Category Archive 'Bari Weiss'

23 Feb 2022

“Watching Lia Thomas” by Bari Weiss

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Suzy Weiss contemplates the Transgender swimmer who is breaking all the Woman’s Swimming Records.

Watching Lia Thomas swim is more relaxing than watching the other swimmers on the women’s team. Thomas glides easier—her competitors in the Harvard pool have to kick much more frequently than she does but get less far—and her shoulders almost swallow the straps of the one-piece running down the center of her back as her body torques. She’s better at swimming. She’s built for it.

Thomas, 22-years-old and a fifth-year senior, is the star swimmer on the Penn women’s team—and a transgender athlete who swam for her first three years on the men’s. The tallest swimmer on her team by at least a head, she has to crouch a little to get in the Quakers’ huddle.

Thomas started making headlines in early December, when, at the Zippy Invitational in Akron, she set two national records in the 500- and 200-yard freestyle events. She beat her closest competitor, another Penn swimmer, in the 1,650-yard freestyle by 38 seconds. Since then, she has continued to smash records.

Lia Thomas isn’t just a swimmer. She’s become a totem in the culture wars, making abstract debates—about the tradeoffs between inclusion and fairness, about the tension between identity versus biology, and about the complications of treating sex as a mental fact and not a chromosomal one—real and radioactive. Her presence—and dominance—in the water has been confounding observers and many of the parents gathered at the Harvard pool to watch the Ivies. They wonder whether they are witnessing the beginning of the end of women’s sports. …

I sit as close as I can to the pool deck, next to the dad of a Brown swimmer. “I’d point my daughter to you, but she told me I’m not allowed to point,” he tells me. I ask him what he thinks of Lia Thomas. “I see someone who is beating people badly, and it’s not fair,” he says as we watch the first heat of the 500-yard freestyle prelims, a race that Thomas ends up winning by seven-and-a-half seconds. “But I’m also seeing that people aren’t talking to her, her teammates aren’t encouraging her. She’s like an island, alone. It can’t feel good to know that there’s nobody in the stands who is happy you won.”

Ben Timlin, 34, drove over from Arlington, Massachusetts to “witness history.” He’s not into women’s swimming or sports, but he’s been following the story. “I’m rooting for the girl from Penn to smash all types of records so I can see everyone’s head explode,” he says. “It’s the same reason why it was fun to watch Donald Trump. It was a wrench in everything.”

On Thursday, when Thomas posts a pool record for the 500, winning by about a half a length of the 25-yard pool, Timlin stands up and pumps his fists. …

Thomas will get to compete at the NCAA championships next month. And that the parents of the female swimmers she’s trouncing are very annoyed.

One Penn dad, whose daughter swims against Thomas in distance events, tells me he places the blame “squarely on the NCAA.” His wife chimes in: “The NCAA has done biological women, and her, wrong and they need to fix it.” A Brown dad says the NCAA ruling adds up to “weasel words.” A Princeton dad tells me that “either the people supporting this are on the wrong side of history, or it’s the end of women’s swimming.”

The parents’ longer-run fear is that college coaches will start recruiting trans athletes, and that female athletes who have worked tirelessly in high school won’t get a fair shot. They say their daughters can’t reasonably train harder, lift more, or do anything to overcome the biological facts that make Thomas impossible for them to beat. The NCAA and Ivy League are essentially telling their daughters, they say, to set their hopes on second place.

When Thomas won the 500 free, I started chatting with a security guard. What did he think when she won? “Speechless,” he said. “Just speechless.” What did he think the solution was? Will the league change course? “Nothing will change. This is Harvard. There’s no controversy. No racists,” he said. Then, with a wink, “Everyone is equal.”


29 Jan 2022

Woke Librarianship at Bard

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Steveson Library, Bard College.

Ever once in a while, some representatives of the community of fashion establishment goes just one Woke step too far, and is obliged to retreat sullenly, doing damage control all the way.

Rod Dreher posts a rather colorful example from Bard College, quoting Bari Weiss.

[I]f you don’t subscribe to Bari Weiss’s newsletter Common Sense, you are really missing out. From today’s TGIF news roundup by Nellie Bowles, there was this:

It’s always fun to check up on what’s going on in academia. Here’s an announcement that showed up in the Bard College library newsletter (Bard tuition, $57,498 a year):

    In keeping with campus-wide initiatives to ensure that Bard is a place of inclusion, equity, and diversity, the Stevenson Library is conducting a diversity audit of the entire print collection in an effort to begin the process of decanonizing the stacks. Three students, who are funded through the Office of Inclusive Excellence, have begun the process which we expect will take at least a year to complete. The students will be evaluating each book for representations of race/ethnicity, gender, religion, and ability.

    So, to paraphrase this library announcement: three Bard students, chosen and paid for by the Office of Inclusive Excellence, are tasked with reviewing every book in the Bard library to evaluate how well it adheres to their moral standards. Facing outrage from library-fans, Bard quickly retracted and rewrote this announcement and clarified that the audit was more high-level analysis of each book and author.

    Still I like to imagine these students marching through the stacks, pulling every spine, reading every page to examine for “representations of race, gender, religion, and ability.” Does Charles Dickens dehumanize someone with a limp somewhere? I bet he does. There’s some nasty ableism in Beowulf. Was Aristotle a feminist? This could take a while. Also, I think I kind of want to be on this committee.

    The term decanonizemeansexclusion of a person’s name from a list or catalog. It’s a term most commonly associated with the church, who decanonizes to demote a saint who’s on the outs.

    There’s of course a whole new intellectual underpinning for all of this. Here’s the librarian Sofia Leung, who offers trainings and workshops on critical race theory in libraries:

    “Our library collections, because they are written mostly by straight white men, are a physical manifestation of white men ideas taking up all the space in our library stacks,” she writes, asking her readers to pause and think about that in her essay, Whiteness as Collections. Or watch her talk with the University of Michigan on the “‘Ordinary’ Existence of White Supremacy in Libraries.”

    The announcement about decanonization came in a cheery library update. It wasn’t the top item. It’s just there between an alumna to be honored and a local cleanup effort. Decanonization is a casual, business-as-usual sort of activity, hardly anything to pay attention to or ask about.

    When I wrote to ask about the announcement, Bard officials explained that this was all a big misunderstanding. Nothing the library newsletter had about this effort should be taken literally, they told me.

    “It will help us understand and answer questions about representation in our collections and build a more inclusive collection going forward,” wrote Betsy Cawley, the director of Bard libraries. “Nothing is being removed, recategorized, or replaced.”

    Decanonization is not decanonization at all. Judging each book does not mean judging each book (“an earlier brochure entry suggesting that has been revised”). It is just a fact-finding mission to learn more, not to remove anything.

    In some cold upstate New York panic, they retracted and rewrote the whole thing. “The erroneous entry has been removed,” the school tells me now.

    Regardless, if any Common Sense-readers would like to read books that three Bard students deem offensive, please turn yourself in to the local police station.

This is insane. It’s good that Bard retracted it, but it is a scandal that this kind of anti-intellectual, illiberal lunacy ever saw the light of day in the first place.


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