Before We Go Forward (guest post by Alison Suen)


“…the conversation should have been about the issues, rather than the individual. Unfortunately, it did not begin that way.”

The following is a guest post* by Allison Suen, assistant professor of philosophy at Iona College.


[Robert Rauschenberg, “Erased De Kooning Drawing”]

Before We Go Forward
by Alison Suen

Recently, amid the controversy over Hypatia’s publication of Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of Transracialism,” there has been a lot of talk in the philosophical community about the importance of lived experience. I have been reflecting on my lived experience over the past week, as one of Rebecca’s friends. Speaking from the perspective of someone who has been on the sidelines watching this whole affair unfold, I am not sure if I am ready to, as Sally Haslanger says, “go forward,” and “not focus on Rebecca Tuvel, the individual and the philosopher, and to shift the conversation to broader issues.”

I agree completely that the conversation should have been about the issues, rather than the individual. Unfortunately, it did not begin that way. Instead it began with Rebecca receiving hate mail; it began with people trashing her paper without having read it.

Instead of a discussion of the larger issues, there was an open letter calling for the retraction of her paper. And instead of objecting to the numerous inaccurate characterizations of Rebecca’s argument made by her critics, the journal’s associate editors issued an apology disowning her paper.

Instead of reasoned dialogue, people called her names. Instead of mentorship, Rebecca received enormous pressure from senior feminists to apologize and retract her paper.

It would be terrible for this to happen to anyone, and it was extremely painful to watch it happen to someone I care about deeply. So I hope you’d understand why I struggle to “go forward” and examine the larger issues as if Rebecca had never been targeted, shamed, or threatened.

Before we “go forward” to focus on the issues, we need to address the harm that has been done to Rebecca. I believe individual members of the “majority of the associate editors” who signed the apology statement should come forward and own up to what they’ve done— to the journal, to the profession, and especially to Rebecca. They should acknowledge their unjust treatment of her when they repudiated and disowned the publication of her paper.

Moving forward without adequately addressing the harm Rebecca has experienced is tantamount to erasing her lived experience.

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