What happened to Brittney Cooper made me sad and angry, emotions that alternated with the question: What would I have done in that situation?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen instance after instance of male aggression on college campuses and in other spaces, often by men who were clearly not stable — angry (often at women), impulsive, not entirely coherent. I’ve heard women (graduate students and faculty) say that they feel unsafe on campus. I’ve seen people I considered allies back away, some because they were scared, others because they never really were allies in any meaningful sense of the word.
There was an incident at UO not so long ago that I think is instructive. A (male) adjunct faculty member in the Law School started harassing immigration rights activists near the student union. In this case, a male student — clearly putting into practice training in nonviolent resistance — effectively intervened.
I wonder if we might not start thinking about some kind of training for those of us who run events like these so that we can handle aggressive incidents more effectively? My tendency as a moderator is to be very clear at the outset what the rules of engagement are and call people on violations as soon as they begin to happen. By asking people to think about what they’re going to say and not to monopolize conversation beforehand, I can invoke the rules when I have to close down rants. I’ve also not been afraid to call security in the past, especially when I know that there’s a person who routinely attends feminist events, is disruptive, and clearly out to bully.
What’s so consistent with my own experience at a couple of institutions is that the person at the Brecht Forum was a known problem. This has been happening for a long time at institutions around the country, where mental illness and male aggression combine in unstable and sometimes deadly ways (I find myself being worried about even writing about this online — I appreciate Dr. Cooper’s going public with her experience).
I think my failing has been looking to institutions to address this. Perhaps it’s time to have some training sessions at NWSA or some of our national conventions to establish advice for those of us struggling with these situations on campuses and other institutions around the country.