Freshman Excluded from Conference, Petition Sparks Controversy
Professor Savery excludes Jeremiah True â€™18 from Humanities 110 conference after the student creates a â€œhostile educational environmentâ€
On Wednesday, March 18, Jeremiah True ’18 sent the Reed Facebook group ablaze with a link to his Change.org petition entitled, “Restore Jeremiah Josias Luther George True to His Humanities 110 Conference.” True was excluded from his Humanities 110 conference on Saturday, March 14 by Professor of English & Humanities Pancho Savery. Savery decided to do this because True made a series of negative contributions to the conference environment over the course of the semester, culminating in a comment about Livy and the rape of Lucretia that created a “hostile educational environment.”
After consulting with Chair of Humanities 110 Michael Faletra, Savery emailed True to say that he excluded him on the grounds that, “The entire conference without exception, men as well as women, feel that your presence makes them uncomfortable enough that they would rather not be there if you are there, and they have said that things you have said in our conference have made them so upset that they have difficulty concentrating in other classes.”
The culminating point of discomfort was instigated by comment that True describes in his petition. True writes: “… I questioned the largely purported 1-in-5 rape statistic. I stated that I did not believe that the rape culture exists.” Savery corroborates this statement, saying, “[True said that] in general, society was paying too much attention to rape and that rape statistics were overblown. He claimed that we needed to spend more time being sympathetic to men who were falsely accused of rape.”
After that comment was made, Savery was approached by a female conference member who wanted to meet before their next class. Savery says that the student, “was so upset by the classroom environment that [True created] that she did not feel comfortable being in class with him. [True] had created a hostile educational environment.” Savery notes that some of the members of the conference who were upset were also survivors of sexual assault.
On Friday, March 13, Savery asked True to not attend the Hum 110 conference so that the other students could speak about their comfort levels in the classroom. Savery explains that he felt they would “not be able to have the conversation with True in the room.”
This conversation lasted the whole 50 minutes of class.
“Every person in the room was upset by the comments he had made, and by his general attitude for the whole semester,” says Savery.
Conference member Tom Maude-Griffin ‘18 says: “The decision to ban him from the conference was virtually unanimous. There were two guys who vocalized issues with banning himâ€¦ but neither actually said in the conference that they did not agree with the decision.”
According to Savery, True had made other unsettling contributions to the conference this semester, including a comment about Theocritus that “lower class people didn’t have the ability to create art” and a comment about how “we shouldn’t blame the people who were responsible for the Holocaustâ€¦ because they didn’t know any better.”
Maude-Griffin says that True’s behavior started out only “a little bit patronizing” and then escalated from there over the course of the semester.
“As soon as we started discussing Aristotle he said how did not believe that people who were drunk could not be held responsible for their actions, and similarly (in his line of logic), that racists could not be blamed for their actions because they had ‘never been taught otherwise,’” Maude-Griffin recalls.
The week after True’s Theocritus comment about social class and artistic capability, Maude-Griffin says that True “began the class abruptly and loudly in an angry tone, reading the Honor Principle stating how no student should face a hostile environment, and demanding an apology of only female members of the class despite the equally strong reaction by the male ones.”
Savery, taking into account the conversation he had with his Hum 110 conference and his conversations with True, made the decision that True could not return to the conference. Instead, Savery suggested that True could receive credit for the class by writing the remaining assigned papers, completing the final exam, and optionally attending Pancho’s office hours to discuss the readings.
True does acknowledge that things he said may have made some students in his conference uncomfortable, but emphasizes both that he was polite and that some level of discomfort is inherent in an education that is supposed to make people question their own beliefs.
“I apologize that I caused survivors of sexual assault to feel uncomfortable with my views, but the views were in no way threatening or hostile,” he states in his online petition. “I did not use any obscenities in class, I did not declare any fighting words, I did not commit perjury, I did not blackmail anyone in the class, I did not engage in incitement to imminent lawless action, I did not engage in ‘true threats’, and I did not engage in solicitations to commit crimes.”
Over the course of this past week, True contacted Student Services staff and Hum 110 faculty about his removal from the classroom and how, according to the petition, this “situation was not handled appropriately, and I would like to return to my class.”
