Niche College Scholarship Blog


Should Political Correctness Trump Personal Opinion?

Should Political Correctness Trump Personal Opinion?
Susan Dutca-Lovell

Last week, a Mount Holyoke College professor allegedly went around his class trying to guess what racial slurs minority students might have been called in their lifetime. Students claimed the exercise was a form of racial discrimination. In this day and age, we are more politically correct than ever before. College students now think twice before raising their hands to offer an opinion on sensitive or controversial topics. Similarly, professors have become more reluctant to analyze and dissect material that may trigger negative emotional responses. We fear that what we may say will offend someone else, even if we had not intended to do so. There has been a large "institutionalization of microagression" - small actions or word choices that are not intended to be malicious but are considered violent nonetheless. Where there once was the freedom of academic speech and healthy debating of opposing ideas, there is now a constant defense of students' emotions. This coddling, which infantilizes and diminishes intellectual discussion now exists to prevent countless lawsuits and could be considered an overprotection of "adult" students' psyches. For students looking to take on adulthood in college, should that require thicker skin and learning to listen to, and accept other people's opinions?

Best discussed in The Atlantic, there has been a drastic climate change in America's higher education where we have elevated the "goals of protecting students from psychological harm." This new "vindictive protectiveness" is believed to have emerged during the 1980s, in order to protect women and minority individuals from offensive speech. There is now a strong censorship of speech and of intellectual thinking for students and professors. Cautious to not offend anyone or for fear that students may cry victim at the slightest opposition to their opinion, institutions have implemented trigger warnings - alerts that professors issue if they sense strong emotional discomfort from students. Professor Hill, English professor at Mount Holyoke had asked his students to give examples of modern day racial slurs – within the context of analyzing Robinson Crusoe and the book's use of the term "papist". Going around the classroom, Professor Hill had pointed out specific minorities and guessed what racial slurs may have been used to describe. Students took offense to this exercise and later detailed the insensible and discriminatory nature of the lesson.

President Obama has taken to the issue of coddled college students, microaggression, and culture of victimhood and stated, "I don't agree you have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. Anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them, but you shouldn't silence them by saying you can't come because I'm too sensitive to hear what you have to say." How, if at all, can we find a balance between free academic speech and protecting students' emotions?

Comments (41)
J. Bailey 10/13/2015
Instead of telling the student what racial slurs he perceived that they may have received, the professor should have asked the students to give him some examples of what type of slurs that they may have had to deal with if they lived during that time period. That way the students would have given the information themselves, and there would have been a chance for dialog without offending the students. The colleges are where the students learn to voice and share opinions and experiences. There feelings and opinions do matter. The instructors, and that professor in particular needs to think things through before speaking to the class.. "He didn't plan ahead, he didn't do his homework."
Nathan L 10/12/2015
Reading the comments, a large number express a contradictory position. If you should feel free to express opinions and have yours challenged, but you have to do remain cognizant of all potential offenses, you really have no freedom to express opinion. The PC trend has gone too far. In the real world, you will be offended, cheated, dismissed, and in general treated badly in some way or another. It's not racism, just some people in their selfish striving manner seeking personal advantage. You won't eliminate that behavior with the idealistic "if we can just eliminate racism, there won't be a need for trigger warnings" naivete. And, non-minorities are not immune from offense, it's just that they aren't protected by the PC social norms. Suck it up folks. University should be a place to prepare for the real world. Not to hide from it.
Nicole K. 10/12/2015
No one is trying to protect people from different points of view. No one is offended when someone thinks differently than themself. However, people are, and have the right to be, offended when someone else aims their discussion at their race, sexuality, or anything so incredibly central to their own identities. Topics can be discussed openly and freely. But when those topics center around discrimination and minorities, we can't just keep pretending that the topic couldn't pertain to anyone else in the room like we have done in the past. We're more aware now, and we have to accept that our awareness will alter our way of living.
Jesmelia W. 10/11/2015
Because of the ever growing awareness of all types of discrimination, people are cautious about what they say or propose. I completely agree with President Obama's comment on the topic, however, every person should have a mental stipulation of what is appropriate to say. Discussing the different aspects of discrimination is healthy, for it allows listeners to consider perspectives other than their own. Every opinion should be based behind solid facts, and I believe it is fair to say that any person who does not gain complete knowledge of the facts of a topic cannot legitimately enforce their opinion upon someone. Knowledge can be obtained through research and discussion. It is necessary that we have educated conversations on controversial topics, yet the line should be drawn before the discussion is used to shame or offend any particular group.
