Response to Paul Lagarde’s article

Conley Hurst

By now, I’m sure we’ve all read Paul Lagarde’s latest article in The Spectator, everyone’s favorite alarmist campus publication. If you haven’t, stop reading this and go do so right now. But, brace yourself. It’ll be a bumpy ride.

In his piece entitled “Indoctrination: The Real Goal of the Culture and Diversity Petition,” Lagarde argues against the proposed Culture and Diversity FDR requirement by throwing everything in his arsenal at it and hoping it sticks. Personally, I could talk for hours about the conglomeration of topics that he brings up in the piece. But, for the sake of brevity, I’ll touch on the two most glaring flaws in his argument.

First of all, Lagarde argues that “culture and diversity” as defined by the proposal –gender, race, sexuality, etc. – aren’t worth studying. He says that the C&D requirement would encourage students to pass up “truly significant” topics in favor of “inconsequential” topics such as “Gay and Lesbian Life in [the] 20-th Century United States.” According to his argument, there are certain topics that matter and certain topics that don’t matter. Who decides where the line is drawn? I guess it’s Paul Lagarde himself. He thinks you’re simply wasting your time if you’re studying anything other than his certified “significant” topics. How’s that for a liberal arts education?

The arrogance of Lagarde’s argument is overwhelming. As a history major myself, I found it particularly hard to swallow. The idea that some topics, some histories, some stories are more worthy of study than others is ridiculous. Try to tell any history professor at Washington and Lee that his or her topic doesn’t matter, that they are wasting their time with the “inconsequential.” Sure, the Civil War contributed more to the grand narrative of American political history than the Gay Liberation movement. But does that mean the Gay Liberation movement isn’t important? Does that mean it’s a waste of time? Does that mean it shouldn’t be studied at all by college students? Of course not!

The study of history is as much, if not more, about understanding the attitudes and experiences of ordinary people as it is about constructing the unifying narrative of the past. Saying that gay and lesbian life in the United States is “inconsequential” shows a clear ignorance not only of history, but of civilization in general.

The second glaring hole in Lagarde’s argument is that he uses disparaging ad hominem attacks to belittle the sponsors and supporters of the C&D requirement. Not only does this detract from Lagarde’s argument, but it also fails to meet the standard of respectful and civil speech that we try to uphold at Washington and Lee.

Let’s start with the most visible aspect of the article, literally: the cover photo. It’s laughably ridiculous. It appears to be a group of professors (maybe the Women’s and Gender Studies department?) with photos of Karl Marx pasted over their heads. While I will commend the folks at The Spectator for their creativity, this image is inflammatory and immature. It mockingly attacks the pictured professors as Marxists, an assertion that is never backed up in the article. I guess Lagarde thinks that exposing students to diverse perspectives is the equivalent to communism. Regardless, he should come out and make an argument for that instead of printing an immature photo-shop image on the cover of The Spectator to make the suggestion for him.

In the article itself, Lagarde presents Caroline Todd ’17 and Elena Diller ’17, the sponsors of the C&D proposal, as starry-eyed liberals who are being brainwashed by the Women and Gender Studies Department, a group of professors who’s only goal is to ensure the survival of their department by indoctrinating students. In a clearly disparaging tone, he calls Caroline and Elena “our two young activists.” According to Lagarde, they think that worshipping “at the altar of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department” is the only way to gain a diverse perspective.

This kind of language goes too far. Attacking the idea of a C&D requirement is one thing. In fact, I think there are many logical arguments to be made against it. But attacking the people behind it is nothing more than hateful. Caroline and Elena have shown tremendous courage in standing up for what they believe in. They should be commended whether you agree or disagree with their proposal.

All in all, Lagarde’s arrogant and hateful article is full of sound and fury signifying nothing. As I said, there are arguments to be made against the C&D requirement. But these arguments should be made in a civil and respectful way. They should recognize that gender, race, and sexual identity are legitimate topics that should be studied and understood. Finally, they should recognize the good intentions of the proposal’s sponsors instead of mock them. Lagarde did none of this. The strongest argument he made was in favor of his own ignorance.