Should a transgender college student be expected to sit through a college level art course without being “triggered”?
An art professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has resigned after being vilified by LGBT students in what he describes as a toxic and hostile politically correct environment.Professor Michael Bonesteel, an art critic, author, and specialist in the history of comics and the history of outsider art, resigned after 14 years with SAIC when his hours were cut and his healthcare was lost in response to accusations of racism and homophobia when two transgender students were “triggered” by course material and lodged complaints.
Both incidents revolved around objections to ideas and material related to the edgy historical subject matter Bonesteel has been teaching in his classes at SAIC for 14 years.
According to Raw Vision, problems for the professor started December 12, 2016 while teaching the class, Present and Future of Outsider Art. During a discussion of Henry Darger’s art, of which Bonesteel is an internationally recognized expert, he discussed the prevalence of little girls with penises and said that it’s possible those images are manifestations of Darger’s own childhood of sexual abuse, which is an unproven but prevailing theory in the art world.
The student, who is transgender, challenged Bonesteel on the reference to Darger having been sexually abused as a child, stating that because there’s no proof Darger was sexually abused, Bonesteel was wrong in proposing the theory. The professor agreed there was no proof but countered that many scholars thought it likely.
After this altercation, Bonesteel confided in a diversity counselor and was advised to post an apology for his “insensitivity” on the school’s website along with a research article providing background on the theory. Although it was later determined Bonesteel did not violate any school policies, he was told by the department he needed training on how to deal with “identity-related material” in his curriculum.
Following the first incident, Bonesteel was verbally attacked in his class, Comic Book: Golden Age to Comics Code, when a student went off on the “perceived anti-Semitic attitudes” of the author of the assigned text, “Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book,” by Gerard Jones.
Bonesteel told Raw Vision that the infuriated student went on to criticize, “SAIC’s policies toward minorities and transgender students specifically, leveling accusations of racism and homophobia toward me.”
As class discussion progressed, they moved into Alan Moore’s, “The Killing Joke,” which involves an implied rape scene. When Bonesteel said the word “rape,” the student yelled, “Hey, where’s the trigger warning?”
“Really?” Bonesteel replied. “You want a trigger warning for the word “rape”?”
That exchange was later construed by the faculty dean as “ridiculing the student when they requested trigger warnings.” Bonesteel was told that it was “more likely than not” that his conduct in relation to the student “constituted harassment based on gender-identity in violation of the School’s Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation.”
Months later, another student in the comic book class lodged a complaint against Bonesteel on the basis of having been “troubled by the incident.”
Although Bonesteel had many student and faculty advocates expressing their support for him with the school’s administration, he was not offered mediation. He was ultimately warned about the manner in which certain topics should be broached in class in the future and told his comic book class was cancelled moving forward and would not be reinstated. With the reduction of classes, he would no longer have the mandated hours to qualify and would lose his health insurance. His resignation is effective later this summer.
“The faculty liaison who interviewed me numerous times and submitted her findings to the dean of faculty informed me that attempts at reconciliation between professors and complaining LGBT students have failed in the past, because the mandate of LGBT students is one of zero tolerance,” Bonesteel said. “For example, if a professor mistakenly and/or unintentionally uses the pronoun ‘she’ in reference to a transgender person who identifies as male, that professor, according to the mandate, is committing an act of sexual discrimination and harassment. In other words, ignorance of the ‘law’ is no excuse.”
The dean stated in an email to Raw Vision that “Individual expression is at our core and we prize academic freedom. This situation is not an example of censorship and, in fact, censorship is anathema to our pedagogy.”
One must wonder what SAIC’s definition of censorship is when transgender students, which account for less than 1 percent of the population, are censoring the other 99 percent and campus life is bending and winding and jumping through hoops to appease such a diminutive population with extraordinary needs who cannot sit through a mature class without being “triggered” like a highly emotional 5-year-old.