Shining Light on Dark Words

Tito Craige ([email protected]) is a retired history teacher from North Carolina. In mid-career, he quit teaching so as to investigate massacres of civilians for the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace in the Philippines. Four years ago, he wrote about ecology v. tourism for the Darwin Station in the Galapagos. On Sept. 13 he and five of his classmates met with President Martin concerning the writings of Hadley Arkes.

As an older alumnus, I guess I should be musing about the good old days at Amherst and making payments on a cemetery plot, but, honestly, I find myself distracted about something that I have to get off my chest. It bothers me so much that, for the first time in my life, I have written something for The Student. You see, I get angry when I read that Professor Hadley Arkes compares same-sex marriage to bestiality. To be honest, I don’t like a whole bunch of things that Arkes has written and then he makes things worse by attaching “Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College” to his name. Arkes’s words are circulated nationally (see below) and they affect people I care about. For my sister, her partner of 30 years and their daughter, I need to stand up. For the gay students in my high school’s Queer Club, I need to stand. For my gay Amherst classmates, I need to stand. Until now, many have been silent about Arkes’s words, and now I think it is time to speak.

Don’t get me wrong. I cherish academic freedom and I value the chance to hear opposing ideas. I will never forget the wild arguments we had about the Vietnam War. I oppose any effort to censor Arkes or anyone else. However, as the Faculty Handbook states, academic freedom carries responsibilities. To put it another way, acting irresponsibly can be destructive: “Respect for the rights, dignity and integrity of others is essential for the well-being of a community. Actions by any person which do not reflect such respect for others are damaging to each member of the community and hence damaging to Amherst College.” I think Arkes’s comments are “damaging to each member of the community.” If you agree, say so. If not, I respect your point of view and you should speak out, as well.

In the 1960s, when I was a student at Amherst, I knew nothing about the oppression my gay classmates were experiencing. I had no idea that, in 1952, the American Psychiatric Association had labeled homosexuality a “personality disturbance.” I was oblivious of the fact that, for decades, the FBI had kept lists of well-known Americans who were thought to be homosexuals.

However, at the end of the ’60s a rumble occurred and nothing since has been the same. It was after my junior year, on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village that gay men drove away the Mafia, who owned the bar, and the police, who’d come for a group arrest. Word of the six-day Stonewall uprising reached Amherst during my senior year. One by one, we students realized that gays and lesbians were fighting for their rights. Today, we see that, ultimately, they were fighting for all of us who have gay and lesbian relatives, friends and colleagues. That is why, in 2013, I am fired up to hear that the gay and lesbian students at Amherst thrive with the love and encouragement of their peers, faculty and administrators. Hats off!

I wish that Amherst’s policy of inclusion was adopted throughout the USA, but, unfortunately, that is far from the case. My state is one of several that outlawed same-sex marriage. Throughout the USA, there are professors, judges and politicians who vilify same-gender couples. And this brings us back to Arkes. He asserts arguments that have been used in the U.S. (and in Uganda) to denigrate homosexuals and victims of rape. For example, in the passage that follows, he is talking about sexual orientation. In his peculiar Arkes-speak, he claims that acceptance of homosexual love will lead us down an “unstable” path:

“…[T]he key abstraction, settling [sic] off ripples of self-deception, is that term ‘sexual orientation.’ The term is broad enough to encompass sex with animals, pedophilia, even necrophilia …[T]he notion of ‘sexual orientation’ is quite unstable: Many people shift back and forth across a spectrum that may now include the bisexual, fetishistic, transvestic, zoophiliac (sex with animals.) … How is anyone’s marriage affected if two men or women are allowed to marry? A while back, a 42-year old woman was barred from living in Stafford, VA with her 19-year old son as man and wife. And Philip Buble in Maine was denied a marriage license for himself and his 37 pound dog Lady. Now how would anyone’s marriage be impaired if these people were allowed to marry as they wished?” (“The Supreme Court Hears the Cases on Marriage”,, March 26, 2013, by Hadley Arkes the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College)

Imagine if you were a gay teenager and you read the following lies about death and conversions: “Do liberals want to break through conventions with ‘sex education’? Then education it should be: The life-shortening hazards of homosexual behavior should be conveyed, along with information about the other hazards of incautious sex; the record of conversions from homosexual life should be put in texts along with the inconclusive arguments over the ‘gay gene.’” (Arkes in The Weekly Standard, May 23, 2005)

Some of Arkes’s earlier contentions are just plain ridiculous. Here is an assertion he made in 1986, but it is still paraphrased by politicians: “… the number of pregnancies resulting from rape in this country is miniscule … (since) … the fear induced by rape may interrupt the normal operation of hormones in the body of the woman which in turn may prevent ovulation and conception.” (Arkes, “First Things: An Inquiry into First Principles of Morals and Justice,” 1986.)

I defend Arkes’s right to speak and I reject censorship. However, his comments that are racist, sexist or hateful should be criticized. If the writings are damaging to the College, then let’s say so. If Amherst stands for something better than bigotry, then it needs to separate itself from Arkes’s destructive claims. Amherst’s motto is Terras Irradient. Let us cast the light of truth on dark words.