Yesterday afternoon I met with Dylan Woodliff, the young man who drew the cartoon in the Emory Wheel comparing the wall/fence between the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel to the ghettos under the Nazis. For background on this see here.
After hearing from some of his teachers and his fellow students that he was a "good guy" who got into something way over his head. I had emailed him offering to meet him. He readily agreed.
My motivation for doing so was twofold. I felt, based on what I had been told and on his "explanation" which accompanied the cartoon, that he had gotten in way over his head. Maybe there was room to do what it is our job to do, educate. I wanted him to understand why what he did was so wrong.
Secondly, he had been subjected to a barrage of criticism, well deserved criticism but criticism nonetheless. Rarely does a single student do something that gets 46 professors to unequivocally condemn his actions. I was concerned about him. It's pretty heavy stuff for one person -- particularly a student -- to face. I wanted him to know that though I felt strongly about what he did but felt empathy for him as a person.
I found a contrite student who was worried that people thought he was an antisemite and that he had ruined his future. [In the age of Google these things don't go away.] I found a student who tried to make a point about the politics of the Middle East and did so in a thoughtless and ill informed fashion.
We did not talk that much about the cartoon itself because by this time he knew full well that he had really messed up and that he should never have made the analogy. In fact I told him about how, in the past, I had tried, on occasion, to make a point about something and, in the course of so doing, said something stupid, angry, or extreme. My point was lost because all anyone could focus on was the extreme way in which I had expressed myself.
I assured him that I had no doubt that he was not an antisemite. In fact, if I had thought otherwise I probably would not have bothered to meet him.
The previous evening I had also met with Sal Rizzo,the editor of the Wheel. I think he too realizes that he and his editorial board failed in their job of ensuring responsible journalism. I am not talking about censorship. Obviously they have the freedom to screw up... as they did royally. I talked about judgment.
Both students realized that by using this false and hurtful analogy they had ultimately shot themselves in the foot. No one had discussed Middle East policy. All people had discussed was the thoughtless analogy.
These two meetings reminded me that we do a lot of our educating in the classroom but sometimes we do our most important educating outside of it. I think they learned something... and so did I.