The Randa Jarrar story has been consuming a lot of media oxygen today, both locally and nationally. (If you haven’t been following the controversy, it involves statements that the Fresno State professor made on Twitter following the death of Barbara Bush.) My immediate question when the story broke: How will this affect LitHop 2018? Jarrar is scheduled as Saturday’s keynote speaker. Short answer: She’s cancelling.
My biggest concern is that the incident will overshadow the joy of LitHop and all the hard work put into it. I don’t want that to happen.
Here’s the official statement from LitHop and Fresno City College:
Fresno City College and the LitHop 2018 organizers wish to send condolences to the Bush family as we join the rest of our country in mourning the loss of our former First Lady, Barbara Bush.
The headline speaker for LitHop 2018, Randa Jarrar, has informed the LitHop organizers that she will not be a participant in this weekend’s events, which included her appearance at Fresno City College Saturday evening. Fresno City College and LitHop 2018 support her decision to withdraw.
While we respect the right to free speech, even objectionable speech, Jarrar’s statements are her own and do not reflect the values of LitHop or Fresno City College. We acknowledge the severity of her statements and take very seriously the concerns expressed throughout the community. The safety of each individual, including Jarrar’s, and all members of the LitHop and Fresno City College community is our paramount concern. We do not support violence or threats on social media or elsewhere; rather, we value civil discourse and look forward to the necessary healing ahead.
LitHop 2018 events will continue as scheduled with a different headline reader to be announced soon.
Meanwhile, there are many vigorous discussions taking place today on Facebook and other platforms. Some people are schooling others in 1st Amendment protections (sometimes mistakenly). Others are blasting Fresno State for not immediately firing Jarrar. She’s being called some pretty nasty names. Others are countering with anti-Bushisms. Tempers are high. And I get it.
One thing I try to keep in mind when these incidents happen — and they seem to ever more frequently — is that social media offers an unprecedented megaphone for unfiltered statements. Ten years ago, you could storm about this and that within the confines of your own home, or perhaps with a group of friends at your local bar, and whatever you said wouldn’t go any farther than the distance your voice could travel. Sure, you could always write or say something and disseminate it the old-fashioned way (newspaper, book, TV interview) in the pre-social-media era, but think of the lag time (and premeditation) that required. Now, it takes about 30 seconds and a few judiciously applied hashtags to reach an audience of thousands (or millions), depending on how incendiary your comments are. Notoriety can come almost instantly. It used to be that you had to plot and scheme (and maybe commit a terrible crime) to capture the attention of the nation. Today you just have to hit the “Tweet” button.
I’m not interested in defending Jarrar — or prosecuting her. She wrote what she wrote, and now she’s dealing with the fallout. There are lots of terrible things said in this world every minute of every day. The difference is that now we have access to a lot more of them.
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