The New School’s Kerrey Crisis

An Antiwar Institution Agonizes Over a President Who Killed Unarmed Vietnamese Civilians

Many students, particularly the older, politically active students at the graduate school, agree. Paul Simpson, who said he had earlier been feeling supportive of Kerrey, dismissed the meeting as a "lovefest" and denounced the "pap and insincerity spewing out of [Kerrey's] mouth." Others were angry that Kerrey had brought "lackeys" to bolster his position. ("Three times Halberstam explained to us that the killings happened on a dark night," fumed one well-known professor who insisted on anonymity.) At a raucous meeting of the graduate school student union, held just hours after Kerrey's presentation, speakers—some on the verge of tears—took turns denouncing Kerrey's performance, the board of trustees, and one another; about 40 percent of those in attendance voted in favor of a resolution calling for Kerrey's resignation. A second resolution was passed asking Kerrey to meet with the student union and provide detailed responses to what many said would be much tougher questions. Barring satisfactory answers, the student union pledged to call for Kerrey's resignation.

Twenty-four-year-old Adele Ray is a graduate student in the New School's communications department. Adele's mother is Vietnamese, her father a Vietnam veteran, and so she has closely followed the controversy on campus. She is troubled by the whole debate, she says, because "it's still all about us, everyone is talking about me, me, me—America, America. What about everyone else affected by this, what about the Vietnamese?"

Adele has been back to Vietnam with her family, seen the poverty and the damage, the people with missing limbs. She's listened to her brother and her mother talk about planes roaring over during Tet, the bombs falling, and the screams. She is fascinated and repelled and saddened by a war she says is responsible for her existence: "If it wasn't for Vietnam, I would never have been born," she reasons. She respects her father and those who went to Vietnam, and she respects those that resisted the war.

Of Kerrey, she says, "It's hard to know what happened. I'm 24, I wasn't even born then." Yet she wrote Kerrey a letter and is awaiting a reply. "I have no right to judge him. It's easy to say he's got blood on his hands. It's way more complex—there's God, there's the villagers, there's Kerrey, there's Klann. This whole thing is hard. It's like reopening a wound."

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