Campus thought police
April 1, 2012 2 Comments
Hate crimes have received a bit of press lately, with the news supernova over Trayvon Martin as well as the recent conviction of Dharun Ravi in the Tyler Clementi case. Much ink has been spilled on these things already. I will spare you but to say that hoodies are not a good symbol to rally around, and that Mr. Ravi’s disproportionately harsh sentence tells us just how powerful the politically-driven liberal witch hunt for bullies is.
Now only occasionally do hate and intolerance receive as much attention in the public square as they do on university campuses. The past couple of years there has been great hand-wringing across the University of California system. President Yudof issued this open letter in March. The academic establishment typically shies away from moral and absolutist language, but its use in this letter betrays the community’s critical-thinking blind spot. In response to one act of vandalism, the UC President sounds more like a back-bending diplomat when he applauds the “rapid and vigorous condemnation of this cowardly act.” This kind of language is reserved for when some ultra-important party has been ticked off and must be mollified.
That party is a large one, animated in its adherence to the orthodoxy of victimhood. It is driven by the oppressor-oppressed paradigm, and it continuously demands urgent, corrective action. As a modern day Sisyphus, the university president or chancellor must repeatedly expend campus time and resources condemning every little act of vandalism and thoughtless transgression. Furthermore, their chains require them to assure that such crimes will be expunged completely from the grounds of the academy. But there will always be insensitive yokels ready to wreak havoc, if for no other reason than to elicit a response from the ultra-sensitive communities on campus.
A couple of news items from last fall help us see a fuller picture of the campus orthodoxy that dictates these responses. After a student column on some regrettable phenomenon called “jungle fever,” The California Aggie editorial board informed its readership that its staff were to undergo “diversity training.” This prescription can’t help but remind me of Communist-era reeducation camps. And after some abortion opponents surreptitiously distributed the “180” video on campus, the campus Women’s Resource Center not only condemned the act but felt compelled to offer support to “students identifying as Jewish, Queer, People of Color, Women, Transgender, Romani, and folks with disabilities” who were offended or else menaced by a sense of “erasure.”
There are limits to sensitivity on campus and in the public square. Authority figures always take it upon themselves to reassure the public through their actions, but these grandiose declarations end up diminishing the sense of agency and empowerment that ought to be cultivated in the individuals of the community. There is too much coddling of victims and not enough sense of perspective. If we are to preserve the academy as an arena of critical thought, and if it is to deliver us well-rounded, capable citizens for society, we must shake off the unhealthy campus obsession over hate and intolerance.