To reverse this trend, everybody has to start telling the truth. The next time students demand to shut down a speaker by claiming that they are oppressed, the college president should stand up and say, “Are you kidding me? You are the most privileged human beings in history."
–Heather Mac Donald in "The Campus Victim Cult" in City Journal
Why are so many speakers being shouted down on campuses?
In a must-read discussion in City Journal, Manhattan Institute fellow and author Heather Mac Donald and Frank Furedi, an emeritus sociology professor at a U.K. university and author of What's Happened to the University?, debate the roots of the current atmosphere on campus, which poses a threat to the constitutionally-guaranteed right of free speech.
Furedi and Mac Donald come at it from different angles. Whether you end up siding with Mac Donald or Furedi, it's nothing short of amazing that the members of most privileged generation in human history regard themselves as victims. Furedi bases this phenomenon in psychology:
In my latest book, Populism and the Culture Wars in Europe, I argue that these struggles on campuses have little or nothing to do with 1960s radicalism. Today’s radicals have certainly adopted some of the rhetoric of old-fashioned leftism, but they’ve reformulated it into a therapeutic identity politics that would be unrecognizable to the antiracists of the 1960s.
The problem, in my view, begins with how we’re bringing up our children. We’re no longer teaching our young people proper values, such as character and resilience. Instead, we merely validate them. From their earliest days of school, we teach them that they are weak individuals in need of constant therapeutic support.
In England, the “safe space” pedagogy was introduced in elementary schools long before students began to demand safe spaces at universities. High school students were told that they didn’t have to listen to lectures about suicide or other difficult subjects because they were likely to be traumatized.
Furedi believes that these privileged young people "self-victimize."
For Mac Donald, who was greeted by protests that required police barricades when she was invited to speak last year at Claremont McKenna, what's happened on college campuses is rooted in ideology:
Frank Furedi’s book What’s Happened to the University? is an astounding compendium of a cultural shift, with mind-boggling examples. However, I disagree, to a certain extent, with his diagnosis of the crisis on campuses. I think that it is fundamentally an ideological problem, not a psychological one. Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, pinpointed the beginning of this trend in 2013. That was the year we reached critical mass in what has been the dominant ideology at universities for the past two decades: “victimology”—particularly, racial victimology. Universities today are dedicated to the proposition that American institutions, including universities themselves, create a literally threatening environment of oppression for people of color.
You have minority students at Brown, for example, meeting with the provost and demanding that they be exonerated from any kind of academic expectations, such as showing up for class, because they have to protect their ability to exist on the Brown campus. This rhetoric has become standard. To be a minority on campus, in this view, is to be at actual risk of your life. Note that white male students—heterosexual white male students—are perhaps the most vilified group on campus, and yet they are not demanding safe spaces.
The threat to free speech and the betrayal of the academic mission of rational, civil discourse are, of course, terrifying developments. Those threats, however serious, are not the worst aspect of academic culture today. The worst aspect is the cultivation of racial victimology and the belief in permanent, endemic racism. Even if we were to enforce civil debate, that racial victimology would persist, and it is poisoning our society.
Not to get in the ring with Mac Donald and Furedi, but I suggested in a piece last week in The Hill that another reason students are shouting down speakers is that they are too ill-educated to engage in the kinds of debates once endemic to academia. We often say that they don't like to deal with ideas different from theirs. How about the alternative explanation that they are not prepared to deal with ideas–period–including the sophisticated concept of free speech. Instead of pursuing truth and beauty, they fixate on perceived slights, ever how small (micro-aggressions).