Yale student says classmates insist on 'leftist viewpoints'
A Yale University student recently criticized her peers for shunning “alternative voices” after she was “roasted” for defending British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie in class.
In an op-ed for The Yale Daily News, Anushree Agrawal recalls her experiences taking a “World Literature” class, which she says the school only offered after students “begged” for more literature classes focused on women and people of color.
"It really seemed like they were begging for works with extreme activist leftist viewpoints that they could read about and agree with."
During the World Literature course, Agarwal recounts that she and her classmates happily read a variety of literary works that were not written by white men. Then, her professor assigned Midnight’s Children, a family saga set during India’s transition to independence.
Written by British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children gives a portrayal of female subjugation in India that that seemed abhorrent to most students, who subsequently launched an attack on Rushie for being a “woman-hater.”
“While Rushdie discusses some very strong and powerful women who are able to control men, my classmates argued that Rushdie was, basically, a woman-hater and could have done a better job of representing women,” Agarwal writes, adding that her classmates claimed he was “problematic” because he didn’t illustrate women as having the same agency as men.
For Agarwal, who notes that she comes from a similar culture as Rushie does, given that she’s American-Indian, she writes that she wasn’t surprised.
“Now, for the first time in this course, I thought ‘Well, duh!’ Of course he didn’t make women equal. Women in South Asia are not treated equally; they weren’t treated equally then, around the time of Indian independence, and they sure aren’t treated equally now,” wrote Agarwal. “Rushdie wasn’t going to treat women equally in his writing because that’s not what he saw in India.”
This opened the floodgates of criticism for Agarwal, who reports that she was “roasted” by her classmates for nearly 40 minutes after she defended Rushdie.
“Each point was the same—I was wrong, and they were right because women deserve more power. Rushdie has to do better,” she explained.
Despite the incident taking place in a World Literature class, Agarwal believes that her peers fell into the trap of reading Rushdie through a Western lens.
“My classmates were imposing their Western ideas of equality and women’s rights on the situation, and the classroom turned more into a debate of who can claim the moral high ground and can thus claim to be right because of it,” she surmised, summarizing her classmates’ position as being that “Those begging for more equal depictions of women are more righteous, and therefore they must be right!”
“It really seemed like they were begging for works with extreme activist leftist viewpoints that they could read about and agree with," Agarwal remarks of the other students in the class. “Instead, they got stuck with Rushdie, an imperfect person of color who still wrote about mistreatment of women.”
In an interview with Campus Reform, Agarwal highlighted that “safe diversity” is the only type of diversity in literature that her classmates wanted, explaining that safe diversity refers to“having diverse writers or creators that also promote the viewpoint that students have.”
Respecting diversity of thought is crucial, she added.
“I think even though someone may not be a white male, they may also not always push for complete equality, and that's ok,” she said. “Diversity of thought is important because with it I think we can understand the novel deeply from a cultural context.”
Agarwal lauded the professor for handling the situation “brilliantly,” however, explaining that during the following class session, the professor debriefed students on the situation and affirmed the need for “humility and understanding” when reading diverse viewpoints.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen