Tag Archives: Campus Life

East Tennessee State shaken when Black Lives Matter event is disrupted

Via Inside Higher Ed: http://ift.tt/2drvp9T


East Tennessee State University was shaken Wednesday when a white student wearing a gorilla mask interrupted a Black Lives Matter rally and thrust a banana hanging on a string in the faces of black students who were participating in the rally.

Images of the white student — who carried a sack with a Confederate emblem — taunting the black students spread on social media and outraged many on the campus. The black students did not respond directly to the taunts — and have received praise for their calm. A university statement said, "Our campus community was outraged by the behavior of one student who confronted the participants. The actions of this one individual go against the values of our university, where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect."

The student has been identified by campus police as Tristan Rettke. He was arrested by campus police for civil rights intimidation, based in part on his having told the campus police officers that his costume was an attempt "to provoke" the black students. Civil rights intimidation is a felony in Tennessee. Rettke posted bail and has been released from jail, but the university has placed him on interim suspension, meaning that he cannot be on campus, pending an investigation that may result in a permanent suspension or other sanction.

The fall semester has already seen numerous incidents of racism nationwide, including many personal and online attacks that mock the Black Lives Matter movement. The idea of denigrating black people as gorillas is an old racist trope. Also this year, at American University, hundreds of black students held a protest last week after two black women reported incidents involving bananas — one thrown at a woman and one left outside the door of a woman’s room. Students carried signs saying "Racism at AU Is Bananas."

At East Tennessee, the university organized an open forum Wednesday night to discuss what had happened.

Brian Noland, the president of the university, started the event by talking about how proud he was of the way the black students handled themselves when they were taunted. Noland said he was particularly upset because the event took place at a fountain that was dedicated to honor the five black students who integrated the university in the 1950s. He listed their names: Eugene Caruthers, Elizabeth Watkins Crawford, Clarence McKinney, George L. Nichol and Mary Luellen Owens Wagner. He talked about how their values were those of the university and its students.

After he spoke, many students and faculty members did as well. Many black students spoke about everyday racism they face on social media and said that even that experience did not prepare them for the shock and pain they felt on Wednesday. Faculty members spoke of being stunned by what had happened as well.

One professor said that Wednesday’s incident was "one of the ugliest things I have seen on a college campus." He asked if administrators present would talk about how they view the balance between hateful statements or acts and the First Amendment.

Joe H. Sherlin Jr., vice president for student affairs, answered by saying that the First Amendment grants "broad latitude for speech" and that "the best antidote for speech that is offensive is more speech."

But he added that when speech "becomes intimidating" or "threatening" or "inhibits someone else’s right to express their own civil rights," that may not be protected. And he said campus police officers believed that was the case at the rally.

Several people at the forum noted that another Black Lives Matter rally would take place Thursday. Only about 15 to 20 people were present on Wednesday when the student in the mask disrupted the event. On Thursday, officials estimated the crowd at 350 to 400 — and there were no disruptions.

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Student who interrupted a rally at East Tennessee State
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University mental health services face strain as demand rises 50%

Via Higher Education Network | The Guardian: http://ift.tt/2cW0LIC


Figures show significant rise over five years, with more first-year and international students seeking counselling

The number of students seeking counselling at university has rocketed by 50% in the last five years, according to figures obtained by the Guardian.

As tens of thousands of teenagers leave their family homes this week and begin to arrive on campuses for freshers’ week, research shows that university counselling services are under increasing pressure as demand grows.

Continue reading…

UChicago’s anti-safe spaces letter isn’t about academic freedom. It’s about power.

Via Vox – All: http://ift.tt/2bSV6Az


A letter from the University of Chicago’s dean of students to the incoming students of the class of 2020 has been making the rounds on social media the past few days. Its purpose, I guess, was to let those students know they were in for a real education. More of a full-on broadside than a welcome letter, the dean let the incoming students know that the university is totally committed to academic freedom and "freedom of expression" from its faculty and students.

What this means in practice, the letter continues, is that "we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own." And, if you’ve watched students at other campuses, the dean warns, don’t get any crazy ideas about protesting invited speakers: "we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial." And, for the love of Milton Friedman, "Our commitment to academic freedom means we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings.’" WE ARE A MIGHTY RACE OF INTELLECTUAL WARRIORS.

I’ve been teaching on the college level for 18 years, and I also direct my university’s Teaching and Learning Center, so I’ve been following the debate over "trigger warnings," "safe spaces," and the purported scourge of "political correctness" for quite a while. Despite the apocalyptic tone that often accompanies screeds against supposedly coddled students and their trigger-free safe spaces, the issues involved strike me as far more complicated than the overheated rhetoric suggests.

As with any conversation about teaching and learning, context and nuance matter greatly — but they’re not present in most of the critics’ attempted takedowns of trigger warnings (better called "content advisories," in my estimation) or safe spaces.

Students deserve much more credit than they get in the UChicago letter

I’m dismayed by how diatribes like the Chicago letter approach students in adversarial terms, implying that they don’t know how to make choices or approach material when it comes to their learning. Our students deserve more credit than they get in these types of polemics; as I’ve argued elsewhere, they are far from the coddled, entitled softies that they’re often painted as. Rather than obsessing about a cartoonish version of what some hypothetical Oberlin graduate might say, we ought to engage with our students as the real and complex people that they actually are.

