Department of Sociology
We study the key divisions of society:
The social order, social inequality, social change, class, race, gender, labor, and sexuality.
The Department of Sociology is a Community for Social Change, Social Justice and Equality
Reaffirming our Support for Students and the Boise Community
Dear Students and Community Members:
The Sociology Department, Gender Studies program, Ethnic Studies, and the Anti-Racism Collective publicly reaffirm our support and admiration for the many people across gender, and in particular women and trans people, who are and who have been students, staff, and faculty at Boise State and beyond; those who have become doctors, engineers, administrators, teachers, parents, and informed members of our and their communities.
We also find it a good moment to reflect on the point of dog whistles and political tactics as organized forces try to push US political discourse further toward one extreme while demeaning and ridiculing most other political commitments, discourse, and organizations. Dr. Yenor doesn’t speak for us.
Dr. Yenor’s comments were carefully crafted to toe the line of free speech while insinuating a much more extreme position on women and families, one that excludes many people and forms of kinship from full participation and full agency in families and society. It shrinks people’s freedom to choose their own ends in their lives, careers, and larger participation in the social world. We highlight the long history of how women and the trans community have faced multiple forms of domestic abuse, exploitation, violence, and the lack of adequate reproductive healthcare. His comments generalize and disparage women’s experiences in a soundbite that has gained negative attention and has created divisiveness in the community. As a member of the Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s Indoctrination task force, Yenor’s personal politics have entered the classroom.
Yenor employs a rhetorical strategy increasingly popular with the extreme right. Its advocates call it “moving the Overton window.” This uses deliberately provocative, extreme statements such that less abhorrent statements become acceptable. As Adam Serwer points out, the cruelty is the point. In this instance, upsetting large parts of the populace makes the statements more attractive to sympathetic ears, drawing them further to right wing extremes, and giving them ever more abhorrent tools.
While protected by the First Amendment, this form of speech does not strive for understanding. Rather, it seeks to demonize. It is a strategy that says opponents are beyond understanding. It seeks to deny our common humanity through which we can understand one another and where we are coming from. The strategy attempts to eliminate the most fundamental of human traits, empathy. In its most immediate outcomes, dehumanizing opponents has long proven effective at winning political battles because it interprets complex relations into simple terms, and it casts this as an issue of the champions of good against irredeemable evil.
But the longer-term implications are much more dire. When people choose to dehumanize, it means they are unable to work with opponents because doing so would be traitorous in their minds. In broader terms, it means they cannot employ the core democratic practice of working with their opponents through understanding their differences. Dehumanizing also means people can be more readily pilloried, abused, enslaved, or killed. Indeed, taking this strategy to extremes means that instead of engaging in democratic discourse, its proponents look for more permanent solutions to neutralize those they disagree with. Unfortunately, such behavior reminds us that there is a long historical list of how such use of language has created systematic examples of femicide, mass internment, and even extermination.
Luckily, the university and the broader community have many great ways to understand and celebrate our shared humanity and differences. Indeed, this is the heart of higher education that Yenor and his ilk fight against. We reassert the great humanistic tradition of higher education against messages inspired by hate and avarice. As Martin Luther King put it, “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” Any and all dehumanizing arguments must be rejected out of hand, as should any relying on good versus evil dualisms. Instead, we must approach all issues with empathy and understanding, employing our critical thinking skills so we can make the world more humane.