Alexandra R 10/8/2015
In today's society we have become so desensitized to the true issues. Instead of facing them head on, we flounder about refusing to admit the truth; though all the while we complain about issues that aren't being fixed. In order to move passed these racial barriers and common misconceptions of the need to "protect" the feelings of others, we must be able to confront these tough areas even if it causes debates. These conversations must be set in place in order to insure the ever growing generations that proceed us.
Adam N. 10/8/2015
Tell me what happened to forgiveness? To compassion? To Love? Taking offense to a certain subject is normal for any human being. Now what we do with that offense will seriously hurt us. What does God tell us to do with that offense? Well if we took offense to the subject, we must have cared about it. "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you."-1 Peter 5:7 That means in every situation, in every argument, in every offense taken, you should let your cares go to the only one who can do anything about them.
Maddie E 10/8/2015
How are we to discuss opinions and change the world if the people of the world are too sensitive to listen? Our founding fathers did not make this country just so that we could become small and self opiniated. You have the right to your own opinion, but the problem is when you don't listen to anyone else. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is certainly not a help to anyone in this country. Have thicker skin! Take charge! Who wants to change the world?? Speak your mind! Let others hear what you have to say, but only if you're willing to listen to what they have to say too.
Kristen Hudson 10/8/2015
Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion but at the same time you should respect others. There is ALWAYS a right way to do things. We should all think before we speak. Aliso, before you say mean or thoughtless things start thinking before speaking
Ashlee B 10/7/2015
There is a way to get your point across respectfully without being offensive. A quote I always go by is "if you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything." You should never be scared to voice your opinion, just do it the right way. Political correctness ahould never trump personal opinions.
Hallie B. 10/7/2015
Political correctness should trump personal opinion. The other day, a supervisor was informing the staff on something a student said, which was: "Where is that brown lady?" There was laughter among the staff and the supervisor states to me "well, Hallie, you're brown. Maybe he meant you. No offense." I was confused as to why "no offense" had to be added because I am brown. People fear personal attacks so much that anything racial is considered offensive. Americans will never get a full educational experience if they're hindered in perspectives and barriers. The truth is the truth.
April M. 10/7/2015
And haven't you written about race before on this blog? It's the same garbage over and over. Writers like you make create these issues. Don't write about it and people don't talk about it.
Alec C. 10/7/2015
I'm pretty sure America was founded as a free country therefore anyone can do what they please inside the law, so I have to allow others to do things I might not like but then they have to in turn allow things I do that they don't like. We might not have the same opinions and I won't throw a fit about it and go cryin back to momma when someone makes a comment or gives their straight opinion on an issue or of me, so you gotta pull up your big boy pants and deal with it when I do the same.
April M. 10/7/2015
Political correctness is vital but can be blocked from personal as well as societal opinions. I believe that we have to, in the case of education or any spoken word form of informing, free ourselves from our own opinions to fully understand the point of others. In education it isnt intended for someone to be malicious or racist. Its best just to let connotations out of one's mind and to take the in the knowledge and experience rather than to avoid the topic due to personal opinions. Besides, if one cant get past their own problems, how can we solve the world's?
Laurie Y 10/7/2015
The P C culture that has invaded the United States is crazy! There are lots of things and ideas I don't like but as a citizen of this great country I've decided to turn the channel, turn like off on Facebook, ignore rude posts or language, and Just Get OVER THE OUTRAGE. Time to be a grown up and be kind and polite, and allow others to speak their minds; just as I will speak, argue, and eye roll my way through life. Our country is a great one and taking away freedom just because someone is offended is BS. So get over it and move on, it the REAL world we live in, and most people don't care what you think or say. Keep America Great and Free.
Kirill Neko 10/7/2015
No, by any means personal opinion is greater than PC.
Dailyn T 10/6/2015
A lot of students now in this day have more liberal standpoints, but also disagree with certain liberal ideas so they do not classify themselves as a liberal. I also think that some students find more things offensive due to the way society treats certain topics sensitively and form an opinion based off of what other people think, rather than if they actually feel that way if they were to think hard about it.
