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?
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