Op-ed: Professor Katz, Resign

Ranen Miao | SU President and Samson Seley | Class of 2022

As Pride Month comes to a close, we should both celebrate our progress and pay homage to the Black transgender womxn who paved the path for our freedoms. While Pride Month is filled with celebrations and joy, it is also the culmination of centuries of the pain of the queer people who have come before us. That pain comes, in part, from our very existence being a topic of “intellectual debate” by those who have not gone through our own lived experiences.

Jonathan Katz, a professor in the physics department, is one of those people. He’s compared homosexuality to membership in the KKK, peddled the outdated belief that gay men should be barred from donating blood and said that he is “a homophobe, and proud.” He defended stigma as a means of deterring homosexuality, carrying on his homophobic beliefs even as the nation’s views have radically shifted towards acceptance since he published his article. Furthermore, he claimed that “innocent” (i.e. straight) AIDS patients “died so the sodomites could feel good about themselves,” implied that women may be “less talented in physics than men,” and supported the Bell Curve theory as a potentially legitimate categorization of intelligence.

At this point, it may be easy to feel angry, but more than anything, reading this causes us overwhelming sadness. Professor Katz’s academic exercise seeks to otherize people because of who they love and propel the shame that so many LGBTQIA* people suffer from already. When we read his defense of stigma, we are reminded of the hate crimes and higher mental illness and suicide rates that affect gay men like us. We think about how these ugly iterations of bigotry are also the bricks that smash through our windows, the cops who attack queer and trans people and the concentration camps that kill people who love like us. We think about the children like us who fear coming out because people like Professor Katz told us that the way we were born meant we didn’t deserve to be loved, feel pride, or have dignity.

Professor Katz needs to resign because his “political opinions” make our community a less safe place. He treats historically marginalized identities as topics to be observed, studied and debated, instead of as identities of real people with lived experiences who should be heard, respected and empathized with. Our existence is not up for debate, and to be reduced to an argument for the sake of an ignorant professor’s desire to play devil’s advocate is dehumanizing and wrong.

Washington University’s mission statement says that it strives “to create an inclusive community that is welcoming, nurturing and intellectually rigorous”—a stance that is inherently incompatible with the noxious, bigoted rants of Professor Katz. By continuing to pay his salary and fund his work, Washington University economically and socially empowers him to continue disseminating hateful rhetoric through his position and platform. It is time to stop being complicit. Every student deserves to feel safe on campus, and especially in their classrooms. It’s time for Professor Katz to resign.

*If you’ve experienced incidents of bias, you can find support by filling out a BRSS form through the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

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