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When a Queer Feminist Professor is Accused of Harassment

canada-ontario-toronto-front-campusWe defend our friends. It’s natural. It’s powerful. It’s what friendship is all about. Certainly Avital Ronell’s friends— the most powerful philosophers in academe, for what it’s worth—wanted to defend her from the recently revealed allegations that she’d sexually harassed one of her male graduate students. The Title IX complaint by Nimrod Reitman  resulted in her year-long suspension from NYU.

But she had high-profile defenders in the feminist world. Judith Butler. Slavoj Žižek. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Shoshana Felman. These are just a few of the famous progressive scholars who lept to her defense in a widely circulated letter excerpted in the New York Times. Presumably without all the facts, they chose to attack the survivor. That’s certainly not a surprise, human behavior being what it is.

But to be honest, as an academic, I expected more. From the most revered names in the humanities, people who would be expected to make conclusions based on evidence in the name of social justice, I expected more.