Emmy Griffin / October 13, 2021

College Education Sacrificed at the Altar of Woke

A student spearheaded an effort to tarnish a professor and blacklist the 1965 film “Othello.”

There is something that raises ire in the heart of this teacher when the ignorant, self-righteous, and intolerant students have more power than a sage, intelligent, and well-respected college educator. That’s exactly what’s happening to Bright Sheng, distinguished professor and composer at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. His crime? Showing the 1965 film “Othello” in which cultural icon Laurence Olivier played the title character. Olivier is white. Othello is black.

The student who started the ruckus was a freshman named Olivia Cook, who called what Olivier was doing “blackface.” This incited more activist students who are more interested in their “holy cause” than seeking to understand the cultural and social circumstances behind the casting or the professor’s original lesson. Professor Sheng issued two apologies and even stepped down from teaching the seminar in which he had shown the film. Invariably, this was still not enough for the outraged students, because there is never enough punishment to satisfy The Mob.

There are numerous miscarriages of justice in this situation. For example, the students are stubbornly sticking to their guns that watching said film is absolutely, positively offensive. Yet the professor had many good reasons for showing the film. He was demonstrating how opera composer Giuseppe Verdi had adapted this famous Shakespearian play. He also was not bothered by the fact that Olivier, a white actor, played the black Othello. Cross-casting is a regular practice in opera, just as Shakespeare had cross-gender casting in his plays.

These student activists are destroying Western culture — and would actually be proud if you pointed this out to them. According to the tenets of Robin DiAngelo in White Fragility, the culture of the West and its institutions are systemically racist. Really, though, both DiAngelo and these student iconoclasts have fallen into the ultimate trap: keeping themselves ignorant through blind activism.

Isn’t the point of going to college to learn, thereby becoming well-informed, educated, and cultured individuals? By canceling everything that isn’t currently kosher according to the “Doctrine of Woke,” Black Lives Matter, and Critical Race Theory, they allow their lack of critical thinking and mindlessness to continue. They shut down the conversation. This is clearly seen when Professor Sheng in his first apology cited other instances in which operas were cross-cast. Instead of starting a conversation, these blind fools simply got angrier. How dare this professor continue in his “sin”? How dare he try to educate?

The student iconoclasts called this professor a racist for showing “Othello” even though Sheng is an immigrant from China who lived through that country’s Cultural Revolution. Unlike his students, he has a far better idea of what living under a genuinely repressive institution is like. You’d think this would give him that coveted status preached by CRT that only oppressed people have. Instead, these snotty, know-nothing college undergrads still have more oppression points than him?

Ultimately, the adults involved hold just as much — if not more — blame as the outrage-chasing undergrads. The school is a huge player in this injustice by not supporting learning and discussion but instead simply shutting them down. Furthermore, the school is letting this teaching moment pass these students by — the height of cowardice and political short-sightedness — and allowing these students’ minds to remain in the heretical darkness of the Doctrine of Woke. It is here where intellect and culture are allowed to die, all at the hands of a mini-activist freshman and at the expense of a world-renowned composer.

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