever read Jephthah's Daughters or even perused a few of my online essays would think to say I base everything on my own bitterness over what happened to me as a teen.

Some of my fellow COGs and I went back and scrolled through old Tenured Radical forums. We found that Potter was in substantial contact with Steven Salaita and many people involved in the boycott-Israel movement. Northridge has one of the most energized cohorts of pro-boycott people. We also saw that Potter had engaged with Jeremy Hooper, Straight Grandmother, and Scott Rose, all of whom have a well-documented history of emailing associates or family members of their "targets."

The gay community was built on blackmail. That's something that I learned very early on, growing up the way I did. When there was a stigma to gayness, blackmail was the currency of the whole gay economy. To get sex, you had to enter a network of other gays, in the process exposing yourself as gay to other people who might use that information against you. Within gay milieus, interpersonal conflicts are often contoured by blackmail: do something I want you to do or I will reveal your secrets in places where it will do you damage. Gay people do this to people they love just as much as they do this to people they hate. It is second nature in LGBT circles. Claire Potter is a product of her social set. So are the trolls who congregate in her comments section.

It seems that the Reagan Library affair will not be settled for a long time because there is so much more investigation to be carried out. At least now we have one name of someone in the academy who conspired to harm me professionally over a political disagreement. She did it in the classically gay style of blackmail, shaming, and gossip. She's connected to others who have a history of doing the same. We will keep looking for more clues. I think the story that emerges as we find out more will be epic. Epically shocking.