Why do colleges take everything so seriously?
The College Fix assistant editor Dave Huber recently examined a silly dust-up at the University of Maine, in which, during move-in week, some students hung banners over their apartment balconies declaring, “Daughter Drop Off” and “Honk if She’s Eighteen.” The signs, according to students and college officials, “normalize misogyny” and give evidence to “the larger systemic problems of the campus that make students rightfully feel unsafe.” The director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program is allegedly organizing a “panel” to gauge peoples’ reactions to the banners and “gain a deeper understanding of this controversy.” Eventually both campus and municipal police got involved.
To which our own Mr. Huber appropriately responded: “Why do so many folks take everything so seriously anymore?”
This is a great question, and—at a time of increasing national hysteria and perpetual political outrage—a particularly vital one as well. Why do people take everything so seriously, particularly on college campuses? Why is it so hard for people to just, you know, calm down?
In the case of UMaine’s recent “controversy,” for example, why must we equate the boorish and offensive banners of a bunch of college goobers with “systemic problems” and “misogyny?” The banners in question, and the messages they promote, are, to be sure, gross and unbecoming of grown men and women. A properly-oriented campus culture would shame such oafish behavior, reminding these young men that women should be treated with respect and chivalry, not chuckleheaded testosterone-fueled stupidity. In days past, it is probable that none of these boys would be considered datable material by any of the eligible co-eds on campus; who would want to date a man, after all, that forced fathers and mothers to contemplate their daughters in sexually compromising positions?
Instead we have the usual over-reaction, a kind of academified pearl-clutching response to what is, in the end, little more than idiot conduct. Why is this so common?
As blunt as it is to admit, part of it is probably monetary—if you can convince enough people that there are “systemic” problems related to “misogyny” on your campus, you’ll probably get enough funding for your femme-genderqueer workshop series to take that vacation to the Poconos you’ve been after. But more than that, it is probably simply a matter of cultural groupthink: getting overly wigged-out about some dumb frat boy banners is just a thing people do at college these days. In their own college days your parents streaked the quad and toilet-papered the dean’s house; you, on the other hand, attend “panels” on the topic of crude pranks. It’s a cultural phenomenon of the time.
In the end, such responses will likely not make our campuses more pleasant or less crude; dunderheads will continue to make offensive jokes, students and academics will continue to get all bent out of shape over them, and the cycle will repeat. Maybe someone, somewhere will figure out that this isn’t the best approach to dealing with campus controversy. Hey, maybe they could host a panel about it!