If you had asked me a few weeks ago, I probably would have told you that “Mizzou” was a character from Harry Potter. For better or worse, I, and anyone else paying attention, now know that it’s the shortened appellation for University of Missouri, where they’ve had weeks of protests, administrative resignations, and poop swastikas (okay, just one)(allegedly). There’ve been hunger strikes, boycotts, football player walk-outs, and allegations of the now-former president hitting a student with his car. In the words of Sci Martin, a top high-school football recruit who announced that he was removing Mizzou from his short list: “Their campus is out of control.”
The spark for all this is reported racial injustice on campus. I have no intention of wading into those waters; instead, my interest is in the stifling of campus free speech in lieu of politically-correct groupthink. Mizzou is just one out of several recent disturbing examples.
My interest in this goes back to my own college days, where I started out at what was ostensibly a Christian college that instead bowed at the alter of political correctness. I transferred, found more of the same, and decided to start railing on it at every opportunity.
I once gave a speech about political correctness on college campuses that had half the class fuming at me. I wrote an op-ed in the campus newspaper regarding the university’s reaction to anti-homosexual graffiti. As a Journalism major, ethics debates were usually me (the lone conservative) vs. everyone else, eventually withering down to just me and another guy: my polar, liberal opposite.
Here’s the thing, though. After my speech, I had several students come up to me, interested, and ask more about its content. After my op-ed (which condemned the graffiti artists and criticized the administration for giving them what they wanted in the form of a blown-out-of-proportion response), I had a journalism classmate approach me and tell me she was a lesbian and that my views on the matter weren’t too far off from hers, which she never would have guessed, and we ended up being friends. And my polar, liberal opposite? We used to eat lunch together, where we’d have very cordial back-and-forth discussions. We never agreed, but we respected each other’s opinions.
The point is that I found that there was always common ground between differing viewpoints with a little discussion, tolerance, and open-mindedness. From what I’m reading, though, any open-mindedness I found in my college days is gone on today’s college campuses, in favor of goose-stepping to a mob-driven PC drumbeat that drowns out any dissention in the ranks.
Take, for example, the case of George Lawlor at Warwick University in Coventry, England. Lawlor posted a blog arguing that anti-rape “consent workshops” were demeaning and unnecessary, as the majority of people “don’t have to be taught not to be a rapist” and that those men who were inclined to rape would not attend the workshop anyway. For this, he’s been physically threated and verbally assaulted by both female and male students (called “rapist”, “misogynist”, “racist”, “classist”) to the point where he is afraid to attend classes, and is worried that his name online will be forever associated with “rapist”.
Of course, that’s the UK. It can’t be that bad in the US, where the 1st amendment instills an inherent tolerance of free speech, right? If only…
– Students at Amherst College in Amherst, MA, recently called for “re-education” for a group that put up posters decrying, ironically, the death of free speech on college campuses in the wake of the Mizzou protests. Stalin would be proud.
– Yale professor Nicholas Christakis was surrounded and berated by a large group of students upset with his wife (also Yale faculty), who sent out an email suggesting that the university need not censor the students’ Halloween costumes. Seriously. For this, the Christakis’s were accused of “not creating a safe place” for students. (The videos of this incident are unreal. At one point, Christakis has to preface his reply to a student with “I’m raising my voice so that others can hear me. I’m not yelling at you.” And the now-infamous “shrieking girl” teeters between shocking and hilarious.)
– Students at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA, threatened and demanded the expulsion of Emily Faz, a senior who criticized the Black Lives Matter group at the Mizzou protests. The furor reached the point that she was asked not to return to work until it died down.
Which brings me back to Mizzou. Again, I’m not aiming to discuss the validity of the claims of racial injustice, primarily because I’m not sure that they actually matter. Assuming that the protesters have 100% verifiably accurate and provable claims, they still lose credibility when they a issue a lengthy list of demands, punch out preachers, and chase away student press. It’s hard to feel sympathetic towards people whose immediate response to the Paris attacks is to complain that it takes attention away from them, or to see a guy doing a hunger strike as a victim when his parents are millionaires.
Instead, they look like petulant bullies. No debate. No negotiations. Do what we say, or else. And that’s pretty much what the Mizzou administration did…they caved, cut, and ran. As Cal Thomas noted, “To put a twist on a cliche, it isn’t about the inmates taking over the asylum; rather it is about the children taking over the daycare center.”
Where’s this coming from?
Wikipedia’s definition of groupthink starts with “a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences. Loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking.”
That could have been written with the college protestors as a template.
I doubt that there’s any single root cause for all this; rather, it’s probably a conglomeration of factors. Maybe it’s an entire generation raised on “participation awards,” from which they’ve come to feel entitled to reward without putting in meaningful effort.
I hate to bash on social media again (not really), but I’m sure there’s something to a constant real-time flood of information chosen mostly to reflect your world-view, especially in an environment like college campuses today where individual thought is rapidly discouraged. Need today’s marching orders? Whip out the iPhone and check Twitter!
It looks like I broke out my tin-foil hat for the previous paragraph, but students at Yale actually yell at Nicholas Christakis that “it’s not about creating an intellectual space,” but rather scream that he should be creating a “safe space”, as you hear someone in the crowd yelling “Re-Tweet!”
They’re afraid of anything that challenges them to think outside their pre-conceived notions, and react with hysteria when faced with uncomfortable ideas. Copycat protestors at Smith College in Northhampton, MA actually tried to ban media not sympathetic to their cause. What has caused college students to be unable to mentally process and argue with opposing viewpoints? Public education? Years of liberal college indoctrination coming home to roost? I believe there’s no easy answer.
As copycat protests continue to spread, I wonder how colleges – and the country – will reason with this outbreak of unreasonableness. I take comfort in knowing that not all college students think like this, and that the pendulum will surely swing back as this craze dies out. Maybe it will even open dialogues as students start to discuss this madness. Homogeneity, especially of thought, is boring, and it appears that if there’s one thing millennials hate being, it’s bored.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/97041449@N00/784943566″>here we go again…</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>