Noah Taitano 10/6/2015
We all have a right to voice. To be able to speak when we wanna speak, show emotions when we want to and to say what we want. But society has developed a standard that everyone follows which is necessary for us to keep a nice and calm civilization. Politically correct and having your own opinion are both necessary for an individual to have. Being "politically correct" is meant for us to watch what we say around people because not all of us are the same. Some may be more sensitive than others and other may not even care if you call them a racial slur. But it enables us to keep in mind about others emotions towards the subject of racial slurs. In my opinion political correctness has no effect on our opinion because there are other words you can use instead of the mainstream ones being used. And also if you do have something to say and your thinking really hard about whether it will offend someone or not talk to your professor or teacher after about it during school not infront of the class because it will cause problems with the others. So our opinions are greatly needed because it gives others a sense of who we are individually and also political correctness just helps us to watch what we say which is needed in society
Carlos C. 10/6/2015
As an advanced society I believe we shouldn't be concerned about this matter anymore because this is what our past activists faught for, but I guess it's inevitable that history may repeat it self. Although it's our job to prevent further eliminate these topics we consentrate on debating them instead of focusing on making progress. Humanity is far more powerful than we can imagine; as a whole we can achieve things we've never even thought we could posibly see in a lifetime but our focus is displayed on boundaries of colors, believes and cultures that restrain our own capasity and blinds us from what's really important.
Valeria S. 10/6/2015
I think as the years go on we start accepting more things in our society or we become more lenient on the matter. Our views will keep on changing as the years go by, I feel like we should start getting used to this idea and find ways on how we can freely express ourselves while still being respectable and sensible towards the matter.
Jesse Reed 10/6/2015
Things are only racist of the person affected feels it's racist. Take speedy Gonzales for example. In the 90's, he wasn't shown on tv a lot because white people (which I am) felt it was a racist stereotype of Mexicans, while Mexicans didn't feel that speedy was a racist stereotype. Now speedy is back on tv because common sense has won and because the people that were being 'stereotyped' didn't feel that it was a stereotype. All in all, political correctness shouldn't be a thing. Being offended is normal, but useless if it doesn't affect you
Alexanderia N. 10/6/2015
While it is evident that being politically correct is a rewardable trait, I do sometimes feel it has gone too far. While the simple act of getting educated on topics that were prevalent in a culture, or a culture in its entirety, or even simply asking a stranger their preferred pronouns is a beautiful thing that has come around, and surely saved some heartbreak, it has also wielded a double edge sword by providing fear to express. For example, the topic of discussion that the professor may have been addressing could have been an important segue in to a more encompassing lesson in political correctness itself. As it comes to education, political correctness is often the source of fear, which inhibits learning and has no place in a classroom. It is important for students to respect their fellow student's backgrounds and sensibilities. I don't think it should limit them in healthy discussion and the freedom of expression that they need to better themselves or educate others.
Claire T. 10/6/2015
The United States has been driven so far away from God and I hate to see it tarrie much longer. Hatred in ones heart does not heal anything but only hurts oneself. Without being born again in the lamb's blood, this is in a sinner's heart and will always be until they repent and turn from their wicked ways.
Caitlin R 10/6/2015
Having to go through this still in 2015 is rediculous. Students opinion should have nothing to do with political correctness, nevertheless be in the same sentence. With live in an era and species where we are starting to backpedal and seemingly reverse our evolutionary cycle. I mean this in the most literal way possible as far as racism goes. It's getting sickening.
Jordan p 10/6/2015
I think political correctness is a good quality for every individual to have, however personal opinion is vital to society. We as a democratic nation, are based off the principal that we have freedom of speech. Political correctness should not be a barrier for people to speak their mind but rather a guidline in which people present what they want to say. On this topic, how is one supposed to talk about "racial slurs" by being politically correct? There are certain things that can be said informally,if its not meant to intentionally hurt someone. Open discussion about sensitive topics should not be shunned, but rather embraced with intentions to clear the air. Dicussion of opinion is the only way to face the problem at hand.
Meghna B. 10/6/2015
If a person has an opinion you dislike just say, "I respect your opinion but I disagree with it."