Dean of Faculty Nigel Nicholson and Associate Dean of Students for Student and Campus Life Bruce Smith met with Savery to discuss True’s exclusion from the class.
During their meeting, Smith asked Savery if there were circumstances in which True could come back to the conference, and Savery said no. Savery mentioned that True would be filing an Honor Case against him for two reasons: first, the exclusion from class violated True’s First Amendment rights, and second, True was deprived of the full experience of Hum 110 by not being able to come to conference.
Despite his complaint about Savery’s decision to exclude him from the class, True says, “Pancho [Savery] is the greatest teacher I have ever had.”
True posted his petition on Change.org, and he publicized it on Facebook, 4chan, and FunnyJunk. True brought his complaint to the public internet space because he did not want to wait without action for the estimated five weeks of a full Honor Case.
“I will miss out on a wonderful education in those five weeks. I can not wait that long,” he says. “I am concerned for my education, but I am more concerned that there is a mentality on college campuses that this activity [removal from the Hum 110 conference] is permissible and that my country’s sacred right to Freedom of Speech is being ignored.”
After twelve hours online, True’s Change.org petition had received 332 supporters. The post on the unofficial Reed Facebook group generated hundreds of comments until it was frozen by the page administrators. Many students have posted via Facebook statuses that True’s petition and the hubbub surrounding it are the “Spring Crisis.”
In protest to the perceived injustices against him, True has also refused to attend his other classes, has resigned from his position on Honor Council, and has left his role in the spring faculty theater production, The Bald Soprano.
In a statement about his own character, True says, “I believe that I am an emotionally capable, intellectually gifted, cutting wit, hell of a person. I believe I have experienced more trauma and suffering and pain in my life than many of these, well frankly, middle class white girls at Reed could ever know in their lives.”
True distinguishes himself as a “freedom feminist,” differentiating himself from what he calls “toxic radical feminism,” which “speaks out against rape culture at the expense of men.”
Kate Hilts ’16 opposes True’s interpretation of feminism, and offers her own definition.
“Freedom feminism is not feminism,” she says. “Feminism is an understanding of the structures that oppress women and female-presenting people, and a belief that those structures should be dismantled. Freedom feminism is a soft term for a sub-category of men’s rights activism. Moreover, the existence of rape culture is indisputable. There is never any excuse for undermining the lived experience of survivors: academic, statistic, I don’t care. It’s inexcusable.”
Josh Cox ’17, though he states he does not support True’s petition, cautions that it is not honorable to personally attack True for his views.
“Though people feel upset or invalidated by Jeremiah’s beliefs or the way he expresses them, it is still their responsibility to be honorable,” he says. “It is already alienating enough being a black male at Reed, and I doubt people’s public expressions of their hatred for him and not just his ideas is doing much to help.”
True questions rape culture and statistics about sexual assault — both specific to Reed and across the nation — not because he thinks talking about sexual assault is unimportant. Rather, he believes these concepts and statistics are inaccurate, and that this inaccuracy makes anti-rape efforts ineffective.
“I want accuracy, not hysteria and overblown statistics,” he stated in one email to Savery. “I think it’s important to treat rape seriously, and not to over inflate it and cause panic.”
While interviewing with The Quest, True was ecstatic.
“Reedies have forgotten what student activism actually is,” he says. “Student activism can fuck a place up. I have sent the faculty and student services scrambling for cover. It’s been an enormous amount of fun.”
“This is the most fun I’ve had all year,” True continued, “and I have not this much fun since I was a kid. It’s so liberating.”
At the end of his petition, he wrote a haunting statement of his determination:
“No matter what happens. I love you, mom. I love you, dad. I love you my dear, dear sisters. I love you my dearest friends. I love you all, and I will sacrifice everything for you. â€¦ I do not want to be a martyr, but I will do that if that is what is necessary to make a statement.”
The Quest plans to follow up on this issue.
The Quest would like to remind the Reed Community that community members can call the Sexual Assault Prevention & Response (SAPR) Advocates at 503/847-9772 anytime or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. They will get back to you within 24 hours. If you need to speak to an advocate now, please call Portland Women’s Crisis Line (open to all gender identities) at 503/235-5333.