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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Where August fell short


In his most recent article, opinion writer Joshua Howell argues Veterinary Medicine program coordinator, Vincent Hardy should step down following the release of his homophobic email. 

To those who don’t understand why so many Aggies felt John August’s message fell short, consider the following hypothetical, cheekily tailored for an SEC audience. 

Suppose after a particularly poor football season, say 6 – 7, Jimbo Fisher took to his podium and said the following: “I know our fans are disappointed in our lackluster year. I am too. But I would invite you all to remember our 2020-2021 season, in which we went 9 – 1, losing only to Alabama. We finished fourth overall. That was pretty great, right?”

One can see the TexAgs forums now. 

“Jimbo Fisher has lost his edge!” 

“What does the previous season have to do with anything?” 

“How are you going to improve next season?” 

No one would call for Fisher’s firing, but the general sentiment would be that our head coach had lost a step since 2014, when he won a national championship with Florida State University. Excellence is an all-encompassing effort requiring tireless pursuit. A preoccupation with past successes would be the first indication that Fisher was no longer worth his $75 million price tag

Dissatisfaction with August’s statement runs along the same lines. 

To be sure, no reasonable person can claim Texas A&M hasn’t made progress in the 44 years since its Board of Regents said that “‘gay’ activities run diabolocially counter to the traditions and standards of Texas A&M University.” The string of successes August mentions in his message — as well as A&M’s LGBTQ+ Pride Center, a pillar to what we might call “A&M’s better angels” — is testament to that progress. 

But those are the successes of yesteryear — successes which, quite frankly, didn’t dissuade a College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences program director from issuing a homophobic screed claiming that “rampant sexual perversion” can “lead to God’s judgment upon a nation and its demise.” For August to list the successes he did without any discussion of repercussions — or, better yet, without any discussion of what the school could be doing to improve — was to arrange a lovely nest of laurels on which to rest one’s head.

A football analogy may be crass, but stamping out homophobia — like stamping out racism, sexism, antisemitism and all the rest — is also an all-encompassing effort requiring a tireless pursuit. It requires constant vigilance, a vigilance not on display in August’s message. 

Instead we got a highly sanitized missive which devoted a great deal of words to saying very little. It was a statement seemingly engineered to offend no one, but which paradoxically offended many. Truly, one questions whether August understands the enormity of the problem at hand. 

Consider just three examples of where August’s letter fell short: (1) August only refers to Vincent Hardy’s email as “highly offensive,” as opposed to the more apt description — homophobic. (2) August “want[s] to be very clear in condemning offensive speech in all of its forms,” but in doing so, he applies an “all lives matter”-filter to a case tightly bound to homophobia. (3) While making a passing mention to the threats Hardy received, August does not describe their character. It is therefore a matter of speculation as to whether these were threats to Hardy’s physical safety (which are useless to everyone and should be condemned by all) or “threats” akin to a recent petition asking the university to terminate Hardy from his role as program coordinator (which seem appropriate). 

At minimum, August’s letter would have been improved by making clear the university was investigating the matter, with a more formal missive to be issued after said investigation was complete. That’s low hanging fruit, but it’s de rigueur for these matters. At least it would have been something. 

Better, though, would have been a statement confirming that while A&M is committed to being a marketplace of ideas, all marketplaces are subject to some degree of regulation, no matter how light. A&M does, and should, have a capacious definition of allowable speech from its staff, but if it wants to effectively educate its students, there are certain ideas the administration simply cannot tolerate. These ideas include such mainstays of toxic and dehumanizing discourse as “slavery was good,” “the holocaust didn’t happen,” “women are not equal to men” and “our queer students are destroying the nation.” 

But alas, we didn’t receive such a message, and it’s unlikely we ever will. What we got instead didn’t say much at all.

Well, except for this: A&M cannot be bothered to take homophobia as seriously as it takes a game of football.

 Joshua Howell is a computer science Ph.D. candidate and opinion writer for The Battalion.

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