Too sensitive for new ideas?
One way I can tell I’m getting old — aside from it taking more time to get my socks on in the morning — is that my ideas might seem to some to be outmoded or, as more flippantly described by a business friend, “old school.”
I’ve always thought, for example, that the central purpose of a university is to challenge students with new ideas, to be a place where they’re exposed to a variety of opinions and clashing concepts so they can intellectually grow and develop their own well-formed ideas and philosophies.
Nevertheless, there’s now a craze on campus of developing “safe places” — insulated and protective bubbles where students can go and not be knocked off their rockers by words or comments they might say are unwelcome.
The bubbles are designed to be unreal places, organized around a deliberate phoniness of forced calm where the fragility of a student’s temperament or mindset is less likely to encounter the rough and tumble of the actual world.
The goal is an environment where injury to the more vulnerable is minimized, as with a straitjacket — the creation of a benign place where supposed psychic wounding is identified by way of thin-skinned cries of “injury,” followed by institutional punishments to eradicate what now are classified as micro-aggressions: words, lectures or discussions that supposedly produce tiny traumas or petite micro-wounds.
“Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities,” write Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in “The Coddling of the American Mind” recently in The Atlantic.
“A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.”
The ironic result is that students, in the name of emotional well-being, are increasingly protesting for protection from words and ideas they don’t like, producing a situation that Lukianoff and Haidt categorize as “disastrous for education — and mental health.”
“Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking their fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law — or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress,” report Lukianoff and Haidt.
In February, students filed Title IX complaints against Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, because they were offended by the words she wrote in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” describing the new campus politics of sexual paranoia.
The absurdity is now at the point where even good-natured comedians are finding the cliques of perpetually offended college attendees to be insufferable. Bill Maher found no shortage of ludicrousness in the “Bias-Free Language Guide” developed by students at the University of New Hampshire:
“Rich” is labeled as problematic/outdated in the guide; preferred is “a person of material wealth.”
“American” is to be replaced with “resident of the U.S.,” while “foreigners” should be “international people.”
“Man’s achievements” is to be changed to “human achievements,” but even that might represent the prejudice of human chauvinism since it doesn’t recognize the key role that monkeys play in testing drugs and eyeliner.
Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur (firstname.lastname@example.org).