Applications for freshman slots at the University of Missouri are down this year:
So far, the university has received 18,377 freshman applications, compared to 19,318 applications last year.
It's conventional wisdom to attribute the decline in interest in Mizzou on the part of high-school seniors to the student-protest chaos that reigned on the Columbia, Mo., campus last fall in the wake of several alleged racial incidents–chaos that led to the forced resignations of the university's president and the Missouri university system's chancellor.
Maybe. It couldn't be any fun to have your entire semester disrupted by your fellow students (plus some of your faculty) raising daily hell over exactly two confirmed incidents that, while inexcusable, seemed kind of minor on a campus of 35,000: an n-word allegedly hurled at a black student and the racial epithets directed at black students in general by a (since-removed) intoxicated while student.
But there could be another reason for the dropoff in Mizzou applications: the dull, hectoring and all-around excruciating "mandatory diversity training" sessions that began this January for all incoming students, faculty, and staff in the wake of the protests.
The sessions have begun, although so far only for students (faculty and staff have been mercifully spared so far). Their content to date has ranged from the ridiculous to the frighteningly totalitarian. Let's survey the ridculous first, in this report from Campus Reform:
One such presentation was by Dr. Rebecca Martinez of the University’s Women’s and Gender Studies Department, who showed pictures of Katy Perry in a geisha costume and posed the question, “Is this cultural appropriation?”
Martinez also pointed out problems with Mexican-themed Halloween costumes. “That’s not even a Mexican taco!” she exclaimed in reference to an example of such a guise. “It has lettuce in it!”
But this New York Times report on diversity training at Mizzou strikes a creepier note:
Scott N. Brooks, draped in a dapper shawl-collar sweater, looked out on the auditorium of mostly white students in puffy coats and sweats as they silently squirmed at his question. Why, he had asked, does Maria Sharapova, a white Russian tennis player, earn nearly twice as much in endorsements as Serena Williams, an African-American with a much better win-loss record?
“We like to think it’s all about merit,” said Dr. Brooks, a sociology professor at the University of Missouri, speaking in the casual cadence of his days as a nightclub D.J. “It’s sport. Simply, the best should earn the most money.”
Maybe tennis is not as popular here as overseas, one student offered. Dr. Brooks countered: Ms. Williams is a global figure. As the room fell silent, the elephant settled in. Most sat still, eyes transfixed on the stage. None of the participants — roughly 70 students new to the University of Missouri — dared to offer the reason for the disparity that seemed most obvious. Race.
The new frontier in the university’s eternal struggle with race starts here, with blunt conversations that seek to bridge a stark campus divide. Yet what was evident in this pregnant moment during a new diversity session that the university is requiring of all new students was this: People just don’t want to discuss it….
[Brooks] offered a gentle explanation of the Williams/Sharapova discrepancy: “Maria is considered a beauty queen, but by what standards of beauty? Some people might just say, ‘Oh, well, she’s just prettier.’ Well, according to whom? This spells out how we see beauty in terms of race, this idea of femininity. Serena is often spoofed for her big butt. She’s seen as too muscular.”
I'm leaving aside the fact that Serena Williams pulls in almost twice as much income as Maria Sharapova from playing tennis: $69.7 million in prize money compared with Sharapova's $34.9 million. Serena Williams is, in fact, the highest-paid tennis player in the world. The lanky, supermodel-esque Sharapova may earn more in product endorsements–but that's because people like to look at lanky, supermodel-esque women more than they like to look at "too muscular" women like Serena Williams. Believe me, if Rihanna were a tennis player, she'd have no trouble pulling down product endorsements either.
What's at issue here is that those Mizzou students who "silently squirmed" or "sat still" in their seats were obviously feeling cowed. They knew that they weren't sitting there to have "blunt conversations about race" but, rather, to arrive at the politically correct conclusion: that it was "obvious" that the Williams-Sharapova product-endorsement disparity was all about "race." Why bother having a "conversation" when its outcome is a foregone conclusion?
Given that a mandatory bullying session is now part of the Mizzou freshman experience, I wouldn't want to apply to the school, either.