Reject hypocrisy in conservative criticism of activists
If you have heard the complaint that today’s college students are too sensitive, you are far from alone. It seems the latest moral panic for conservative talking heads is this idea that American colleges have become a hypersensitive hellhole of safe spaces and trigger warnings, utterly delusional and separated from the outside world. These modern-day doomsday prophets warn that anything that dares to so much as resemble objectionable thought is pounced on by a veritable army of critics and silencers. “A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense,” wrote Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in “The Coddling of the American Mind,” the September 2015 cover story of The Atlantic. You really do not have to go far to find examples of conservative media outlets trying to make an example out of college activist efforts and the supposedly suffocatingly liberal atmosphere on college campuses. In fact, Brandeis University, known for its social justice pedigree and activist proclivities, manages to find its way into the headlines from time to time. Tucker Carlson, now best known for taking the time slot once held by the disgraced Bill O’Reilly, seemingly made it a point to go after our dear university in his time running the online newsletter, The Daily Caller. In addition to describing the University as “one of America’s foremost lairs of leftism” in its list of the “13 Most Rabidly Leftist Politically Correct Colleges for Dirty Tree Hugging Hippies,” the Daily Caller also found it fit to run headlines like “Fancypants, $60,000-A-Year College Student: ‘No Sympathy’ For Brutally Executed Cops” and “Asian Kids At $60,300-Per-Year College Find Exciting New Ways To Feel Insulted By ‘Microaggressions’” as legitimate news content. This is hardly surprising when you consider that the Daily Caller also claims that “a Brandeis student uncovered a huge listserv used by Brandeis professors containing several scary exchanges bashing conservatives, Jews, Christians, and basically anyone who views America as a force for good,” per the first article. A little tip for Eric Owens, the writer who brought us that last paragraph and whoever wrote all those lovely headlines for him: Brandeis is not a secret “lair” where conservative Christians are tortured night and day, and neither is any other college.
And it is not just Carlson and company; other arch-conservative news outlets feel the need to pile on poor Brandeis, as well. “Three In Four Brandeis Conservatives Are in the Political Closet” reads a distressingly typical headline from Breitbart, which, at the time of that headline, was run by White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. The National Review, not content to be outdone in the contemptuous complaining department, ran with the title “Campus Group Apologizes to Students ‘Triggered’ by Anti-Microaggressions Exhibit.” In any case, you can easily see the narrative being woven here: Brandeis students and their co-conspirators at left-leaning universities across the country are privileged, sensitive stuck-ups who leap into impotent rage at the slightest hint that their precious social justice is at risk; furthermore, being a conservative on a college campus is a harrowing experience far worse than any racial or gender-based discrimination existing today.
While the vast majority of the above narrative is complete nonsense, arguing that colleges do not lean to the left is a fool’s errand. For every one self-identified right-leaning professor active in academia, there are at least five left-leaning professors, according to a Jan. 11, 2016 article in the Washington Post.
Unfortunately for Carlson, the predominance of liberals on college campuses is not the root of the oh-so-sensitive identity politics at hand; that would be the work of conservatives. If you are so set on talking about ideology superseding evidence, perhaps you should look elsewhere for examples. Perhaps consider the science classrooms across the country where the basic facts of the world around us — like evolution and the Big Bang — are being thrown straight into the garbage to satiate hard-line religious leaders, or maybe the government research organizations now barred from the simple act of reporting on the environment because fossil fuel companies provide a useful political ally for our incumbent President.
Further, a couple of college kids getting upset over a poorly coordinated art installation, as written about in the aforementioned National Review article, is small peanuts compared to the inevitable backlash, Twittersphere firestorm and months and months of harassment that ensue. For every over-excited student taking their desire to get hate speech off campus a bit too far, there are about 300 Youtube videos of angry 30-something white men going on hour-long rants about how college students complain too much. In spending all their time excoriating college students for reacting with outsized emotion to supposedly small factors, conservative pundits and opinion-makers put out far more unwarranted and unnecessary criticism than their targets. The irony has clearly escaped them. And as for cries that this all falls under the nebulous and spooky banner of “censorship” and violates the First Amendment, there is one last thing to note: Our lovely First Amendment only guarantees the right to free expression in the form of not having government censorship or silencing; private citizens and institutions can do whatever they want. Don’t cry censorship whenever the speech you want public is ignored and the opinions you want silenced reach prominence. For example, if you — like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, according to a May 16 CNN article — happen to contend that Tim Allen’s show “Last Man Standing” was taken off the air to spite you for supporting Donald Trump, maybe look at the show’s meandering ratings and failure to impress advertisers before pointing fingers. Likewise, there is no conspiracy to turn college campuses into hypersensitive warzones. College students have simply become sick and tired of the prejudice conservatives peddle.