How Campus Censorship Culture Could Be Causing Students Psychological Harm

By August 11, 2015

By Greg Lukianoff at Ricochet

I’m excited to announce that The Atlantic just published my feature article, The Coddling of the American Mind, which I co-wrote with best-selling author and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt and I examine some of the behaviors we’ve observed on the modern college campus and the way they illustrate a new campus movement that goes beyond the PC movement of the 1980s and ‘90s. We write:

The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.

Examining vindictive protectiveness through a psychological lens, Haidt and I ask whether this new movement, created to help students, is actually hurting them:

[Vindictive protectiveness] prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.

You can learn more about the ideas in our article at the FIRE website, too. The parallels between how administrators and students seek to shield themselves from uncomfortable thoughts and the various cognitive distortions identified by cognitive behavioral therapy are both intriguing and disturbing.