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New campus culture: The limiting of the human mind

Editor’s Note: The following essay won First Place this month in the Network of enlightened Women’s 2015 essay contest. NeW educates college women on conservative values and emboldens them to speak out on campus. It was penned by Rachel Landsman, a senior at Rice University.

New campus culture: ‘Victims’ are the bullies

In their article for The Atlantic, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt describe the increasing prevalence of “trigger warnings” on college campuses and the frequency with which students, professors, and administrators are accused of committing “microaggressions.”

Those who suffer the great misfortune of saying the wrong thing are bullied and intimidated. They are silenced by the left-leaning campus majority who claim “it has already been decided that what you are saying is wrong,” that “anyone who believes what you believe is a racist/misogynist [fill in your preferred pejorative],” that “your privilege means you have no right to say what you are saying.”

The terminology invented by the campus speech police itself displays how the debaters are discredited and the debate is effectively shut down. Those who unintentionally offend are “aggressors.” They are accused of committing “violence” with their words. Professors who don’t provide trigger warnings don’t care about their students’ “safety.”

This new campus culture emboldens a new kind of bully: one who claims to be the victim while terrorizing others into silence, shame, or in the case of faculty, resignation. Supporters of these efforts want to create a “safe space,” a seemingly admirable goal prompted by genuine concern for students’ well being. Everyone agrees that students should be made to feel safe on their campuses.

But the advocates of this silencing movement go further. They want to shelter college students from the reality that not everyone agrees with the liberal orthodoxy, and shield young minds from ever having to defend the ideology to which they are committed.

New campus culture: Fear to speak one’s mind

This “coddling of the American mind” creates a campus culture of fear, undermines the mission of American universities, and abandons the core LandsmanHeadshotvalues upon which our nation was founded. Anxiety plagues students and faculty who hold views out of line with those of the liberal campus majority.

(Pictured, Rachel Landsman)

Daring to comment, to raise a hand in class, to propose an alternative to the accepted view, is to risk being ostracized, threatened or fired.

Administrators prioritize protecting students’ subjective feelings over encouraging free thought and intellectual debate on campus. They are sometimes willing to sacrifice the student or professor who dared to dissent in order to appease the hordes of the “offended,” for the sake of institutional reputation. This arrangement forces universities to abandon their educational mission.

The recent controversy at Yale regarding Halloween costume guidelines demonstrates this phenomenon. As students called for Silliman college masters Nicholas and Erika Christakis to step down, they claimed that “giving ‘room’ for students to be ‘obnoxious’ or ‘offensive’… is only inviting ridicule and violence onto ourselves and our communities, and ultimately comes at the expense of room in which marginalized students can feel safe.”

They claimed that Erika Christakis’ words made them feel “unsafe,” painted her as an aggressor, and implied that her mild-tempered e-mail was really an endorsement of racial violence. The vilification of Mr. and Mrs. Christakis, and its magnification as a result of the Internet, is the treatment feared by other dissenters on campuses around the country, and is what intimidates most into silence.

New campus culture: Limiting the human mind

Perhaps the students at Yale have forgotten they reside at an institution which has a stated “tripartite mission: to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge.”

The creation, preservation and dissemination of knowledge necessarily includes exposing students to ideas they may dislike. To teach history or literature means addressing the unfortunate truths of the world’s past, and to teach politics means revealing the unfortunate realities of much of the present.

To prepare students to lead means equipping them to interact with people with whom they disagree, and to engage in a debate and win an argument on the merits. If Yale is to sanitize its campus of all ideas that may cause offense, the university ought to amend its mission.

This new campus culture seeks to limit the human mind, to constrain ideas within the realm of what is deemed “inoffensive.” The campus speech police attempt to drive underground those with whom they disagree, as if silence will force the dissenters to change their minds, forgetting that intellectual diversity and disagreement is what built our nation.

Those who seek to silence offensive speech deprive themselves of opportunities for learning and real personal growth. They claim the debate is over, but they have never engaged in a real debate. They have never had to defend their beliefs, and they don’t think such a thing should ever be required of them.

If they succeed in their attempt to silence dissent, they will do themselves a great disservice: they will leave college thinking the world will fall in line with their thinking, and they won’t know how to cope when the world refuses.

New campus culture: Conservative courage 

As conservatives on college campuses, our duty is to remind our peers that we attend university to learn, and in learning we will sometimes be exposed to ideas we dislike.

We must empower our peers by reminding them that they are indeed strong enough to endure offensive speech, and that disagreement is not akin to violence.

We must identify hypocrisy by pointing to the illiberal nature of campus censorship and the intolerant nature of silencing in the name of tolerance. We must remind our peers that if it is social change they seek, they will not achieve it through censorship or intimidation.

The debate is not over. My liberal peers must learn to defend their ideas just as I, as a conservative, must constantly defend mine. This will require us to learn more about why we believe what we believe. It will require us to think hard, ask tough questions, and feel uncomfortable some of the time.

But it will make us stronger. And it will help us find the truth. And that is why we are students in the first place. Not because the debate is over, but because it’s only just begun, and we must be equipped to continue the fight, whatever side we’re on.

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