All Emails From When Harvard Canceled Me
I was invited to give a lecture at Harvard on British Romanticism, but on April 18th I received a notification by email from one of the colloquium co-coordinators that I was disinvited because someone at Harvard discovered that I had written articles for 4W criticizing gender ideology and that I served on the board of Women's Liberation Front, a feminist nonprofit which is currently suing the state of California for housing men in women's prison facilities.
The original disinvitation email is only one of several emails.
This point of this article is to display, for the first time and all in one place, all emails sent by Harvard.
You didn't see an article about my cancelation in 4W because I was fortunate enough to have this incident hit mainstream media on a national level. The National Review, Washington Times, and Just the News all wrote articles about it and I did a guest appearance on the John Bachman show live on national television. My friend even found a South Park meme about it on Breitbart's Twitter account.
Not all my coverage has been in rightwing media. I appeared on the Dawn Stensland show on the radio and received mention by Matt Taibbi and Feminist Current. Graham Linehan, a U.K. screenwriter with popular shows on Netflix, and To Exulansic, a widely followed banned YouTuber, both interviewed me for their channels. The infamous canceled feminist philosopher Kathleen Stock Tweeted about me:
I am now in the official disinvitation database of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
I'm far from the only one Harvard has canceled. Recently, Harvard biology lecturer Carole Hooven was reprimanded by her department’s diversity director for defending the existence of biological sex.
My talk at Harvard would have re-capped my dissertation, which challenged a conventional reading of British Romanticism that has dominated my field for decades. You can read a brief abstract of my argument (and if you want, the 300+ page manuscript) here.
My academic scholarship had nothing to do with gender ideology and little to do with feminism. The one chapter of my dissertation that touched on feminism did so in service of a larger argument about the British Romantic movement's relationship to philosophical theology.
The feminist portion of my dissertation was situated within a discussion of the poet Shelley's alternative spirituality. Shelley despised Christianity for a number of reasons, one being that he believed it's innate puritanical tendencies led it to demonize sexuality and pleasure. Shelley believed that Eros (the erotic drive) was sacred so long as it was a part of romantic love. For him, love (not marital status) was both necessary and sufficient to sanctify a sexual relationship. He firmly rejected patriarchal, institutional, and doctrinal religion just as firmly as he rejected prostitution.
Shelley's spirituality was inextricable from his liberal politics and feminism. It was because he viewed sexual love as sacred and promoted the equality of the sexes that he denounced prostitution. He saw prostitution as the outcome of a puritanical and patriarchal mentality about sexuality, which he largely blamed on Christianity. I wrote a summary of that chapter's arguments in an article for 4W.
Above all, my dissertation was focused on religious philosophy. Shelley, like many other Romantic poets, developed a non-Christian theology akin to Eastern or ancient Greek Neo-Platonic mysticism. Many scholars overlooked this, I argued, because they worked with a flawed conceptual binary (Christianity vs. secularism). Shelley believed in a transcendent, impersonal One rather than a personal, creative male Deity. For Shelley (and many other British Romantic poets) Nature was a manifestation of the One, not a product made by an invisible male agency. The One had no agency. Wordsworth even had a tendency to characterize it in feminine terms (e.g. mother nature). The universe was not the One's creation, but its expression, just as light unfolds from the sun without the sun intentionally 'making' light. For the Romantics, God, that is 'the One,' was not a person but a metaphysical absolute--the True, the Good, and the Beautiful itself.
Importantly, this religious sensibility was anti-ascetic. Romantic religion did not believe that sensory reality was at odds with the divine, but participated in it. Every beautiful thing was a symbol of infinite Beauty. Every act of love, including sensual lovemaking, participated in the nature of 'God' or 'the One.' In fact, Eros described not only the feelings that we can have for human lovers, but for the One itself. The desire to return to the One, as ultimate source of all Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, was, for Shelley, fundamentally an erotic drive. The Romantic mystical poet is literally in love with the transcendent One and desires to fuse with it in a sensuous poetic ecstasy.
No part of my academic work has ever touched on the topic of gender ideology. All of views on that matter have been expressed on external platforms like this one.
None of this mattered. All that mattered is that my thoughts were wrong and I needed to be punished--and what more appropriate punishment is there for disbelieving in male women than to destroy a woman's career?
It's clear that the person sending the email (I'll call him Drew) was compelled to disinvite me against his wishes, so I'm shielding his name. He makes it clear in the original disinvitation email that "Even if I were to push your visit past Erin, it will be near impossible to get our two faculty members to sign onto funding your visit once they learn of your online presence."