Dillon S. 10/6/2015
Our culture has turned away from God. That is the issue. Once you abandon God in society, you reject the One who shows compassion upon all people, (all of whom have turned against Him in sin.) Jesus Christ died and rose again to demonstrate that compassion, provide salvation, and restore our relationship with Him. His gift is offered to every individual (whether black or white, straight or gay) who will come and believe on Him. John 3:16
Alexus w. 10/6/2015
I feel racism will never stop because it seems younger people don't know much about it they only hear older people talk about it and then younger people take it to a whole other level because being ignorant to the facts instead of knowing what you are talking about first they think it makes them look cool or hip to others but it only makes them look dumb so I feel If people would quit judging others and look at themselves in the mirror and think twice before they say or do something this world might be a better place
Bryant P. 10/6/2015
I can understand that students shouldn't be coddled, but generally speaking, if you're saying something that might offend somebody, it's not an intellectual comment to begin with. In this example, the professor directly guessing racial slurs that may or may not have been used on his students can't have been necessary, nor could it have been educational. I'm sure his minority and majority students had heard all the words before, so why did the professor feel the need to point out students and assign them a racial slur? Perhaps next time he should consider whether there is a need for potentially offending someone, or just an immature desire. If not, he, and any others with similar mindsets, can try having an intellectual discussion without personally attacking anybody else involved. That'd be a nice change.
Eddie L 10/6/2015
If there's a discussion going on people should stop playing the race card and screw political correctness. It's a discussion on sensitive topics so how are you supposed to talk about them openly if people are too sensitive to do so in the first place... We need to eventually move away from political correctness one day and accept we are all human beings from different genetic backgrounds hence your color and race. Those are facts, this is different from being purposely racist.
Emily G 10/6/2015
Political correctness is a craft of a culture that has abandoned morals. Note that the phrase is "political correctness" not moral correctness or even simple
Nathan P 10/6/2015
This all goes back to the mindset of man when it comes down to good and bad its much easier to do wrong than it is to do right much like it is easier to run away from a problem than face it head on people would rather live in ignorance that feels more comforting than seeking enlightenment that can be hard but in the end will free there mind and give them a sense of fulfilment.
Jamarea J. 10/6/2015
Rascims is very common in communities now in day, is it right? No! But you can't stop some from being who they are. They say you can't judge a books by it's cover but yet some people judge people by the color of their skin, they're big contradictors. I don't believe it's right but my beliefs may not be the same as the next persons beliefs.
Lauren C 10/6/2015
A White English professor goes around calling minorities slurs. How is this even a debate. He could've just asked them to share their experiences with racism, but instead he decided to go around calling them racist terms. Like seriously.
David B 10/6/2015
Why do students' emotions have to be protected anyway? There is no right to not be offended! The absolute bounty of living in a free society is the fact that you will be offended by something frequently. That's the beauty of the US--our right to free speech (as well as Life, Liberty, and the PURSUIT of Happiness). Those that deny others these rights because their delicate sensibilities might be hurt by what they hear or see, are not just part of the problem; they ARE the problem!
Jordyn M 10/6/2015
Racism should've been left back in the stone ages. If you don't have anything nice to say to someone, then don't say it at all, but don't judge people before you get to know them.
Einak C 10/6/2015
It's not the same when your ancestors were called things that hurt them than nowadays, because nowadays generation would call each other names that is racist. I mean really why call each other names that is racist think before speaking those words means something, and it is not something good to say. Just my opinion of how it turn out now.
Joseph N 10/6/2015
These days racial discrimination shouldn't be a topic of concern. People from all over the world are in America and people should accept this.
melissa k. 10/6/2015
the time for racism is over. nicroaggressions lead to violence and oppression to minorities. calling it 'coddling' or saying how it takes away discussion from college is one thing, and I do understand it. there are some things that aren't acceptable, and some things that only slightly offend. by ending racism, only can we have this whole 'trigger warning' system gone
Ruslan M 10/6/2015
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The 1st amendment ensures us of that. If we are being silenced because of ones beliefs with out being able to express our own beliefs then we aren't being able to exercise our freedom to our advantage. The difficult part is accepting someone's opinion even if talks poorly towards a person.
James c 10/6/2015
Why would it surprise anyone that this happened at a private liberal arts college? People need to calm down with their feelings and suck it up. Too many people claim to be offended by anything that's said.
Daniel v 10/6/2015
The time of protecting one's thoughts passed a long time ago. If you don't protect your culture and your beliefs then your being oppressed by others who don't have a say so in your heritage. It's better to have an argument than being quiet and absorbing all the criticism.
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