As you might imagine, though, there’s been a wave of support from the usual quarters for the Chicago letter and its sentiments; I assume that’s what such a blatant attempt at elitist posturing was aiming for in the first place. On the surface, the points seem hard to argue with.

Academic freedom is the sine qua non of higher education. Students ought to be challenged, even made uncomfortable, in order to learn in deep and meaningful ways. And, of course, collegiate education is where students must encounter perspectives different from their own. No one who genuinely believes in higher education is going to dispute any of that. And that’s what this dean and the anti-trigger-warnings, no-safe-spaces crowd are counting on — that the surface veneer of reasonableness in these admonitions to the class of 2020 will obscure the rotten pedagogy and logical fallacies that infest this entire screed.

The screed is a manifesto looking for an audience

Even the timing of this missive raises questions. Why go full blast against this purported scourge of wimpy, touchy-feely educational malpractice right up front? Is there a safe-spaces petition percolating in the ranks of the first-years? Are the dean and the university worried that people will lose respect for the almighty maroon if they didn’t stake out the tough-guy intellectual turf from the beginning? Did they sit around and ask themselves what Milton Friedman would have done?

From the outside, it looks like a lot of smoke without much heat. I suspect that this letter is not intended as an orientation statement, but rather a public rebuke to what its authors see as a threat to their vision of what higher education ought to be. It’s not a welcome letter, it’s a manifesto looking for an audience.

And as a statement of principle, the letter — as does much of the general argument against trigger warnings and safe spaces — relies on caricature and bogeymen rather than reason and nuance. The document comes from a place, I imagine, where the true defenders of Academic Rigor™ man the parapets against the encroaching legions of namby-pamby liberals who want to coddle students instead of teach them.

Ohhh, you want a safe space so the mean nasty Truths of the world won’t hurt your wittle feewings. You want to be "warned" before we discuss "sensitive" subjects. WELL HEY JUNIOR, "WAR AND PEACE" HAS WAR IN IT. If you don’t like it, go sit on the quad and sing "Kumbayah" with the other flower children.

That’s the specter that arguments like this conjure up: The greatest threat to genuine academic freedom comes from within. Coddled students who are used to getting trophies for everything don’t want to engage with stuff they don’t like, so they wrap themselves in entitlement and demand trigger warnings to protect their feelz. Or they want safe spaces to hide from the big, bad world. Or they want the university to cancel a lecture because the speaker is from the wrong demographic. And if universities don’t make a stand against this foolishness, Western Civilization itself will collapse.

That’s a comforting narrative to the academic elite who feel like they’re faced with an existential crisis. Rather than seeing themselves as clinging to the last vestiges of the 1950s, they get to paint themselves as staunch advocates of all that is good and worthy. And there’s an audience for this fiction — people still read Allan Bloom. But as critiques of inequality have shown time and again, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the backlash against so-called "political correctness" in higher education has intensified in direct variation with the diversification of the academy, areas of scholarship, and — most significantly — the student population.

What’s really behind the hand-wringing: the gatekeepers want to remain in place

Underlying much of the hand-wringing about the state of the academy is a simple desire to have the gatekeepers remain in place. The perception of the threat is entirely out of alignment with the reality on the ground. For every ginned-up hypothetical scenario of spoiled brats having a sit-in to protest too many white guys in the lit course, there are very real cases where trigger warnings or safe spaces aren’t absurdities, but pedagogical imperatives.

If I’m teaching historical material that describes war crimes like mass rape, shouldn’t I disclose to my students what awaits them in these texts? If I have a student suffering from trauma due to a prior sexual assault, isn’t a timely caution the empathetic and humane thing for me to do? And what does it cost? A student may choose an alternate text I provide, but this material isn’t savagely ripped out of my course to satiate the PC police.

To move from the hypothetical to the real, the Virginia Tech students who protested their university’s invitation to Charles Murray to deliver a lecture weren’t some sort of intellectual gestapo, they were members of a community calling out other members’ violation of the community’s ethos.

Murray is a racist charlatan who’s made a career out of pseudoscientific social Darwinist assertions that certain "races" are inherently inferior to others. To bring him to campus is to tell segments of your student community that, according to the ideas the university is endorsing by inviting Murray, they don’t belong there. This isn’t a violation of academic freedom. It’s an upholding of scientific standards and the norms of educated discourse — you know, the type of stuff that colleges and universities are supposed to stand for, right?

These two examples — one centered in an individual classroom and the other involving institutional decisions — speak to the diversity and complexity of the issues involved. It’s easy to inveigh against silly scenarios. It’s much harder to address real things that really happen. Do I tell my student that, even though she was the victim of a brutal assault in her past, she must read testimony of gang-rape survivors in my course in order to uphold the sacred values of free intellectual inquiry?