In fact, he even apologizes twice: "I'm so sorry...you've done cutting edge work. I'm very sorry again."
Email # 1 - Original Disinvitation
I have some bad news. As we were preparing the application for next year's funding, my co-coordinator looked you up on google to include the correct details about you on the application. She was surprised to find that your public profile is largely rooted in controversial issues regarding trans identity and that you're on the board of an organization that takes a public stance regarding trans people as dangerous and deceptive. Since you're mostly engaging in the public sphere as more of a polemicist than Romanticist, this puts the colloquium and the department and myself in an uneasy position.
My co-coordinator has refused to extend to you a formal offer to speak at our colloquium. I can't fight for you on this. I wasn't even aware of your online presence before Erin found it, and to be honest I didn't know this was so much a part of your public identity. Even if I were to push your visit past Erin, it will be near impossible to get our two faculty members to sign onto funding your visit once they learn of your online presence. Really, it's not so much because of your own personal conviction regarding trans identity. It's more about the public stance you've taken and how you've recently crafted a professional presence around these issues.
I'm so sorry we can't extend the formal invitation I promised you. You've done cutting-edge work in the study of Romanticism and religion. Maybe we can work out some other kind of engagement elsewhere in the future.
I'm willing to explain further about this if you want. I'm very sorry again.
The co-coordinator who insisted on my disinvitation is Erin Saladin, a graduate student in Harvard's English department.
I sent Drew the following email asking for more information about the thought process that led Saladin to insist on my disinvitation:
I understand this isn't coming from you, but what exactly did Erin say because I'd like to know.
Drew then forwarded me two emails sent to him by Saladin.
Email # 2 Erin Saladin Discovers a Witch
"On an email discussing next year's application for funding, Erin wrote:
'On a more difficult note (especially for a Friday evening), I just looked up Devin Buckley so I could list the right title/affiliation on the application, and I noticed that she's on the board of a trans-exclusionary radical feminist organization. I also found at least one piece of her writing online that explicitly denies the possibility of trans identity. The work you described back in November sounded really interesting and great for us to discuss, but I can't ask for funding to invite a speaker who takes the public stance that trans people are dangerous or deceptive. I realize it puts you in an awkward position to disinvite her if you were already in touch with her about it. My personal convictions aside, I think hosting her would signal the colloquium as a hostile place for community members who are trans. I also doubt that Deidre and Jim will want to sign onto the application asking for funding for her visit -- it could look pretty bad for them and the department.
Is there anyone else at all you'd like to invite? I know you were especially interested in an event that might draw in people from religion studies and the Div school, and I'm still totally open to that if we can find someone else.'"
Since there is no reason to expect that I would say anything at all about gender ideology while delivering a lecture on nineteenth-century poetry and philosophy, I can only conclude that the threat I pose is metaphysical.
Much like a witch in good old Puritan New England, very presence on campus must not be permitted lest I hex someone with a single glance. I created a "hostile environment" by existing.
I can't help but wonder what the reach of my dark aura is. If I stand just outside the gate of Harvard can I still curse those inside? Or do I need to be on campus? Or do my powers spread as wide as the United States? Or earth? Or perhaps I've made the entire universe a hostile environment.
In a third email Drew informed me that, even though I can never be re-invited, Erin generously offered to re-educate me on phone so that I could understand the nature of my sin and why I deserve punishment (odd sort of religion to have confession and no redemption. Even if you repent, you're still damned...)
Email # 3 Saladin Justifies Men in Women's Prisons
"But she did offer to speak with you today. See below and let me know if you'd like me to put you in touch.
In case it's helpful in your conversation with Devin later, here are some quick stats from RAINN on sexual violence that demonstrate:
1. that transgender, genderqueer, and noncomforming [Saladin's typo] college students are more likely than non-TGQN women to experience sexual assault (21% vs. 18%), and
2. that while sexual violence in prisons and jails is a huge problem, 60% of that violence is perpretrated [Saladin's typo] by prison and jail staff rather than by those who are incarcerated.
To me, this second point especially is a good example of how trans-exclusionary radical feminism employs the scapegoat mechanism. Instead of addressing state-sanctioned violence against people who are incarcerated, arguing for stricter gender policing in prisons and jails distracts from this greater threat to their safety. Devin cites some instances of sexual assault among inmates, but it is a false assumption that sexual violence cannot occur within a gender group. The most effective way to protect incarcerated people from sexual violence would be criminal justice reform on a much greater scale. Advocating for stricter sex segregation within the prison system may sound feminist on the surface, but it in fact diverts everyone's attention away from right-wing commitments to a for-profit prison system that disproportionately incarcerates people of color, including women. (The RAINN site also presents some data indicating that women of color are more likely than white women to experience sexual violence.)
