Is Political Correctness Smothering Critical Thinking on Campus?

by William Skink

Near the end of last year, Chris Rock made some waves by explaining why he doesn’t play college campuses anymore—they’re too conservative. Not vote-Republican conservative, but demanding to be protected from feeling uncomfortable conservative:

What do you make of the attempt to bar Bill Maher from speaking at Berkeley for his riff on Muslims?3

Well, I love Bill, but I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.

In their political views?

Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.

A recent Missoulian article featuring a transgender woman accusing Missoula College of discrimination got me thinking about this. Because the transgender issue is one of the du jour issues right now, the Missoulian saw a chance to get some clicks, and the alleged victim of this discrimination saw a chance to use the media to plead her case.

One of the questions this article raises is how many exceptions should a person be given? And do certain people deserve more exceptions because their special victimhood status apparently absolves them of the consequences of their actions?

An exception was already made for Jame Wallack in order for her to be admitted to Missoula College because Wallack is a convicted felon. Then she attacked her partner, but that wasn’t her fault—no, it was the drugs she was taking:

This past January, Jame Wallack grew depressed and anxious because of fluctuations in her hormones, and Kim decided her wife should go to the doctor and get medication.

“Boy, did that backfire in my face,” Kim said.

Over spring break, Jame Wallack took painkillers for slipped discs in her back, and she took antidepressants.

One day in March, Kim asked if she had taken too many pills. Jame gave her a blank stare.

Then, she attacked her wife. A police report provided to the Missoulian by Jame Wallack said Jame grabbed her wife’s throat and pinned her against the wall.

Kim told police that Jame let her go when she realized she was hurting her. Then, Jame panicked and put Kim in a head lock.

Kim escaped, Jame fled and Kim called police.

Now, if Jame was still a man attending college as a convicted felon, and HE beat his wife, then that would be it. Case closed. But HE is now a SHE, and she is essentially demanding that the difficulty of this transition absolve her of the consequences of her actions.

At Counterpunch today, Derrick Jensen has an interesting piece, titled Liberals and the New McCarthyism. In this article Jensen takes a look at a new iteration of blacklisting, which Jensen calls deplatforming. From the link:

For the past decade or so, deplatforming—the disinvitation of a speaker at the insistence of a special interest group—and blacklisting have been, to use the word of an organization that tracks the erosion of academic freedom through the increased use of deplatforming, “exploding.” Between 2002 and 2013, disinvitations from universities went up six times. And no longer are the primary blacklisters the capitalists (as was the case in the 1950s) or the pro-Israel lobby (as it has been for the past few decades). The pro-Israel lobby is still blacklisting like mad, but it’s been overtaken these days in the anti-free-speech sweepstakes by those who often consider themselves the brave heirs of Mario Savio: the liberals and leftists. And the targets of the liberals and leftists are not confined to the right (although they do certainly target right-wingers as well). Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges was recently deplatformed because he speaks out against prostitution as exploitative of women. Only outcry by women forced the college to reinstate him. Writer and activist Gail Dines was recently deplatformed because she speaks out against pornography. Last year an anarchist organization called “Civil Liberties Defense Center” lent its efforts to attempts to deplatform writer and activist Lierre Keith from the University of Oregon because she’s a radical feminist. The irony of an organization with “civil liberties” in its title attempting to deplatform someone because her ideology doesn’t fit its own doesn’t escape me, and probably won’t escape anyone outside of anarchist/liberal/leftist circles. Last year, female genital mutilation survivor, child bride survivor, and feminist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali was disinvited from receiving an honorary degree at Brandeis because she writes, from unspeakably painful experience, about how millions of women are treated under Islam.

Capitalists used the rhetoric of “communism” to blacklist. The pro-Israel lobby uses the rhetoric of “Anti-Semitism.” And the modern-day McCarthys use the rhetoric of “oppression” and “trauma.”

How extreme has this gotten? More from the article:

Things are much worse than I’ve so far made them seem. Brown University recently held a debate about sexual assault on campus. In response to the very existence of this debate—and this time it’s not The Onion reporting, but rather The New York Times—the college set up a “safe space” where those who might be made uncomfortable, or to use the politically correct parlance, “triggered,” by the debate could remove to relax with “cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.” A student gave her reason for using the safe room: “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.”

Silly me. I thought being challenged was a primary point of college.

Over the past few years I’ve talked to several university instructors (especially adjuncts) who’ve told me they’re afraid of their students. Not physically, as in their students killing them, but rather they fear that uttering any opinion that any of their students—either conservative or liberal: it swings both ways—find objectionable will lead to that student complaining to the administration, after which the instructor may lose her or his classes, in effect be fired. And I just read an essay by an instructor in which he mentions an adjunct whose contract was not “renewed after students complained that he exposed them to ‘offensive’ texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students’ ire and sealed his fate.”

I’m not sure what I think about all this. There are definitely victims who have experienced trauma and need support, but it seems we are conditioning people to expect a sanitized collegiate environment in which nothing will ever be said that will make any special group feel uncomfortable. That doesn’t exist in the real world, and I thought college was supposed to prepare young people for dealing with reality off-campus, not create an insular world on campus where the slightest tinge of discomfort triggers suppressing whatever text/speaker makes people feel uncomfortable.


About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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4 Responses to Is Political Correctness Smothering Critical Thinking on Campus?

  1. Big Swede says:

    No Chris Rock at colleges and he should stay away from Ferguson MO.

  2. Rob Kailey says:

    My first thought is that during any school year I hear at least hundreds things that college is ‘supposed’ to ‘do’.

  3. Rob Kailey says:

    Lizard, if you use Chrome, there’s an app out there you might want to try:

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