Universities in America are getting tough on using words.
If you use the word “female” or “American” or “healthy” or “violate” or “normal” or “foreigner” or “insane” or “obese,” for instance, there are those at these institutions who say you might offend someone, and, yes, I know what they are talking about.
I mean, as soon as I read the word “offend” in actual accounts of administrators or professors cracking down on such verbal misbehavior, I got out my microscope, examined it with care, and discovered its deployment was a microaggression.
To me, at any rate. Seeing this word was an atomistic but nevertheless painful puncture that made me think of all the times I have been offended, which is to say, insulted, belittled, snubbed, denigrated. I was suddenly full of hurt. Depressed. Traumatized.
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Why wasn’t I stuck in a safe zone or at least trigger-warned the word was coming? Did no one care about me? Couldn’t someone at least have posted something on the order of a movie rating, just two words in red print prior to the word “offend” saying “Adults only”?
Here’s where I start talking seriously, folks, for it is far from adult, much less intellectual, for students, professors and administrators to be engaged in the moment’s absurd overkill on political correctness. What we’ve been seeing is childish and more: an assault on reason, discussion and freedom.
At one school, students wanted to shut down a student newspaper for containing thoughts different from theirs, while at others administrations have enacted speech codes and professors have threatened low grades or failure for clinging to excoriated expressions. Invited speakers who might open minds have been disinvited by students with closed ones.
Concerning forbidden expressions, the possibilities are such that the best way to stay out of trouble would seem to be round-the-clock silence unless maybe you are favored protesters. Consider this case: A Black Lives Matter group walked through a library yelling vicious vulgarities and disrupting study and then was defended by an administrator critical of “conservative” reactions.
All of this and much more is part and parcel of such reported university faults as softened study demands, the near abandonment of core humanities, student intolerance in the name of tolerance and the professorial substitution of leftist, conformist hooey for the adventure of competing ideas. The experience isn’t without cost. Students must often pay predatorily imposed, ruinously hurtful tuition fees.
The heartening news is that much that is good and some that is great remains in these varied institutions and that ours is still a free enough society for there to be critiques galore. A special missive, reprinted in National Review online, came from Princeton students calling themselves the Princeton Open Campus Coalition.
Their particular concern began with a protest in which black students barged into the office of university President Christopher Eisgruber and refused to leave minus their demands being met. A sense on campus, they said in a letter to the president, was that anyone at odds with protestor views was subject to slander and vilification.
They politely requested a since-granted meeting with Eisgruber to discuss how the university might preserve a culture of civil discourse without intimidation but with plenty of challenge. They said no student of any set of convictions should feel “safe” from having his or her views contested and that they would like more professors who do just that.
They simultaneously voiced opposition to faculty members being required to undergo “cultural competency training.” They said this sounded to them like imposing “orthodoxies” and that one professor said it reminded him of “re-education programs” in his native Romania.
Not these students, certainly, and none of the critics I’ve read are shrugging their shoulders about bigotry. What they want is the kind of intellectually mature educational institutions that better enable flourishing lives.
Jay Ambrose: email@example.com