If you are interested in hearing the perspectives of people who have thought hard about why this kind of feminism is harmful to everyone, including women, episodes 74 and 75 of Glennon Doyle's podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, is a good listen. She hosts ALOK, a gender noncomforming [Saladin's typo] writer and performance artist, and they talk about how trans liberation and women's liberation can't be separated from one another. Doyle is a white, cis, Christian woman who holds a complicated relationship to the church, and they talk about how she could easily have been a TERF but isn't.
Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help you deal with this situation. Like I said, I'm willing to talk to Devin further. I'm also more than willing to keep talking with you about any of this, and we should for sure talk more about how to make space for religious readings and arguments in colloquium.
ALOK (Alok Vaid-Menon) is an internet personality who responded to concerns about trans-identified males abusing girls in bathrooms by Tweeting: “The supposed ‘purity’ of the victims remains stagnant…Little girls are also kinky.”
Perhaps Saladin believed that her points would awe me into repentance with their brilliance. In reality, they are so tediously predictable that I already responded to them before she wrote them. You can find them addressed in my Encyclopedia of Bad Gender Arguments.
I responded to my cancelation with a widely-attended webinar hosted by WoLF which received support from Harvard Alumni for Free Speech. You can watch it here.
I also sent the following open letter to Harvard:
My Open Letter to Harvard
I understand that Harvard has forced you to be the bearer of bad news, namely that the panoptic power of Google has revealed me to be a dissident. I hold no grudge against you for this, since I assume you don’t necessarily approve of Harvard’s decision. You are still my friend and brilliant colleague. I won’t, of course, ask you to make your views explicit, lest you risk cancellation as well.
The news of my disinvitation to Harvard is disappointing, not only because I would have loved to give a lecture on poetry and philosophy, but because this is yet another instance of an elite university punishing (and misrepresenting) someone who questions fashionable far left dogma.
As you know, the lecture I was to give at Harvard had absolutely nothing to do with gender or feminism. It addressed esoteric philosophical matters in the Romantic movement. This is not a case of Harvard refusing to platform ideas it dislikes. This is a case of Harvard deplatforming me for political reasons entirely unrelated to my scholarship. As you mentioned in your email, I was of interest to Harvard for my “cutting-edge research,” not my women’s rights advocacy–and I had no intention of bringing up gender or feminism at a talk on the relevance of Plotinian Neo-Platonism and Vedic Philosophy to transcendent ontologies of early nineteenth century British poets.
No matter. If my talk had been on astrophysics I have no doubt that I would have received a similar email.
If it is unacceptable for me to speak at Harvard on British poetry and philosophy because I am a feminist, then I invite Harvard to purge its libraries and museums of all those who hold views unacceptable to Harvard. If I am to be silenced, then why do the tomes and treatises of history’s innumerable sexist, racist, homophobes still sit on Harvard’s hallowed shelves and continue to be cited with reverence? Harvard should cleanse them all and leave nothing but the purity of empty space.
It’s difficult to discern whether those who cancel feminists like me won’t or can’t understand us when we critique gender. My suspicion is that most people do not believe that a male can become female. They simply remain silent on the matter for the sake of their careers. I want to call them moral cowards, but I also have sympathy for those who must do this to survive, such as adjuncts who struggle to find non-academic jobs and continue to hang on desperately to exploitative part-time labor at wealthy universities which advertise themselves as bastions of social justice.
Your email disinviting me states that I am “on the board of an organization that takes a public stance regarding trans people as dangerous and deceptive.” This is a mischaracterization. Never has my organization, Women’s Liberation Front, made the claim that a person is dangerous simply because he or she identifies as trans. Rather, our organization opposes ideology and policy dangerous to women. This includes laws which allow males entry into women’s spaces on the basis of self-attested gender identity. This is happening right now in women’s prisons.
One of my iniquitous 4W articles reported on a New York bill that would allow males to be housed with women solely on the basis of self-attested gender identity. We are already seeing the results of similar policies in California, Washington, and New Jersey. In New Jersey, for example, one of the 27 convicted male transfers being housed in New Jersey’s Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women is a trans-identified male serving a 50-year sentence for the brutal murder of a sex trafficked immigrant woman. Additionally, two women at this facility are now pregnant through their association with another trans-identified male who goes by “Demi.” There have also been reports of assaults on women by males in Washington and California prisons.
