Over the last few weeks, I’ve been accumulating stories about how our college students are being molly-coddled and led to expect that life will never be difficult, uncomfortable or “triggering”. Here’s just a sample of the crap going on on university campuses.
- An adjunct professor at a university teaches a course on sexuality in cinema, volunteers at rape crisis centers, know rape survivors personally. At the university, he or she has to listen to entitled 19 year-olds explain sex.
- A male student keeps requesting social media contact with female student. Get suspended for one year (although I suspect — or maybe “hope” is the right word — that there is more to this story).
- HuffPo has a seriously deranged article about how the word “too” is sexist and oppressive. Thankfully, most women are too smart and too confident to be sucked into that crap.
- Kansas University votes to ban the words “his” and “her”. Because they are micro-aggressions or something.
- The University of California is debating whether to establish a right not to be offended. I find that offensive.
- A standard law school lesson results in apologies from the Professor.
- Warwick University bans an anti-sharia speaker because it could offend people. More offensive than … sharia?
- Students at Delaware mistake metal lantern holders for nooses. Panic ensues.
- A debate between a rabid feminist and a gay conservative is cancelled lest someone be offended. I have no use for Julie Bindel, who is an anti-sex work ideologue among other things. But I want her to speak; I want people to hear how wrong she is.
- Campuses are issuing restrictive guidelines on Halloween costumes lest anyone wear something offensive. This is one of those rare occasions were I absolutely agree with Bill Maher.
- And perhaps most depressing of all, new polls show that college students oppose free speech by way of supporting mandatory trigger warnings and speech codes.
This is all part of the ongoing effort to protect young people’s fragile egos. But you do people no favors molly-coddling them like this. Protecting someone’s delicate feelings does not make them stronger. It makes them weaker. People need to be exposed to ideas and people that offend them, that make them uncomfortable, that make them mad. That’s the only way to build up armor against it. It’s the only way you can learn to function in a world that is sometimes cruel, often offensive and doesn’t give two shits about your precious feelings.
The thing is, that this coddling is having real-life consequences. Via the awesome Lenore Skenazy, I found this essay from Peter Gray:
A year ago I received an invitation from the head of Counseling Services to join other faculty and administrators, at the university I’m associated with, for discussions about how to deal with the decline in resilience among students. At the first meeting, we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.
Faculty at the meetings noted that students’ emotional fragility has become a serious problem when in comes to grading. Some said they had grown afraid to give low grades for poor performance, because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices….Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.” Does the first response simply play into and perpetuate students’ neediness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Does the second response create the possibility of serious emotional breakdown, or, who knows, maybe even suicide?
Gray identifies the problem as not only helicopter parenting but a helicopter society culminating in a helicopter college experience where kids are encouraged to not take risks, to not look out for themselves, to not expose themselves to any challenging or offensive ideas, to not … you know … become adults.
Now, look, no one likes being offended. But being offended is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a good thing. Entire social movements have started because people were offended by racism, bigotry, sexism or violence. Evil empires have been brought their knees because people found tyranny offensive. We are currently engaged in a long struggle against Islamic fascism that is based, at least in part, on being offended by Islamofascism’s brutality, misogyny and violence. Protecting people from offense is not a priori a good thing.
Moreover, the renewed focus on “hurtful speech” has plunged us into a politically correct quagmire from which there is no exit. Because there is simply no way to go through life without being subjected to “microaggressions”. McArdle:
The debate over microaggressions often seems to focus on whether they are real. This is silly. Of course they’ve always been real; only the label is new. Microaggressions from the majority to the minority are as real as Sunday, and the effect of their accumulated weight is to make you feel always slightly a stranger in a strange land. The phenomenon is dispiriting, even more so because the offenders frequently don’t realize that their words were somewhere between awkward and offensive (once again).
On the other hand, in a diverse group, the other thing you have to say about microaggressions is that they are unavoidable. And that a culture that tries to avoid them is setting up to tear itself apart.
McArdle points out that everyone experiences these so-called microaggressions, including conservatives when they are in liberal environments (e.g., academia or Hollywood). Charlton Heston once joked that there are probably more closeted conservatives in Hollywood than there are closeted gays. Trying to stamp out microaggressions is like trying to stamp out breathing.
So do people just have to put up with a hundred petty (and usually unintentional) slights as they go through life? Well, maybe. But there are better ways to respond than screaming “microaggression” and demanding censorship and a therapist. You might remember a few weeks ago, Carly Fiorina responded to Trump’s sexist remarks with a positive, enthusiastic and upbeat message. She took his remarks and turned into something that reflected well on her. People respond to assholism every day without the support of a university and speech codes.
It’s OK to be offended. It’s even OK to be offended by petty crap. What’s not OK is for universities to jump in on one side, to demand that people not offend and to protect people from anything that makes them even a little bit uncomfortable. By trying to stamp out “micraggressions” and lending credence to the idea that no one should ever be offended, universities are denying their students a chance to grow up, to stand on their own two feet, to respond to racism or sexism or any -ism without ending up in a corner, racked with tears.
The good news is that I think we’re reaching peak bullshit very fast on this one. When outlets like Salon is occasionally running articles about how trigger warnings and microaggressions are stifling free exchange, that must mean the end of the tunnel is coming into sight.