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A spirit that is not afraid

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Goldberg deserves to be heard on campus

Sights from Toomer's Corner protest for justice for George Floyd on May 31, 2020.
Sights from Toomer's Corner protest for justice for George Floyd on May 31, 2020.

We are writing to express our dismay at how Auburn University has handled the treatment of our colleague, Dr. Jesse Goldberg. 

In May, Dr. Goldberg tweeted that he would not say “War Eagle.” He was then doxed by right-wing media and subjected to online bullying by people who purported to be part of the Auburn community. Last week, when Dr. Goldberg used an expletive while tweeting his alarm over the treatment of civilians by police, he became the center of a right-wing storm, further amplified when Donald Trump Jr. retweeted the article that first reported on Dr. Goldberg’s tweet. Dr. Goldberg has now received death threats. Recently, we learned that he has been released from his teaching duties, and will spend this year as a Visiting Research Fellow.

As English professors, we are particularly concerned to see a public statement from Auburn University comparing Dr. Goldberg’s tweet to hate speech. Our colleague’s statement was not hate speech. The social media postings of Dr. Bruce Murray, who has a history of anti-trans and anti-gay remarks, would be better described as hate speech. 

While there is no internationally accepted definition of hate speech, highly respected entities such the United Nations define hate speech as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.” 

Hate speech, then, does not apply to a social institution such as the police. In fact, while one might quibble with the propriety of the expletive Dr. Goldberg used, many of us in academe are far more concerned by the use of “social media and other forms of communication . . . as platforms for bigotry.” 

The United Nations’ “Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech” also notes that “Neo-Nazi and white supremacy movements are on the march. Public discourse is being weaponized for political gain with incendiary rhetoric that stigmatizes and dehumanizes minorities, migrants, refugees, women and any so-called ‘other.’”

The murder of George Floyd has sparked protests around the world and in Auburn. It is neither possible nor desirable to keep this movement from Auburn as it is already here, whether Jesse Goldberg teaches our students or not. 

As Auburn University officials might gather from following the Instagram feed Black at Auburn, being Black at Auburn is a fraught, often dangerous experience. 

The stories that Black students, alumni, faculty and staff post to that account are uniformly horrifying. Yet Auburn’s public response has been inadequate, even given our troubled past as a segregated institution and as one which now profits from Black people in its athletic and academic endeavors. Still, it was Dr. Goldberg’s tweet, which was critical of police, which raised instant alarm and an immediate response among the administration and community. 

We learned last week that Dr. Goldberg has been released from his teaching duties for the next academic year. Whether or not Dr. Goldberg was amenable to this change is irrelevant. In fact, many of us have made comments on our social media accounts that are critical of police, that are critical of what we see as Auburn’s disregard of LGBTQ+ and Black communities. 

We wonder if Auburn might, instead of responding to Dr. Goldberg’s tweets with condemnation, and then silence, better put its resources to use by renaming the numerous buildings on campus that are named in honor of Ku Klux Klan members, Confederate heroes and other anti-Black figures. 

That the University failed to respond swiftly when students reported seeing a noose on campus, or when Dr. Murray continued to make inflammatory remarks, but offered an immediate response to Dr. Goldberg’s tweets, suggests that the administration finds only right-wing political views acceptable. We are also aware that releasing Dr. Goldberg of his teaching duties as a result of his public politics sets a disturbing precedent in which people outside the academy have influence on how and what we teach. 

By demonstrating vulnerability to monetary threats, the University will now encourage more of these and others in the future as people deploy personal politics in efforts to affect personnel issues and the University’s sacred responsibility to introduce students to the ranges of opinion and the diversity of the history of literature and writing.

We, as the professorial faculty, are proud of the range of points of view provided by the many professors, lecturers, postdoctoral fellows, instructors and graduate assistants who teach in our classrooms. 

We are saddened that Dr. Goldberg’s point of view will not be among ours this fall. We are pleased that we can still share his perspective by teaching his scholarship, published in leading, peer-reviewed and highly esteemed journals. His ideas reflect a new wave of literary and cultural critique that we are proud to have in our department; the free exchange of his and all ideas is central to a classroom and a university. We ask that Auburn support this free exchange of ideas, and issue a statement reiterating the value of free speech. 

Finally, we ask that the administration and Auburn community act in accordance with the Auburn creed, which states, among other things, that the United States “is a land of freedom.” 

If the administration and our community do “believe in honesty and truthfulness,” then they would do well to protest swiftly and vociferously against the intimidation of any member of the Auburn Community, particularly when a faculty member receives death threats for expressing his own point of view.


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 Alicia Carroll 

Professor of English

Anton DiSclafani

Associate Professor of English, Alumni Writer-in-Residence

Emily Friedman

Associate Professor of English

Erich Nunn

Associate Professor of English 

Jonathan Bolton

Associate Professor of English, Department Chair

Margaret Marshall

Professor of English 

Ernest Gibson III

Associate Professor of English, Co-Director of Africana Studies 

Benjamin Fagan

Associate Professor of English 

Paula Backscheider

Philpott-Stevens Eminent Scholar

Anna Riehl Bertolet

Professor of English, Director of Core Literature 

Rose McLarney

Associate Professor of English 

Sunny Stalter-Pace

Hargis Associate Professor of American Literature 

Jeremy Downes

Professor of English

Chad Wickman

Hargis Associate Professor of Writing Studies 

Derek Ross

Professor of English, Director of Graduate Studies 

Craig E. Bertolet

Professor of English, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Susan Youngblood

Associate Professor of English

Jim McKelly

Associate Professor of English

Charles Lesh

Assistant Professor of English 

Juliane Braun

Assistant Professor of English

Maria Kuznetsova

Assistant Professor of English 

Julia Charles

Assistant Professor of English 

Justin Gardiner

Assistant Professor of English 

Leigh Gruwell

Assistant Professor of English

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