The latest episode of cancel culture at Vanderbilt University should terrify Americans. This is a harbinger of the damage the woke “social justice” mob can do when there are no adults in the room, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of not standing up to the ridiculous standards of modern outrage.
Last month, Vanderbilt University held its elections for the president and vice president of student government. The two leading campaigns pitted Jordan Gould and Amisha Mittal against Hannah Bruns and Kayla Prowell.
Shortly after the campaign began, rumors swirled that Gould, who is Jewish, attended a Sigma Chi fraternity event that broke the fraternity into North and South teams, with games and events loosely based on the Civil War. Cue the outrage.
The “North/South week” appears to have been a themed event in good fun. Early reports claimed Sigma Chi used a Confederate flag in the event and that some players chanted, “The South will rise again!” Some claimed the event was a longstanding tradition for the fraternity. Gould claimed that none of these claims were true, but that didn’t stop him from catering to the mob by calling the event “racist.”
“This week we draw the battle lines and celebrate the 79th annual Sigma Chi North/South Week. Our house is historically divided among Southerners and Northerners, so, we like to determine which half of the country reigns supreme,” read an October 2018 email obtained by Vanderbilt’s student newspaper, The Hustler. Monday was to feature a “Battle of Gettysburg Reenactment” in the fraternity’s basement.
Reports claim that this “reenactment” merely consisted of a game of beer pong, where spilled beer was referred to as “spilled blood.” The Civil War was a serious conflict centered on the expansion of race-based slavery into the territories, but college students are known for making fun games out of a broad assortment of topics. Only a bizarre woke form of Puritanism would demonize this event as racist.
College students — who are ostensibly adults — should be able to recognize that this “reenactment” was not the same thing as an endorsement of the South’s cause.
From the reporting, it seems there was nothing truly objectionable about the North/South week, but on Vanderbilt’s woke campus, this event was radioactive. In fact, it was so radioactive that Jordan Gould made a tremendous mistake — he lied about it. Gould lied to his campaign team and to the student body.
Even when Gould claimed he had not attended the event, the woke mob came for him.
Suddenly I started to get tweets and group messages where people told me to go to hell, that I was a white supremacist and a racist confederate. My senior advisor, a woman of color, was asked why she supported a Colonizer.
The other candidates’ supporters tore down our posters and ripped my head off the pictures, a sinister warning of what was to come. My campaign was called the white supremacist campaign. False social media posts circulated that my fraternity had parties with confederate flags and chanted that the south would rise again. One message said, “White men are the absolute worst!” Soon after, the posts got even more terrifying — “Hitler got something right!” and “he should get dragged for it!” I began to fear for my safety. Why was this happening?
I felt hopeless. It was a level of fear I couldn’t even process. Everything I had worked for was destroyed, and so was my reputation. I felt like I could never come back from this.
Vanderbilt has rules to protect its students, whom Gould described as “not fully-formed adults,” from the rigors of political campaigning. “These rules are also there to cultivate a safe space so students can model collegiality and civility. Vandy’s campaign rules prohibit negative campaigning and ban any remark or attack about a candidate’s personal character. Candidates are held responsible for the actions of their supporters and, when there is a violation, the rules require a formal apology.”
Yet Gould said Vanderbilt did not stand up for him when he faced the social justice onslaught. “Even the student deputy election commissioner, who was supposed to be impartial and enforce the rules, joined the opposition and participated in the vitriolic shaming and blaming. She violated the very rules she was supposed to enforce,” Gould recalled in a Medium post after the campaign.
The candidate could only sustain his lie for so long. Eventually, he confessed that he had indeed attended the “North/South week,” he apologized, and he dropped out of the race, The Hustler reported.
At that point, Gould explained what actually happened at the “North/South week.”
“The racism that existed is limited to the name of the event and dividing of teams based on cardinal directions,” the former candidate told the school newspaper. “The allegations about the event in the AGL post including the presence of a Confederate flag, chants of ‘the South will rise again,’ that the event was a longstanding tradition, or that any member chose a side based on ‘support’ are completely inaccurate and false.”
“I am sorry to Hannah and Kayla, and to everyone in the student body who has been hurt by my words and actions,” Gould said. “There is no excuse for my participation in that event, for my lies and for the misogynoir in my campaign’s official statement.” (Misogynoir is an intersectionality term that refers to the misogyny directed towards black women in particular.)
Yet the damage had already been done. Amisha Mittal, Gould’s running-mate, wrote a letter to the editor of The Hustler in which she condemned the former candidate and confessed to supporting his racism and misogynoir.
“Two weeks ago, my running mate Jordan Gould was accused of attending a fraternity event during North/South week that made light of the Civil War. When confronted about it, Jordan lied, insisting to the campaign team that he would have never attended such an event,” Mittal wrote. “However, after we trusted his word, defended him and continued to campaign, Jordan revealed on Sunday night that the event had indeed occurred and that he had willingly participated.”
“With that part of the story told, I want to personally apologize for the statement our campaign released on March 19. Our statement was wrong because it contained and defended a slate of falsities, condemned both Hannah and Kayla for rhetoric and discourse that was beyond their control and was harmful to many marginalized communities on campus,” the former running-mate continued.
“This harm was magnified given the relative lack of context into which we released our aggressively targeted remarks. I was complicit in approving the release of this harmful message to the Vanderbilt community that contained anti-Blackness and misogynoir, and I take responsibility for the hurt that it caused,” she added, brow-beating herself further. “I see now that our statements were unjustified and that their tone and language were harmful to so many people, most of all Black Women and Vanderbilt’s broader Black community.”
Gould and Mittal have removed their campaign profile from Instagram, so it appears the March 19 statement is no longer available. From the context of Mittal’s letter to the editor, it seems the “anti-Blackness and misogynoir” mostly consisted of accusing a black candidate, Hannah Bruns, of supporting or orchestrating the attacks on Gould.
On Tuesday, Gould wrote a long Medium post bragging about his “economic inclusivity” efforts and explaining that the woke mob came for him. His self-congratulatory tone is nauseating, but he does give a salient warning about social justice cancel culture.
“I challenge my fellow students to consider how social justice is being weaponized to do the exact opposite of social justice; false narratives cement dangerous, hurtful stereotypes. When the social justice mob came for me, I was forced into an unsafe space where no one could see my suffering,” he wrote.
To sum up, a woke mob at Vanderbilt demonized a guy for attending a North/South-themed event that didn’t even include a Confederate flag. Rather than standing up to this absurd attack, Gould lied, saying he didn’t attend the event. His campaign appears to have attacked his opponent for digging through the mud — the natural political response. Vanderbilt allegedly did not step in to protect the students, despite its policy.
Then, when the truth came out, Gould issued a brow-beating apology, freely confessing to misogynoir and racism. His running-mate also confessed to spreading hate.
Americans can sympathize with Gould, but he very much made his bed here. Even after confessing to the lie, he didn’t have to confess to racist misogyny. This seems like painful overkill, and it also risks defining racism and misogyny down. Accusing a black female political opponent of getting dirty with political attacks does not constitute racism or misogyny — it’s just ordinary politics.
All this brouhaha came about because a fraternity held a “North/South week.” Imagine the outrage that would ensue if Vanderbilt Sigma Chi had an Axis & Allies tournament!
Americans can laugh at this carnival of nonsense, but these college kids are growing up, and they’re not losing their “wokeness” in the first few years off campus. A school board member recently compared school reopening to race-based slavery. American society is changing, and episodes like this one are a harbinger, not a sideshow.
We should be very afraid.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.