I’m really fed up with all the op-eds emerging now, decrying those wimpy college students and political correctness and trigger warnings and safe spaces. They’re all from obnoxious ignoramuses who are really trying to defend their sheltered privilege from criticism, so they’re all playing a game of IKYABWAI. So here are a couple of strong rebuttals.
The last thing higher education needs is one more old white guy bleating about “political correctness run amok,” when it’s just a slightly more genteel phrase for “people not like me getting all uppity.” If you’re upset about other people winning in the marketplace of ideas, maybe it’s because your ideas suck. If you think today’s students are coddled, and don’t have “grit,” you either don’t teach or aren’t paying attention. To see students calling out power inequalities and inequitable behaviors is not some sort of failure, but a triumph of critical thinking and intellectual agency. If you think students calling institutions, their administrations, or other authorities out on bad thinking, institutional inequities, or general bullshit is “silly,” or “killing higher education,” maybe you’re the delicate little flower who can’t abide an intellectual challenge.
Take the “trigger warning” as an example. There are still no colleges or universities that mandate trigger warnings as a practice in any field of study. Most cases of them being used have been in teaching sensitive issues of rape, abuse, or assault to classes with young women. The overarching point in “Coddling,” that trigger warnings actually can’t improve mental health, misses the point of the reality of these women. A new study from the Association of American Universities finds that over a fifth of all college women are sexually assaulted at some time in their enrollment. Another 47% have experienced sexual harassment and another 12% have experienced intimate partner violence. This means that any given classroom with any significant amount of women could be composed of up to a third or more of women who are processing rapes, assaults, harassment, or violence. Given the absolutely horrendous state of affairs within colleges (and largely, the country) in handling rape cases and pursuing justice and health for these women, it is likely that most of these survivors have not received or are not receiving the proper therapy and healing in order to be able to process triggering images and words without suffering further damage.
Therefore, whether one is suspicious of the merits of college as a whole or cynical about the existence of “safe spaces,” the truth of the matter is that “coddled” college students aren’t the problem.
The real culprits — on campuses and in the real world — are the persistent effects of homophobia, income inequality, misogyny, poverty, racism, sexism, white supremacy and xenophobia.
When students refuse to accept discrimination on college campuses, they’re learning important lessons about how to fight it everywhere.
That last one makes an excellent point: the anti-PC language does the opposite of what its obnoxious proponents claim. It’s not about advocating for free speech. It’s about using accusations of “PC” and mocking efforts to give minorities a voice to silence critics of the status quo.