Sure, Charles Murray has a right to his views. But is it okay for us to use student fees paid in part by African-American students to bring him to campus, fête him, and give him a rostrum to tell those students they’re doomed by genetics to be inferior to whites? Well, he makes a strong argument and isn’t bound by conventional "niceties." Yes, that’s true. But that’s also the reason people claim to like Donald Trump, and I don’t see universities lining up to bring him in as a guest lecturer.

Ignoring the complexity of real-life situations is a common accusation hurled at academics and the academy in general. Why on earth would we be so eager, in this case, to prove those accusations true? To prevent imaginary sit-down strikes against Victorian literature, we’re willing to force students into a predetermined path where to deviate is to compromise academic integrity? Are we so scared of losing the intellectual heft of our curricula that we want to muzzle our students and deprive them of agency?

Or are we just afraid of our students challenging us and holding us accountable to the very values we profess?

Our first reaction to expressions of student agency should not be to shut them down

As a faculty member, I would be enormously dismayed if my dean sent this letter to my incoming students. Because now they’ll come into my class already having received a clear message about what my institution seems to value — and it isn’t them.

The Chicago letter reeks of arrogance, of a sense of entitlement, of an exclusionary mindset — in other words, the very things it seeks to inveigh against. It’s not about academic freedom; it’s about power. Know your place, and acknowledge ours, it tells the students. We’ll be the judge of what you need to know and how you need to know it. And professors and students are thus handcuffed to a high-stakes ideological creed. Do it this way, in the name of all that is holy and true in the academy. There is no room here for empathy, for student agency, or for faculty discretion.

Displaying empathy for the different experiences our students bring to the classroom is not a threat to our academic freedom. Allowing for a diversity of perspectives to flourish, even when that diversity might challenge the very structure of our course and its material, is not a threat, but an opportunity. Our first reaction to expressions of student agency, even when they seem misguided or perhaps frivolous, should not be to shut it down. If we really value academic freedom, then we need to model that with and for our students.

Ableism, misogyny, racism, elitism, and intellectual sloppiness deserve to be called out. That’s not a threat, that’s our students doing what they’re supposed to as engaged citizens of an academic community. This year, we should challenge ourselves to quit fixating on caricatures and hypotheticals and instead acknowledge the actual landscape of teaching and learning in all its messiness and complexity. When we act out of fear, we do harm. When we assume the worst from our students, that’s what we often end up getting — from them and from ourselves. We can do better than this.

Kevin Gannon, PhD, is professor of history and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa. In addition to his own blog at thetattooedprof.com, he writes on pedagogy and academia at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae and the Teaching US History blog. Find him on Twitter @TheTattooedProf.

This article was adapted from a post that originally ran on The Tattooed Professor.

First Person is Vox’s home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us atfirstperson@vox.com.

Banning Hard Alcohol at Stanford

Via The Atlantic: http://ift.tt/2bftZ0m


NEWS BRIEF You won’t find hard alcohol at Stanford University parties anymore. At least, that’s what school officials are hoping.

In an effort to reduce “the high risk of the rapid consumption of hard alcohol,” the university is banning liquors that are 20 percent alcohol by volume (40 proof) from undergraduate campus parties, while also prohibiting undergraduate students from having hard-alcohol containers that are 750 milliliters or larger in student residences. Student who are of legal age can still drink beer and wine.

The new policy is a “harm reduction strategy,” explained Ralph Castro, director of the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, in a press release. He adds:

Our intention is not a total prohibition of a substance, but rather a targeted approach that limits high-risk behavior and has the backing of empirical studies on restricting the availability of and access to alcohol. It also allows us the ability to provide uniformity in a policy that will impact all undergraduate students without banning a substance that is legal for a segment of the student population to use responsibly.

By limiting the size of containers to anything less than the size of a wine bottle (capable of pouring out around 17 shots), the university is hoping to reduce alcohol consumption through availability and cost: There are fewer stores that sell hard alcohol in smaller containers, and if students find smaller containers of hard alcohol it costs more to buy those in high quantities.

The move comes two months after former Stanford student Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious female student behind a garbage dumpster. Turner blamed alcohol for the incident, as both he and the victim were intoxicated when the assault occurred on January 18, 2015.

Following significant national attention to the assault, university leaders said they wanted to start a conversation around “the campus culture around alcohol.” Critics accused the university of overshadowing Turner’s personal role in the assault, partially blaming the victim’s alcohol consumption.

Michele Dauber, a Stanford University Law professor who has become a national voice on the Turner incident, criticized the university’s new policy, tweeting:

There are exceptions to the new rules. Mixed drinks using hard alcohol will be allowed, though, for parties hosted by graduate student organizations. Shots are still prohibited. Students who violate the new policy may be removed from university housing.

When Student Activists Refuse to Talk to Campus Newspapers

This February, at a conference attended by the editors of 10 college newspapers along the East Coast—myself among them—student journalists recognized a common obstacle plaguing their publications: Student activists would no longer talk with them.

As student activists call for the institutions around them to confront issues of diversity and inclusion, campus newspapers have been critiqued as well. But activists are not just calling for reform—editors of campus papers are struggling to improve their papers alongside student bodies that, in some cases, would like to see student newspapers as an institution disappear.

