Editor’s Note: This piece explains why NAS Communications & Research Associate, formerly known as John David, will now be writing under his real name, David Acevedo. To learn more about his reasons for using the pseudonym and now for retiring it, read on. Otherwise, note that all of his future work will be under the name David Acevedo and that all past articles by “John David” and the weekly newsletter, CounterCurrent, will be changed to reflect David’s real name.
I never expected to work at a place like the National Association of Scholars. A musician by training, I attended Columbia University from 2015-18 for my undergraduate music degree, where I was lucky enough to study with some of the world’s very finest instrumentalists, composers, and musicologists. I fell in love with the academic side of music and even conducted some independent research on the theory of rhythm, meter, and time.
I was also fortunate to have completed Columbia’s Core Curriculum, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. I found it strange as a freshman that we were discussing the fact that Homer was a straight, white man rather than what he wrote. But I didn’t think much of it at the time, and I certainly didn’t connect the dots between the liberal arts courses I took and the overarching poisons infecting nearly all of them: “social justice,” critical theory, and postmodernism. Western literature, philosophy, art history, music history, music theory, ethnomusicology ... you name it. We always had to talk about race, gender, sexuality, and class. All other concerns were secondary.
I progressed through my studies and found many of the great books and works of art I encountered inspiring, critical theory or not. I brushed shoulders with countless brilliant peers and professors, many of whom I still speak to regularly. And I found a small but tight-knit community of Christians with whom to practice my faith in what was otherwise an overwhelmingly secular environment.
But I also saw the dark side of academia. I saw my peers mocked and ostracized for expressing right-of-center views. I heard of “activists” tearing down flyers for a Christine Hoff Sommers event (I went to this event—Sommers was wonderful and indisputably respectful). I saw hundreds of students protest a scheduled talk by Mike Cernovich, hurling vitriolic insults and obscenities at any and all entering the auditorium. Did those attending agree with Cernovich? Were they there to critique his views? It didn’t matter. They were “giving him a platform” and therefore abetting a “Nazi.”
These experiences disturbed me. I didn’t really know why, nor was I aware of the ideological underpinnings of the actions I witnessed, nor did I know how to respond. I simply knew it was wrong. But beyond some initial research, I didn’t have time to figure it out. I was getting married two weeks after graduation and had bigger fish to fry. In retrospect, I realize that these experiences at Columbia primed me for the work I’m doing now.
Enter the NAS. I had just been laid off by my otherwise steady job helping with music in a church office and was seeking full-time employment. Long story short, I ended up applying for and accepting an offer to become NAS’s newest communications intern. I didn’t know much about the organization or what this job meant, but I reported to the office the day after Columbus Day, 2019 and got to work.
I was more or less thrown to the wolves from day one, and while it was nerve-wracking at the time, I’m glad I was. I learned skills and grew in confidence at a far faster rate than I would have otherwise. In less than a month, I began writing short articles and NAS’s weekly newsletter, CounterCurrent. Within three months I was made full-time and was writing longer pieces, legislative testimony, and other higher-level documents. Now, I maintain NAS’s four Active Investigations, edit for Minding the Campus, and have had articles cited by various journalists, legislators, and Department of Education officials. I do not list these developments to boast, but rather to demonstrate the trajectory of my job in the last year or so. These opportunities have been exciting and have opened up a new world of work to me, one I never expected to enter.
And yet, I was afraid. Deathly afraid. Afraid that my music peers would learn of my true beliefs and cease working with me. Afraid that prospective graduate school professors would deny me acceptance or professional opportunities because I do not conform to the progressive mold. Afraid that my first love and, at this point, primary passion of music would be squandered because I was found to be on the “wrong side of history.”—creating and maintaining NAS’s cancel culture tracker didn’t exactly soothe my nerves.
So I chose to hide behind a pseudonym, John David. There’s no meaning in this name, outside of that John is my middle name and David is my first name. It never felt right, but it’s what I thought I had to do to protect myself. I saw how the Columbia mobs savaged people they didn’t like. Why would I be any different?
After over a year and much discussion with trusted colleagues, family, and friends, I am retiring the name John David. No longer will I hide behind this fake moniker. Why? Three main reasons:
First, I’m simply tired of living in fear. For many people, writing under a pseudonym is not a choice made out of fear or cowardice. But for me it was, and I feel compelled to leave it aside for the sake of my principles and character. How can I, for example, encourage you all to stand up to the academic cancel culture while at the same time avoiding my real name for fear of being canceled? This is exactly how the culture wins—by scaring people into silence.
Second, those who stand for academic freedom and the disinterested pursuit of truth are far too few for any one of us to sit on the sidelines, even partially. I feel that I owe it to the cause to go all-out in this work regardless of potential negative externalities. The stakes are simply too high. And besides, do I really want to work with musicians and academics that would exclude me solely based on my worldview? Probably not. I’d rather take these risks, which I now deem necessary, and pursue my artistic work on my own terms.
Third, and perhaps selfishly, I want direct credit for my own work. I’ve felt exceedingly blessed for all of the opportunities Peter Wood and the NAS team have given me, and I’m sure that many more will come as I continue to develop. But it doesn’t feel quite as fulfilling to see the name “John David” on work that I wrote, and I want that to change.
I still dream of playing, composing, and writing about music full-time. I still have graduate school aspirations, and I hope to be back in school next fall (while continuing work at NAS, of course). But I’ve decided that I won’t do it while compromising my principles. If my peers dislike my views and choose to abandon me because of them, so be it. I’ll figure out other ways to be creative. But I’m going to fight for truth, beauty, and goodness, and I’m going to do it wholeheartedly from here on out.
So, please, call me David. Thanks for reading.
David Acevedo is Communications & Research Associate at the National Association of Scholars and Managing Editor of Minding the Campus.