The Meaning of Mireille Miller-Young, or Free Speech for Me, Theft, Battery, and Vandalism for Thee
Mireille Miller-Young is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She teaches in the Department of Feminist Studies (“an interdisciplinary discipline that produces cutting-edge research,” offers an undergraduate major and minor, and houses “the minor in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer studies”). According to her university web page, Dr. Miller-Young’s “areas of emphasis” are “black cultural studies, pornography and sex work.” She appears to teach four courses: “Women of Color,” “Sexual Cultures Special Topics,” “Feminist Research and Practice,” and “Sexualities.” She holds a Ph.D. in “American History and History of the African Diaspora” from New York University. The title of her dissertation, a book version of which is forthcoming from Duke University Press, is “A Taste for Brown Sugar: The History of Black Women in American Pornography.” She has contributed to such organs as $pread, “a quarterly magazine by and for sex workers and those who support their rights,” Colorlines, a magazine with “articles concerning race, culture, and organizing,” and the New York Times, a paper that — well, you know. Dr. Miller-Young, again according to her web page, “has won several highly regarded grants and awards,” possibly for her contributions to C’Lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader and The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure.
In other words, Dr. Miller-Young is a typical specimen of homo academicus (or perhaps I should say, mulier academica), circa 2014. The non-stop racial grievance mongering. The anaphrodisiac obsession with gutter sex. The bad prose. The cutesy nods to pop culture. The reflexive left-wing politics. The angry, intellectually nugatory posturing. It’s all a dime a dozen in the trendy precincts of the university today. Dr. Miller-Young is as dreary and predictable a representative of the low-wattage, affirmative-action branch of that enterprise as any cultural pathologist could wish for. Would you let her loose on your delicately brought-up daughter?
While you ponder that question, let me repeat that there is nothing out of the ordinary about Dr. Miller-Young. She is exactly what you can expect when you sign up for a course in the “humanities” these day. I bring her to your attention not for her intellectual or pedagogical achievements. For what has just guaranteed Dr. Miller-Young her fifteen minutes of notoriety had nothing to do with her pathetic, polysyllabic banalities masquerading as scholarship but rather her unexpected entry into what some of her ideological consoeurs refer to as “direct action.” The Santa Barbara Independent broke the story under the admirably informative title "UCSB Professor Accused of Assaulting Anti-Abortion Activist."
That just about sums it up.
A couple of weeks ago, a dozen anti-abortion students from Thomas Aquinas College set up on a heavily trafficked area of the UC Santa Barbara campus, displayed three large signs, and distributed pro-life literature to passersby. Dr. Miller-Young, accompanied by a few of her students, confronted the group, treating them to some angry words. She then, said the Independent, led a gathering crowd in chants of “Tear down the sign! Tear down the sign!” before she grabbed one of the banners and began transporting it across campus:
One of the pro-life demonstrators, 21-year-old Joan Short, called 911 while her 16-year old sister Thrin began filming the incident. You can see the clip here. The Short sisters followed Dr. Miller-Young and two of here students into a college hall.
As Miller-Young and the students boarded an elevator, Joan said that Thrin repeatedly blocked the door with her hand and foot and that Miller-Young continually pushed her back. Miller-Young then exited the elevator and tried to yank Thrin away from the door while the students attempted to take her smartphone. “As Thrin tried to get away, the professor’s fingernails left bloody scratches on her arms,” Joan claimed. The struggle ended when Thrin relented, Miller-Young walked off, the students rode up in the elevator, and officers arrived to interview those involved.
The Short sisters, who later found their sign destroyed, decided to press charges.
The police report, which is available in redacted form here, is an extraordinary document.
The indispensable Eugene Volokh provides a digest on his blog here, quoting from the police report:
At about 1500 hours, I spoke to Miller-Young by telephone. I recorded my conversation with Miller-Young on my digital voice recorder.
In essence, Miller-Young told me that she felt “triggered” by the images on the posters. Miller-Young stated that she had been walking through the Arbor to get back to South Hall. Miller-Young said she was approached by people who gave her literature about abortion. Miller-Young said that she found this literature and pictures disturbing. Miller-Young said that she found this material offensive because she teaches about women’s “reproductive rights” and is pregnant. She said an argument ensued about the graphic nature of these images.
Miller-Young said that she situation became “passionate” and that other students in the area were “triggered” in a negative way by the imagery. Miller-Young said that she and others began demanding that the images be taken down. Miller-Young said that the demonstrators refused.
At which point, Miller-Young said that she “just grabbed it [the sign] from this girl’s hands.” Asked if there had been a struggle, Miller-Young stated, “I’m stronger so I was able to take the poster.”
Let’s pass over the bit about Dr. Miller-Young being pregnant and pause to digest her telling admission: “I’m stronger so I was able to take the poster.” Is that what they teach at the University of California at Santa Barbara?
Miller-Young said that the poster had been taken back to her office. Once in her office, a “safe space” described by Miller-Young, Miller-Young said that they were still upset by the images on the poster and had destroyed it. Miller-Young said that she was “mainly” responsible for the posters destruction because she was the only one with scissors.
I asked if Miller-Young had carried the poster into her office or if she had students carried it. Miller-Young said that she had carried the poster but that there were students with her. Miller-Young went on to say that because the poster was upsetting to her and other students, she felt that the activists did not have the right to be there.
Again, let us pause to savor that reasoning: because the poster was upsetting to her and other students, she felt that the activists did not have the right to be there. Got that?
The officer continues:
I asked Miller-Young if she felt anything wrong had happened this afternoon. Miller-Young said that she did not know enough about the limits of free speech to answer my question. Miller-Young went on to say that she was not sure what an acceptable and legal response to hate speech would be. Miller-Young said that she was willing to pay for the cost of the sign but would “hate it.”
I explained to Miller-Young that the victims in this case felt that a crime had occurred. I told Miller-Young that I appreciated the fact that she felt traumatized by the imagery but that her response constituted a violation of law. Furthermore, I told Miller-Young that I was worried about the example she had set for her undergraduate students.
Miller-Young said that her students “were wanting her to take” the sign away. Miller-Young argued that she set a good example for her students. Miller-Young likened her behavior to that of a “conscientious objector.” Miller-Young said that she did not feel that what she had done was criminal. However, she acknowledged that the sign did not belong to her.
I asked Miller-Young what crimes she felt the pro-life group had violated. Miller-Young replied that their coming to campus and showing “graphic imagery” was insensitive to the community. I clarified the difference between University policy and law to Miller-Young and asked her again what law had been violated. . . . Miller-Young also suggested that the group had violated her rights. I asked Miller-Young what right the group had violated. Miller-Young responded, “My personal right to go to work and not be in harm.”
Miller-Young elaborated that one of the reasons she had felt so alarmed by this imagery is because she is about to have the test for Down Syndrome. Miller-Young said. “I work here, why do they get to intervene in that?”
I explained to Miller-Young that vandalism, battery and robbery had occurred. I also told Miller-Young that individuals involved in this case desired prosecution.
Just yesterday, prosecution is exactly what happened: The DA’s office issued a press release detailing misdemeanor charges for theft, battery, and vandalism against Dr. Miller-Young. As Eugene Volokh observed when reporting on the DA’s press release, “perhaps the incident will indeed ‘set a good example for [the professor's] students,’” as Dr. Miller-Young said she was doing, though not in precisely the way she had envisioned.
The case will first be heard on April 4. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what, if anything University of California administrators have to say about their briefly notorious “feminist.”