Students boycotted the Brown Daily Herald (BDH), where I am a news editor, after it published two racist opinion pieces for which it later apologized. Since then, students have used the publication’s controversial past as reason to refuse comment and even to remove reporters from campus-wide events. These kinds of conflicts have erupted on campuses across the country. Melissa Click, a former assistant professor at the University of Missouri who was eventually fired, tried to stop a student reporter from covering a campus protest. Student activists at Smith College told student journalists they would be barred from a black-solidarity rally unless they vowed to “participate and articulate their solidarity with black students and students of color.” Even a headline can ignite backlash: Yale Daily News (YDN) journalists have struggled to interact with social-justice advocates on campus since the paper ran an article about accusations that a fraternity discriminated against people of color with the headline “SAE denies charges of racism.”

Sometimes the confrontations have resulted in long-term consequences. At Wesleyan University, student activists critiqued the student newspaper, the Argus, when they failed to cover a Black Lives Matter protest in the fall, although the paper had not yet begun its print cycle for the year. Later that year, the Argus published a controversial opinion piece that prompted the student government to cut its funding in half.  As the paper attempted to ramp up its coverage of events centering on students of color in response to student demands from early that fall, it was further stonewalled, according to Rebecca Brill, the newspaper’s former editor-in-chief. “We were trying to fix this thing that was a valid critique of us,” she said, “but the people who were critiquing us weren’t letting us talk to them.”

Across the country, students have called for meaningful changes within campus publications to support marginalized communities, or even the disbanding of their student newspapers, from colleges like the University of Arizona to Dartmouth. Several editors from publications attending the conference declined to comment for this article, fearing they would jeopardize progress made in working with communities of student activists.

And while certain activists acknowledge their student newspaper’s attempts to correct any lapses in coverage, many have still put pressure on student reporters to adapt to their demands. “Until we see a willingness to engage journalism in a much more … social justice-oriented way, it’s hard to trust [student newspapers] to protect or be mindful of the issues that we face,” said Justice Gaines, a trans student activist at Brown whose activism focuses on issues of race, gender, and sexuality.

But that philosophy creates a catch-22 for editors. “I don’t know if it’s fair to demand representation … but then deny the paper that permission by refusing to speak to them,” Brill said. “We can’t have better representation unless there’s cooperation.” This cooperation requires the trust of these student sources. Still, for some marginalized students, and particularly students of color, campus newspapers are emblematic of institutional media as a whole—an industry that in their experience has tended to delegitimize their narratives.

Language that student activists say misconstrues their narratives regularly appears in the coverage of campus activism, by both mass media and college newspapers. And according to a 1999 study by the University of Minnesota, such language can delegitimize the arguments of protesters challenging the status quo. Reporters often use terms like “coddled” and “complaining” when describing modern-day student activists who are pushing their universities to address issues of diversity and inclusion. Journalists may not see “that we actually have valid points and things we want to change,” said Ivetty Estepan, a student activist at Yale who focuses on issues of racism and marginalization.

Some student activists also view their campus newspaper as symbolic of the university as an institution—whether their paper receives funding from the administration or student government, or is independent, like the BDH and the YDN. “There’s this idea that the YDN has been a part of Yale as an institution for … hundreds of years, so how much does that influence it?” Estepan said.

And just like the college administrations that have been critiqued in recent years by student activists, student newspapers lack diversity in their newsrooms. This dearth of diversity is maintained by a vicious cycle; newsrooms bereft of underrepresented minorities may, through their coverage or image, engender backlash from racial-justice activists that in turn can discourage underrepresented students from joining the papers’ ranks. A 2007 study of journalists from communities of color working at four large-circulation newspapers showed that a lack of newsroom diversity undermines reporters’ ability to represent their communities in their journalism.

This tension is evident in a recent survey from Gallup and two journalism advocacy organizations—the Knight Foundation and the Newseum Institute—of student opinions on First Amendment rights and offensive speech. The study found that people from marginalized groups were more likely to favor limiting free speech on campus, and 44 percent of students believe it is acceptable to restrict the media’s access to campus events because the activists want to tell the story themselves on social media. “You lose agency when you tell the media what is going on,” Estepan said.

The media’s unwillingness to take a stance when reporting on issues of oppression represents a kind of “institutional bias,” said Warren Harding, a graduate student at Brown involved in the activism that led to the school’s adoption of a $165 million diversity-and-inclusion plan. “Especially when it comes to anti-racism work or anti-oppression work, when a newspaper says they are trying to be objective, that means they are upholding standards that were set against people who have been oppressed,” Gaines, the Brown student activist, echoed. Stories that describe the experiences of injustice and violence merit a journalist who will ethically stand in solidarity, Harding argued.

But that, too, raises questions: Which stories would a journalist then choose to slant, and which would they not? At that point, what separates that source from an opinion blog, or social media? Journalists do not claim to be unbiased. We believe that the process of seeking out a variety of perspectives and approaching an article without explicitly including biases leads to a more productive and balanced discussion of the news. “Coming close to objectivity can be enough,” Brill, the former Argus editor, said.

Still, about half of the students in the Gallup survey also said that they would be comfortable limiting press access to an event if the reporter was “biased.” That worries people like Gene Policinski, the chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute.“Simply saying we won’t talk to someone because we don’t like their viewpoint ultimately constrains your voice,” he said.

