The Coddling of the American Mind
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American.
Lukianoff sees this perceived violence as creeping into regular student life, ultimately strangling intellectual curiosity.
This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion. During the 2014–15 school year, for instance, the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California system schools were presented by administrators at faculty leader-training sessions with examples of microaggressions. The list of offensive statements included: ‘America is the land of opportunity’ and ‘I believe the most qualified person should get the job.’
The press claims this is a form of resurgent political correctness which “sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), but it also challenged the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives. The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable” (emphasis mine).
The more compelling ingredient is the zealous desire to punish anyone interfering with that aim, and Lukianoff calls that impulse vindictive protectiveness. “It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.” It is teaching students to avoid intellectual engagement.
Sounds like the Progressive goal to wipe out critical thinking and free speech is working.