Saturday, September 16, 2017

In Support of Dr. Dorothy Kim

I will be sending the following email to the President of Vassar.

Dear President Bradley,

I am a medieval historian and a journalist, writing in support of Assistant Professor of English, Dr. Dorothy Kim. Dr. Kim is a brilliant scholar and one of the foremost leaders in ongoing efforts to confront both the shameful legacy of racism in medieval studies and the current appropriation of medieval symbols and stories by modern-day white supremacists. In Charlottesville, we saw Neo Nazis holding shields with images lifted from Templar and Holy Roman Empire history. In Europe, anti-immigrant rallies routinely feature people in medieval garb. The mass murderer, Anders Breivik, called himself a Templar. These are just a few of the most recent overt examples, a leading edge of hate that supports a massive and dangerous sub-culture. Dr. Kim has been urging medieval scholars to confront this head on. Our profession is better for it.

Of course, taking public stands comes with risks, especially for an untenured professor and one of the relatively few non-white medieval historians. This week, Dr. Rachel Fulton Brown, a tenured professor at the University of Chicago, launched an attack on Dr. Kim's anti-racist work on her blog. Brown's argument has been widely condemned by medievalists as both racist and, from an evidence standpoint, incoherent. Unfortunately, it attracted the attention of Milo Yiannopoulos and his followers, a group known for targeted harassment campaigns. Even now, I worry that Vassar is becoming inundated with calls and emails criticizing Kim, almost none of them from people familiar with her work. Alas, we have seen too many faculty who dare to take public positions criticized, censure, censored, or even dismissed in the wake of manufactured right-wing outrage. Vassar must do better.

I urge you not only to support Dr. Kim both publicly and within the Vassar community, but to take proactive steps to inure Vassar to the depredations of manufactured right-wing outrage. This is a moment in which your decisions will determine whether Vassar enables both its students and faculty to take public positions on the most important issues of the day. This is a moment that requires affirmative statements of support for academic freedom and public engagement.

Thank you for supporting your colleague.

Sincerely,

David M. Perry, PhD

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