And that mindset fails to acknowledge that by working with a student journalist, activists’ voices can reach much further than through social media alone—campus publications not only serve the student body, but also a wide network of administrators, faculty, and alumni, in addition to the surrounding community. What starts out as a story at a student newspaper is often picked up by national news sources who can feed momentum into activist efforts.

Furthermore, student activists who block journalists find themselves on shaky ground with the First Amendment. Technically, a journalist operating within a newspaper independent from a school has no right of access at a private institution, said Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center. But when that journalist is also a student, she has the right to access the same spaces as other students (such as classrooms used for community-wide events). Only the university itself would have the authority to bar a student journalist from an event. But most private universities promise protections in line with those of the First Amendment when it comes to speech in public, said Robert Shibley, the executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, which defends free speech and academic freedom on campus. “If a student who’s not part of the media could attend … I’d say the argument for keeping the media out is nonexistent,” he said.

And whether it’s by barring journalists from events or defunding their newspapers, activists are ultimately putting themselves at a disadvantage by attempting to dissolve their student newspapers. Learning how to reform the student press alongside the students working there proves a goal ultimately more beneficial to both parties. Campus newspapers, according to several student journalists, are in a prime position to respond to the demands of their college communities and experiment with the rules of traditional journalism. Operating without the extra weight of bureaucracy felt by larger publications, student newspapers have the opportunity—and even the responsibility—to respond to the concerns of their audiences, Gaines argued.

Often, changes come as a direct response to the actions of student activists, who use their position of power to negotiate terms with student newspapers that they expressly disagree with. In the fall of 2015, the BDH changed its style to accommodate gender-neutral pronouns like xe, xem, and xyr. The change came after Gaines, an oft-quoted source for the BDH, refused to comment again unless the newspaper agreed to change its style. “There’s a tension between utilizing the BDH and challenging the BDH,” Gaines said. “There’s room to use the BDH as a mechanism to change the BDH.”

In her time at the Argus, Brill attempted to incorporate input from Wesleyan’s community and balance student demands for increased representation of marginalized perspectives with a commitment to ensuring all voices have a platform. This year, the paper created a column called “Voices” reserved for the opinion pieces of marginalized students. Still, though, the defunding of the Argus poses a significant threat to the paper. “They had an opportunity at Wesleyan to … try to make the newspaper better, and instead they tried to destroy it,” the SPLC’s LoMonte said. “Our belief is that while newspapers are always imperfect, and can always do a better job of serving minority communities, those communities are much better off with a well-funded newspaper than without.”

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The Chilling Effect of Fear at America’s Colleges

No great universities exist in the world without a deep institutional commitment to academic freedom, free inquiry, and free expression. For the past 60 years, American research universities have been vigilant against external and internal attempts to limit or destroy these values. The First Amendment scholar Geoffrey Stone has noted that free expression, in one form or another, has been continually under attack on campuses for the past 100 years. Today, these core university values are being questioned again, but from a new source: the students who are being educated at them.

What explains this recent outcry against free expression on campus? Multiple possible explanations exist, of course, including the hypothesis that parents have coddled a generation of youngsters to the point where students feel that they should not be exposed to anything harmful to their psyches or beliefs. Whether or not these psychological narratives are valid, there are, I believe, additional cultural, institutional, and societal explanations for what is going on. And the overarching theme is that today’s youngsters, beginning in preschool, are responding to living in a contrived culture of fear and distrust.

There’s hardly consensus among students on the forms or appropriateness of these restrictions on speech. Today, nearly half of a random sample of roughly 3,000 college students surveyed by Gallup earlier this year are supportive of restrictions on certain forms of free speech on campus, and 69 percent support disciplinary action against either students or faculty members who use intentionally offensive language or commit “microagressions”—speech they deem racist, sexist, or homophobic. According to a free-speech survey conducted by Yale last year, of those who knew what trigger warnings are, 63 percent would favor their professors using them—by attaching advisories to the books on their reading lists that might offend or disrespect some students, for example—while only 23 percent would oppose. Counterintuitively, liberal students are more likely than conservative students to say the First Amendment is outdated.

Consider a few recent cases: Brown University, Johns Hopkins University, Williams College, and Haverford College, among others schools, withdrew speaking invitations, including those for commencement addresses, because students objected to the views or political ideology of the invited speaker. Brandeis University began to monitor the class of a professor who had explained that Mexican immigrants to the United States are sometime called “wetbacks,” a comment about the history of a derogatory term that outraged some Mexican American students. Black students at Princeton University protested against the “racial climate on campus” and demanded that Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from its school of Public and International Affairs. The chilling effect of these kind of restrictions on speech were not lost in 1947 on Robert Hutchins, the president of the University of Chicago, who opined during the McCarthy period: “The question is not how many professors have been fired for their beliefs, but how many think they might be.”