WoLF and I have never claimed that someone is dangerous in virtue of being a trans-identified person. Rather, we have claimed that some trans-identified males are dangerous in virtue of being predators. We have claimed that males in women’s prisons, for example, are a threat to women because they are violent males. WoLF has no issue with trans-identified females being housed in a women’s prison. Furthermore, one of our arguments against self-ID concerns the fact that self-attested gender identity is, by definition, unfalsifiable since it is grounded on a purely subjective experience and, therefore, may be abused by predatory males who would not otherwise identify as trans.
Since such nuance cannot be beyond Harvard’s intellectual caliber, I can only assume either that Harvard believes the abuses at women’s prisons are fake news or that Harvard believes such violence against women is in some way justified.
So much for the claim that WoLF believes trans-identified persons are dangerous. As for the claim that we believe trans identity is deceptive, I can only say that we do believe it is deceptive to claim that a male is female.
I shouldn’t have to mention here that I have a degree in biology (neuroscience to be exact) but I will anyway just to drive the point home. Not only do I have a degree, but I attained highest honors in that degree and a record of straight A’s from cell biology through computational neuroscience, to say nothing of the fact that I studied human and animal genetics at Stuyvesant High School of math and science while working part-time in a microbiology lab at Columbia University. I am confident about my definition of a woman–an adult human female.
Unfortunately, my sense of reality and justice do not align with woke gender doctrine. I find it morally offensive to allow rapists, murderers, and otherwise violent men to declare themselves female and be imprisoned with women. Evidently, Harvard finds my objection morally offensive.
I have, as you say, crafted a professional presence around this issue, much of which has involved polemic. That does not, however, eclipse my scholarly achievements nor does it negate my passion for subjects other than feminism.
Why can I not be interested in both Platonism and feminism? Shelley was. Why can I not write in multiple genres, including polemic? Many of the authors we study did–and they faced severe repercussions for deviating from the norms of their day.
Considering that many scholars at Harvard and elsewhere are celebrated for their activism both within and without their scholarship, while I am condemned for it, it’s clear that the fact that I am an activist or a polemicist is not the issue, but what I am an activist about. Harvard has let me know that I cannot be a scholar of British Romanticism because I do not believe there are male women.
For my part, I’d rather be damned with the Romantics and Plato than go to woke heaven with Erin and the Harvard faculty.
Devin Jane Buckley, Ph.D."
Harvard has sent no reply to this letter. However, they did respond to a complaint email sent by Oxford professor and free speech proponent Michael Briggs, who obtained his Ph.D. in sociology at Harvard. Briggs’s personal website describes his research as “political sociology” and states that he is “interested in times when ordinary people choose extraordinary actions, in defiance of powerful structures.”
Briggs sent the following email to Harvard's English department, which he forwarded to me:
“I was disappointed to hear that your department recently disinvited a bona fide academic speaker (Devin Buckley) to retaliate against her for expressing political views. Placating the crybullies might make your life easier in the short term, but in the long term such decisions damage the reputation of your department and the university. I do not believe that Harvard can retain its position as a world-class university without academic freedom.”
Briggs also forwarded me Harvard's reply:
"The invitation and disinvitation of Devin Buckley did not come from the English department but from two students who took it upon themselves to handle this situation without asking for guidance (the students were working as leaders of a graduate student colloquium). Their actions do not represent the Department or Harvard University. What we have learned from this incident is that we need clearer rules for how speakers are invited and what paths to take if and when there is a question about an invitation.
Harvard College Professor
Department of English Chair
Professor of African and
African American Studies
I have received no re-invitation to speak at Harvard nor have any faculty or administrators publicly disapproved of the disinvitation to my knowledge.
By delegating administrative authority to graduate students to invite scholars as guest speakers to a colloquium and then disowning the decision of the graduate students to disinvite me, Harvard hopes to avoid responsibility for my cancelation without refuting it.
Being canceled for refusing to believe in gender ideology is not uncommon. What is uncommon, however, is the exceptionally honest and direct manner in which the purely political nature of my disinvitation was made clear.
We must keep in mind when we read about cancel culture that the number of actual cancelations vastly exceeds the number of headlines about cancelations.
Most dissenters in academia are silently quashed by refusals to publish, refusals to hire, funding losses, tenure denial etc. all justified by various rationalizations designed to obscure underlying political motives. Suddenly, their research is subpar, or it's no longer a good match to the department, or there isn't room in the budget for it, etc. I had the luxury of being canceled by someone politically naïve.
Either that or the arrogance of zealots like Saladin is such that they no longer feel the need to even feign support for liberalism. Like their counterparts on the extreme right, genderists now boldly and proudly flout liberalism entirely.
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