A response to UCT's HSSC

David Benatar asks why the medical students council has suddenly found its voice

Response to the University of Cape Town’s Health Science Students Council

The response of the Health Sciences Students Council (HSSC) at the University of Cape Town to my article about bullying in the MBChB III class provides grist for my mill.

The members of the HSSC “reject the notion that black students are ‘cry-bullies’ for calling out people who victimize and discriminate against them”. I too would reject that notion if they really were victimized and discriminated against. However, my article provided evidence to show that at least some of the purported instances of victimization and discrimination were nothing of the kind. It is noteworthy that the HSSC provides no evidence to counter my claims or to support their own. They are content with bald assertion of their own preconceived idea.

The HSSC claims that the article “is based on the experiences of just two non-black students”. That claim is false. First, if they had read the article properly, they would have noticed that one of the two students to whom they referred has denied that he is “white”. Does the HSSC claim to know better? Is it the arbiter of people’s own (racial) identities?

Second, my article drew on comprehensive screenshots of comments by many students (“black” and “non-black”), corroborated reports of what transpired in some classes, and on what occurred in the “emergency” class meeting. The vast majority of those who spoke at the latter identified themselves as “black”, and their experiences and words were quoted, often verbatim.

The HSSC claims that “[n]ot all interactions between these groups of students are accounted for in the article” but they do not fill in any of the purported gaps. If they had done so with the sort of detail I provided, we could have evaluated those claims too.

The HSSC believes that my “article is deepening the divide among students”. This is an HSSC that was silent on the bullying that took place in the class meeting on which I reported. There was apparently no concern then or before about divisions in the class. It thus rings hollow when they say that they “recognize the need to have a safe space for all students to voice their opinions without being silenced and our role as the HSSC in creating that space”.

The same goes for its request for “an official public response to the article” from the Faculty of Health Sciences Deanery. The HSSC sought no response from the Deanery to the bullying of a few students, but it seeks an official response to a public reporting of that bullying.

The HSSC response is also dripping with the usual “woke” slogans. For example, they say that “gas-lighting opinions from teaching staff have the potential to create a hostile learning environment for students who have to interact with those lecturers”. Like the cry-bullies they are defending, they either don’t know what “gas-lighting” is, or they cynically wield that charge to silence alternative views. It is not “gas-lighting” to provide a reasoned argument against an assertion. If it were, then the same would apply, a fortiori, to unreasoned responses to reasoned arguments, in which case they would be “gas-lighting” me.

Finally, they provide a “trigger warning” before the link to my article. Evidently the HSSC believes that their fellow students are so delicate that they require a trigger warning before reading an argument for a conclusion with which they might disagree. That is yet more evidence of the narrow-minded climate that currently prevails in the University.