Born in the mid-1990s, seniors in my Columbia University undergraduate seminars today likely have not experienced major national threats, except for their vague memories of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet these “millennials” might better be labeled “children of war and fear.” During their politically conscious lifetime, they have known only a United States immersed in protracted wars against real and so-called terrorists, a place where fear itself influences their attitudes toward other civil liberties. Students are asked to pit freedom of expression or privacy against personal security. During times when elected officials have exploited the public’s fear of terrorism for political gain, students seem more willing to trade civil liberties for a sense of security.

Since the 9/11 tragedy, the use of fear is still pervasive in the United States. Indeed, the distortion of fear pervades today’s students’ thinking—they tend to overestimate, for example, the probability of a terrorist attack affecting them. When this fear is combined with the rapid expansion of social media and the prevalence of government surveillance, students often dismiss concepts like “privacy” as old-fashioned values that are irrelevant to them, In fact, my experience at Columbia suggests that many students believe that the very idea of privacy is obsolete; most of my students don’t seem to mind this loss when it’s weighed against uncovering potential terrorists.

Add to this apprehension the fears that so many students of color experienced before college—a rational fear of the police, of racial stereotypes, of continual exposure to epithets and prejudice—and it is no wonder that they seek safe havens. They may have expected to find this safe haven in college, but instead they find prejudice, stereotyping, slurs, and phobic statements on the campuses as well. Additionally, many of these students employ the classification of “the insider.” Believing that “outsiders” cannot possibly understand the situation that faces these groups of offended individuals, by virtual of race, gender, ethnicity, or some other category, the students often dismiss the views of their professors and administrators who can’t “get it” because they are not part of the oppressed group.

Many of the young adults at highly selective colleges and universities have been forced to follow a straight and narrow path, never deviating from it because of a passion unrelated to school work, and have not been allowed, therefore, to live what many would consider a normal childhood—to play, to learn by doing, to challenge their teachers, to make mistakes. Their families and their network of friends and social peers have placed extreme pressure on them to achieve, or win in a zero-sum game with their own friends. While it’s difficult to assess the cases, and while myriad factors likely contribute to the poor mental health among college students, in 2015 roughly 18 percent of undergraduates reported being diagnosed or treated for anxiety in the past year, according to the American College Health Association’s 2015 annual survey; the rate was 15 percent for depression. Many are taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication upon entry into college.

But there is a different, though equally important, reason many students today are willing to suppress free expression on campus. And the fault largely lies at the feet of many of the country’s academic leaders. Students and their families have been increasingly treated as “customers.” Presidents of colleges and universities have been too reluctant to “offend” their customers, which may help explain why they so often yield to wrong-headed demands by students. Courage at universities is, unfortunately, a rare commodity—and it’s particularly rare among leaders of institutions pressured by students to act in a politically correct way.

It seems that the vast majority of presidents and provosts of the finest U.S. universities have not seized this moment of concern voiced by students as a teaching moment—a moment to instruct and discuss with students what college is about. Too many academic leaders are obsessed with the security of their own jobs and their desire to protect the reputation of their institution, and too few are sufficiently interested in making statements that may offend students but that show them why they are at these colleges—and why free expression is a core and enabling value of any higher-learning institution that considers itself of the first rank. Of course, there are strong academic leaders who do encourage open discussions of issues raised by students while also speaking out against restrictions on campus speech, against speech codes, safe-space psychology, and micro-aggressions. But they are too few and far between.

Students want to be protected against slurs, epithets, and different opinions from their own—protected from challenges to their prior beliefs and presuppositions. They fear not being respected because of a status that they occupy. But that is not what college is about. While some educators and policymakers see college primarily as a place where students develop skills for high-demand jobs, the goal of a college education is for students to learn to think independently and skeptically and to learn how to make and defend their point of view. It is not to suppress ideas that they find opprobrious. Yet students are willing to trade off free expression for greater inclusion and the suppression of books or speech that offend—even if this means that many topics of importance to their development never are openly discussed.

Of all of America’s great universities, the University of Chicago seems to have come the closest historically to getting this right. The school’s well-known 1967 Kalven Committee report was, I believe, correct when it stated: “The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.” Almost 50 years later, at the request of its President Robert Zimmer, The University of Chicago again articulated its position on “freedom of expression.” The short document quotes the historian and former Chicago president, Hanna Holborn Gray: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is made to make them think. Universities should be expected to provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.” “In a word,” the report goes on, “the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” Yet students may be signaling that their commitment to “community” values may take precedence over this core value that many administrators have seen as essential for truly great institutions of learning.

A physically safe environment is an absolutely necessary condition for heated debate over ideas. The university cannot tolerate violations of personal space, physical threats, sustained public interruptions of speakers, or verbal epithets directed toward specific students; that lies beyond the boundaries of academic freedom. That doesn’t mean, however, that a college or university should introduce policies that will curtail or chill debate, that adhere to the politically correct beliefs of the moment, or that let their leaders off the hook through capitulation to “demands” that stifle discourse and conversations about what a university education aims to produce.

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Report listing America’s most hateful colleges gets backlash

A report showing which of America’s colleges have the most hateful tweets has caused such an uproar that its authors took it offline.

Collegestats.org looked at all the tweets coming from a 1 or 3 mile radius of a college campus and compared them to a list of “hate” words.  These words included everything from slurs against gay people to people of different ethnic groups, such as “junglebunny” or “raghead.”

