Halloween costumes, political correctness, law, privacy, and the Niggardly Principles—this one has it all.
Last Halloween, University of Oregon law professor Nancy Shurtz dressed as Dr. Damon Tweedy, the author of Black Men In A White Coat , as an homage to the African American physician and author. She did this at a Halloween party in her own home. Nobody at the party appeared to misunderstand the gesture or the intent of the costume, in part because she could explain it on the spot, and because they knew that Shurtz was no racist. Shurtz had also told the students who were invited that she would be “going as a popular book title,” hence the blackface, Afro wig, white coat, and stethoscope.The university report on the episode states that Shurtz “was inspired by this book and by the author, that she greatly admires [the author] and wanted to honor him, and that she dressed as the book because she finds it reprehensible that there is a shortage of racial diversity, and particularly of black men, in higher education.”
But as always happens now because there is no such thing as a reasonable expectation of privacy even in one’s own home, reports of Shurtz in costume and make-up got out into the campus at large, and inflamed the predictable outrage. The university launched an investigation that culminated in a critical report prepared by an attorney and the university’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity. Shurtz issued an apology—for her private conduct within her own home that was pounced upon by Political Correctness Furies, since she appears to be one herself-–on November 1. Some of her colleagues on the faculty and many students demanded that she resign, and she may have to yet. Shurtz has been censored and suspended, and is now on paid leave. It being claimed that her wearing the costume–within her own home as a gesture that all agreed was intended as benign and that nobody at the party either objected to or failed to understand— created “a hostile environment” at the school. This is apparently because
“as part of the uproar, students said things of which the administration disapproved: The report specifically notes that students used “other offensive racially-based terminology during class times in the context of discussing this event and broader racial issues.” It related that “some of the witnesses reported that the students’ reactions to the event were racially insensitive or divisive.” And it apparently viewed such statements as relevant to whether Shurtz’s own speech was properly punished.”
The report, meanwhile, concludes that the costume constituted “harassment,” and that her intentions are irrelevant.
Writes First Amendment expert Prof. Eugene Volokh: Continue reading