MILLER: Victim-Blaming At University of North Carolina

Is a seven-year-old child to blame for having cancer? What life choices can a first-grader make that would result in a malignant tumor on his right arm? Maybe his parents fed him the wrong foods or raised him in an environment that causes cancer, even though his siblings never got sick and the sarcoma had never been seen in children before.

According to the book 21st Century Wellness, cancer is “a disease of choice.” This paragon of profundity is required reading for the “Lifetime Fitness” course at UNC-Chapel Hill and is part of the curriculum at Arizona State, Ohio State and Brigham Young.

Now I’ll be the first to support science that points to smoking, drinking and obesity as factors that can cause cancer. But people who live healthy lifestyles also find themselves diagnosed with cancer or heart disease and diabetes, two other illnesses the book describes as a “choice.” As for the seven-year-old boy with the malignant tumor, I didn’t sneak liquor or cigarettes from my parents, and I never exceeded the recommended daily allowance for lead paint chips. I was a husky first-grader, but compared to kids these days, I was the picture of health.

My tumor, which first appeared when I was seven, stayed with me for the rest of my childhood. The idea that it was cancerous never crossed the minds of my parents or doctors. I was 14 years old when it was finally discovered to be malignant. After radiation therapy and a two-and-a-half-year remission, my tumor returned, and a combination of chemotherapy and amputation saved my life.

But according to authors Ron Hager and Barbara Lockhart, I am somehow to blame for my life-threatening illness. Apparently I made the choice to spend much of my high school years missing dances and football games, losing my hair, vomiting, and becoming an amputee.

As someone who is grateful to be alive, I can roll my eyes at this insanity because I survived. But the authors offer a simple explanation as to why six million men, women, and children perished in the Holocaust. “The people in the camps who did not tap into the strength that comes from recognizing their intrinsic worth succumbed to the brutality to which they were subjected.”

“Succumbed to brutality?” asks Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Director of the Global Social Action Agenda of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “These innocent people were systematically starved, beaten, and worked to death by the Nazis. ‘Intrinsic worth’? Life as a Jew during the Nazi Holocaust was worth less than a bullet. The world didn’t give a damn!”

Earlier this month, the Simon Wiesenthal Center demanded UNC remove the book because it “insults the memory of Holocaust victims.”

I’d like to know how the book was approved in the first place.

21st Century Wellness is not brand new to the fall 2018 semester. The university began using it during 2017. This beckons the question, did any university administrators or faculty read the book before it was approved for the classroom? If so, who are they?

According to Abigail Panter, senior associate dean for undergraduate education, the university “understands the concerns and sensitivities around certain excerpts” of the book and has “discussed those concerns with the publisher as part of an ongoing curriculum review process.” The course material “is currently under review for use this fall.”

Is that sufficient? No.

I get that a college campus should be open to the free exchange of ideas. But blaming the victims of disease and genocide has no place in a forum for honest debate and problem-solving.

If this book substituted African slaves in place of Holocaust victims, or AIDS instead of cancer, would there even have been a controversy? Absolutely not.

Academic gatekeepers at UNC would have torpedoed any use of the book, and rightfully so. They also would have cut off all ties to a publishing house that would produce such offensive lunacy.

But for whatever reason, UNC evidently doesn’t see what’s so terrible about blaming Holocaust and cancer victims.

Paul Miller is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on twitter @pauliespoint.


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