Then CollegeStats.org sorted the data to create lists including “Most Derogatory Tweets,” “Most Anti-Black Tweets” and “Most Anti-Gay Tweets.”

–College newspaper runs racially-charged cartoons, students demand changes from administrators

The results showed that hateful language used on social media could be seen on campuses across the country. Among the top 10 schools with derogatory tweets were Eastern Michigan University, SUNY Cortland in New York State and Southeast Missouri State University.

(CollegeStats.org)

(CollegeStats.org)

The report also measured derogatory language towards women, led again by Southeast Missouri State. When the word “b***h” was removed from the data, two Connecticut schools made the top ten list: Albertus Magnus College and Yale University.

–ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith tells college students racism ‘doesn’t exist’ for them

The most anti-gay tweets came out of Husson University in Bangor, Maine, and the most anti-black tweets came from the very place that saw one of its first high schools integrated — Little Rock, Arkansas’ University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

But the study’s authors say people misconstrued the data.

“The recent study on the tweeting of derogatory words on or near college campuses has been removed from our website because some have misinterpreted the data presented,” reads a statement online.

Critics had pointed out that the study didn’t take into account the context of the tweets and the data could have been skewed by tweeters who lived near campus but weren’t students.

But the study’s authors still stand by their work.

“The study could have spurred thoughtful discussion of the impact of derogatory language on society. By highlighting the derogatory words tweeted, the affected colleges and universities had an opportunity to address, denounce, and educate. But the findings were misconstrued and sensationalized beyond recognition, undermining the potential useful purpose of the study.”

–Black college student reports racist messages scrawled on bananas

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The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale

Last fall, student protesters at Yale University demanded that Professor Nicholas Christakis, an academic star who has successfully mentored Ivy League undergraduates for years, step down from his position as faculty-in-residence at Silliman College, along with his wife, Erika Christakis, who shared in the job’s duties.

The protesters had taken offense at an email sent by Erika Christakis.

Dogged by the controversy for months, the couple finally resigned their posts Wednesday. Because the student protests against them were prompted by intellectual speech bearing directly on Erika Christakis’s area of academic expertise, the outcome will prompt other educators at Yale to reflect on their own positions and what they might do or say to trigger or avoid calls for their own resignations. If they feel less inclined toward intellectual engagement at Yale, I wouldn’t blame them.

Nicholas Christakis will continue on as a tenured Yale faculty member. Erika Christakis, who gave up teaching at Yale last semester, recently published a book, The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups.

She has no future classes scheduled.

The controversy that culminated in this week’s resignations began last October, when Erika Christakis was teaching a Yale class called “Concept of the Problem Child.

An expert in early childhood education, she’s long been critical of ways that adults deprive children of learning experiences by over-policing their behavior. When Yale administrators sent an all-students email advising Yalies to avoid “culturally unaware or insensitive choices” when choosing their Halloween costumes, Erika Christakis responded with an email of her own, acknowledging “genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation,” lauding the “spirit of avoiding hurt and offense,” but questioning  whether students were well-served by administrators asserting norms rather than giving them space to shape their own.

“Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity—in your capacity—to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?” she asked. “What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment? Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.”

Many students were outraged by the email, particularly a portion that Erika Christakis attributed to her husband: “Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”

Student critics responded, in part, by circulating a petition that accumulated scores of signatures from Yale students and alumni. “You ask students to ‘look away’ if costumes are offensive, as if the degradation of our cultures and people, and the violence that grows out of it is something that we can ignore,” the petition stated, adding that “we were told to meet the offensive parties head on, without suggesting any modes or means to facilitate these discussions to promote understanding.”

The petition assumes that offensive Halloween costumes beget violence; proceeds as if Nicholas Christakis simply advised students to ignore all offensive costumes; acknowledges in the next clause that, in fact, he also declared, “or tell them you are offended;” and most bizarrely, concludes as if Ivy League students advised to “talk to each other,” the most straightforward of human behaviors, somehow need further counsel on “modes or means to facilitate these discussions,” as if they are Martians unfamiliar with talking to classmates—even as they put forth a persuasive petition aimed at those same classmates.

Soon after his wife sent her email, Nicholas Christakis found himself standing on a campus quad surrounded by protesters. He attempted to respond in person to their concerns. After watching videos of the scene, I noted the core disagreement between the professor and the undergraduates. Christakis believed that he had an obligation to listen to the views of the students, to reflect upon them, and to respond that he was persuaded or articulate why he maintained a different view. In short, he believed that one respects students by engaging them in earnest dialogue.

Many students believed that his responsibility was to hear their demands for an apology and to issue it. They saw anything short of a declaration of wrongdoing as unacceptable. In their view, one respected students by validating their hurt feelings.

Their perspective was informed by the idea that their residential college is akin to a home. At Yale, residential colleges have what was then called a “master”—a professor who lives on site and is responsible for its academic, intellectual, and social life.  “Masters work with students to shape each residential college community,” Yale stated, “bringing their own distinct social, cultural, and intellectual influences to the colleges.” The approach is far costlier than what’s on offer at commuter schools, but aims to create a richer intellectual environment where undergrads can learn from faculty and one another even outside the classroom.

