Self-Esteem, Shunned Guest Speakers, and College Trigger Warnings

June 11, 2015

By Carol Josel at Examiner.com

Here it is in a nutshell: Self-esteem comes from true accomplishment, or, at the very least, a strong effort to succeed, to attain a goal. It cannot be handed to children by well-meaning parents and educators who put every scribble on the fridge door or bulletin board.

Nevertheless, too many of us continue to ignore that truth, over-indulging our kids, defending the indefensible, and protecting them from failure. We hover, too.

Every kid now gets a trophy, merited or not, while many schools have done away with homework, red pens, and zeroes. Nowadays, we even see multiple valedictorians at graduations–or none at all. God forbid, the slackers out there should feel badly and left out.

Much of this is attributable to the self-esteem movement that got started back in the 1980’s in California. The thinking at the time was that by downplaying grades and competition while praising even minimal effort, kids would feel worthwhile and be better behaved.

What we’ve ended up with instead are countless intolerant, arrogant, needy young people who’ve come to believe that life is supposed to be fair and that they’re the be all and end all. They post the minutiae of their lives online, take countless selfies, expect good grades simply for showing up, cope poorly with failure, and lack adult-ready skills.

And all that me, me thinking is no more apparent than on our college campuses. Says comedian Jerry Seinfeld, “College kids are too politically correct; I hear it all the time. I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re too P.C.’ I’ll give you an example: My daughter’s 14. My wife said to her, ‘Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends, so you can see boys.’ You know what my daughter says? She says, ‘That’s sexist.’ They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s prejudice.’ They don’t know what the _ _ _ _ they’re talking about.”

Along with all that unbridled political correctness and self-centeredness, many college students nowadays can’t handle opposing points of view, so they protest, shun, or cause certain guests to be disinvited as speakers—and with many of their professors right there with them. In fact, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), since 1987, there have been at least 145 instances where speakers have withdrawn their names, had invitations revoked, or been the subjects of protests—with almost 100 of these in the last five years.

Notes the Washington Square News Editorial Board: “The protests follow party lines—with speakers who are perceived to be conservative uninvited almost three times as much as liberal guests.” Last year, that included former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Not only did Rutgers University students protest with a sit-in, the faculty council urged the university to disinvite her, calling her a “war criminal.” She withdrew her name, so as not to detract from the ceremony itself.

Another who withdrew in 2014 was Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. Students at Haverford College liked that he champions undocumented and minority students but disapproved his use of force during a 2011 Occupy movement protest on campus. The upshot: They and some professors penned a letter asking that he apologize and support reparations or be disinvited.

Meanwhile, although Harvard’s graduating seniors didn’t want former NYC Mayor Bloomberg to speak last year, speak he did. Among his comments: “In the 1950’s. the right wing was attempting to repress left-wing ideas. Today, on many campuses, it is liberals trying to repress conservative ideas, even as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming an endangered species, and that is probably nowhere more true than it is here in the Ivy League.”

Underscoring that fact, he noted that “all but 4% of presidential campaign contributions by Ivy League faculty and staff in 2012 went to Obama.” Bloomberg himself endorsed the man at the time.

Among 2015’s hit list:

  • St. John Fisher College: Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Dozens of professors wrote, “A graduation ceremony should be a moment in which we publicly acknowledge and show respect for all members of our diverse student body and their accompanying families. Regretfully, our speaker selection implies that we do not value all members of the Fisher family equally.”
  • University of California, L.A.: Former Microsoft technology officer and co-founder of Intellectual Ventures Nathan Myhrvold. Offended, student Ara Shirinian called his company “the world’s biggest patent troll” and insisted that, in the future, students be involved in the selection process.
  • LeMoyne College: Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Almost the entire graduating class signed a Change.org petition against him for opposing same-sex marriage and mishandling sex abuse allegations against priests.

And when Texas Governor Greg Abbott was asked to speak this year at the University of North Texas, “Turn Your Back on Bigotry” designed an AbbottFreeUNT Facebook pageasking that agreeing students turn their backs on him for the duration. Part of their platform read, “Governor Abbott supports policies that impede the attainment of rights pursued by marginalized communities, including, but not limited to: the LGBT+ population, women, people of color, and lower/working class people, e.g. Abbott’s attempts to block access to in-state tuition for undocumented migrants is antithetical to this university’s purported commitment to higher education and opportunity.”

The upshot: Only a few hundred of the 4,000 graduating seniors showed up, and many of them turned their backs as the governor spoke. Wonder what their parents thought.

As the WSN Editorial Board concluded, “Although the overwhelming majority of students support free speech in theory, those who protest visiting speakers do not reflect this belief. If students are to advocate for free speech, they must uphold it unselectively. Advocates for free speech should not try to eliminate opportunities for unpopular views to be heard, and should, in fact, encourage them. Exposure to dissenting ideas is especially critical to intellectual honesty, and growth in an educational setting.”

Unfortunately, the threat to academic freedom and freedom of speech doesn’t end with shunned guest speakers. Nowadays, trigger warnings on campuses also seek to protect “fragile” students from any topic that might “trigger” in them an emotional response.

For instance, Oberlin College’s now-tabled policy warned faculty to “remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals.” Listed as potential triggers: “Racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.”

I needed help with:

  • Cissexism: “The appeal to norms that enforce the gender binary and gender essentialism, resulting in the oppression of gender variant, non-binary and trans identities.”
  • Ableism: “a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities.”

Even such classics as Huck Finn, The Great Gatsby, Mrs. Dalloway, and Shakespeare, too, have been targeted.

Such goings-on triggered this from The Daily Beast’s Neil Gillespie: “Abetted by idiot administrators, today’s students seem incapable of living in the real world. Every time we seem to have reached peak insanity when it comes to the intellectually constipated and socially stultifying atmosphere on today’s college campuses, some new story manages to reveal vast new and untapped reservoirs of ridiculousness. In a world of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and official apologies featuring misgendered pronouns that start a whole new round of accusations, wonders never cease.”

And so it goes …