“In your position as master,” one student said, “it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students who live in Silliman. You have not done that. By sending out that email, that goes against your position as master. Do you understand that?!”

“No,” Christakis said, “I don’t agree with that.”

As he saw it, there was no contradiction between creating a safe residence for Silliman students and challenging them intellectually, a view Yale itself officially shares (though what its representatives convey to prospective students is opaque to outsiders).

Professor Alan Jacobs of Baylor University published one of the more insightful posts on this aspect of the controversy, observing that any Yale student seeking an environment akin to a home is bound to be disappointed, because their residential colleges are, by design, places where “people from all over the world, from a wide range of social backgrounds, and with a wide range of interests and abilities, come to live together temporarily, for about 30 weeks a year, before moving on to their careers. It is an essentially public space,” he added, “though with controls on ingress and egress to prevent chaos and foster friendship and fellowship.”

Homes are typically places where parents instill their own values in kids whose formative experiences they shape, or where domestic partners who bonded over shared values cohabitate. Insofar as Yale includes students from diverse homes, it will be unlike an actual home, and should acknowledge that reality to all of its students. Learning to live away from home by tolerating difference is part of campus life.

In that October confrontation, the student demanding a comfortable home exploded when Christakis articulated an educator’s understanding of his role. “Then why the fuck did you accept the position?!” she screamed. “Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down! If that is what you think about being a master you should step down! It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here. You are not doing that!”

The student concluded with a hateful statement: “You should not sleep at night! You are disgusting!” It was, by all accounts, an out-of-character outburst from an intelligent, normally thoughtful person in a moment of high emotion, but when video of her tirade was posted online, she was mercilessly harassed by trolls, some of whom used racial epithets and threatened to kill her. The Christakises, who defended that student, were subject to anonymous abuse and online threats, as well.

The ire that student activists directed at the couple is inseparable from the larger protest movement that roiled American campuses last fall. Many black students at Yale felt that the institution has failed to create an inclusive environment on campus, citing grievances as varied as the presence of residential college named for John C. Calhoun, who advocated for slavery in Congress, and the allegation that Yale security guards disproportionately forced students of color to show their IDs on campus.

The vast majority of grievances had nothing to do with Nicholas or Erika Christakis. Many were far more persuasive than any critiques aimed at the couple. Nor does their resignation do anything to address those grievances. Some activists nevertheless cast the couple as symbols of what was wrong with Yale, an injustice noted by a group of faculty members who came to their defense. “In the case of the Christakises, their work has been more directly oriented toward the social justice than the work of many other members of the Yale faculty,” they wrote. “For example, Nicholas Christakis worked for many years as a hospice doctor, making house visits to underserved populations in Chicago. Progressive values and social justice are not advanced by scapegoating those who share those values.”

With regard to Erika Christakis’s email, the faculty members declared themselves “deeply troubled that this modest attempt to ask people to consider the issue of self-monitoring vs. bureaucratic supervision has been misinterpreted, and in some cases recklessly distorted, as support for racist speech; and hence as justification for demanding the resignation of our colleagues from their posts at Silliman.”  

But relatively few humanities professors signed that letter of support.

And when drafting the letter, the physics professor Douglas Stone found himself warned by faculty colleagues that he was putting himself at risk of being protested.

At Yale, I encountered students and faculty members who supported the Christakises but refused to say so on the record, and others who criticized them, but only anonymously. On both sides, people with perfectly mainstream opinions shared them with a journalist but declined to put their name behind them due to a campus climate where anyone could conceivably be the next object of ire and public shaming. Insufficient tolerance for disagreement is undermining campus discourse.

Off campus, many pundits published misrepresentations of Christakis’s email in the press. Without extraordinary support from colleagues or a change of heart among activists, some of whom vilified the couple out of solidarity rather than conviction, staying in residential life—which they could have chosen to do—would have assured ongoing conflict, further efforts to force their resignation, and more distractions from their scholarship. “At Silliman College’s graduation ceremony,” the Yale Daily News reported, “some students refused to accept their diplomas from Nicholas Christakis.” Why put yourself through treatment like that?  

On the other hand, their resignations all but assure that others at Yale will regard surviving a speech controversy as less viable and curtail their intellectual engagement.

The statement put out by the couple characteristically declined to criticize anyone at the institution. “Erika and I have devoted our professional lives to advocating for all young people. We have great respect for every member of our community, friend and critic alike,” Nicholas Christakis wrote. “We remain hopeful that students at Yale can express themselves and engage complex ideas within an intellectually plural community.  But we feel it is time to return full-time to our respective fields.”

They declined to comment further.

When Yale’s history is written, they should be regarded as collateral damage harmed by people who abstracted away their humanity. Yale activists felt failed by their institution and took out their frustration on two undeserving scapegoats who had only recently arrived there. Students who profess a belief in the importance of feeling safe at home marched on their house, scrawled angry messages in chalk beneath their bedroom window, hurled shouted insults and epithets, called for their jobs, and refused to shake their hands even months later, all over one email. And the couple’s ultimate resignation does nothing to improve campus climate.

What a waste.

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