I admit it. I can’t keep my eyes off the spectacle playing out at Yale and UMissouri, with side shows now taking place at campuses across America. I’ve been saying since my Berkeley days that American higher education is sick, sick, sick and, in a sad way, I feel vindicated. The rot that I sensed there in the early 1980s is finally working its way out from the center of the fruit, with the whole thing rupturing and spilling out its disgusting toxin. There are innumerable superb articles on the subject, and I’ll link to them below. I just wanted to point to one thing that I haven’t noticed anyone else mention.
When you read the articles about what happened at Yale, you’ll read that the Yale kerfuffle started when the “Department of Intercultural Affairs” (and God alone knows how much that department contributes to Yale’s hefty tuition) got the ball rolling shortly before Thanksgiving when it sent an email to all Yale students warning about the hidden dangers of Halloween costumes. And no, we’re not talking about costumes that (per elementary school lore) come from the undertakers and are soaked in deadly embalming fluid or costumes that make one blend into the darkness so perfectly that they raise exponentially the risk that a car will unknowingly crash into the wearer. Instead, the email warns about the horrors of costumes that — yikes! — might offend someone.
I believe this administrative email deserves to be quoted at some length, not just because it’s painfully, horribly, victim-centrically stupid, but also because of the Miss Nancy tone that I associate with the old Romper Room show from my childhood:
However, Halloween is also unfortunately a time when the normal thoughtfulness and sensitivity of most Yale students can sometimes be forgotten and some poor decisions can be made including wearing feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing blackface or redface. These same issues and examples of cultural appropriation and/or misrepresentation are increasingly surfacing with representations of Asians and Latinos.
Yale is a community that values free expression as well as inclusivity. And while students, undergraduate and graduate, definitely have a right to express themselves, we would hope that people would actively avoid those circumstances that threaten our sense of community or disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population based on race, nationality, religious belief or gender expression.
The culturally unaware or insensitive choices made by some members of our community in the past, have not just been directed toward a cultural group, but have impacted religious beliefs, Native American/Indigenous people, Socio-economic strata, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, Women, Muslims, etc. In many cases the student wearing the costume has not intended to offend, but their actions or lack of forethought have sent a far greater message than any apology could after the fact…
There is growing national concern on campuses everywhere about these issues, and we encourage Yale students to take the time to consider their costumes and the impact it may have. So, if you are planning to dress-up for Halloween, or will be attending any social gatherings planned for the weekend, please ask yourself these questions before deciding upon your costume choice:
• Wearing a funny costume? Is the humor based on “making fun” of real people, human traits or cultures?
• Wearing a historical costume? If this costume is meant to be historical, does it further misinformation or historical and cultural inaccuracies?
• Wearing a ‘cultural’ costume? Does this costume reduce cultural differences to jokes or stereotypes?
• Wearing a ‘religious’ costume? Does this costume mock or belittle someone’s deeply held faith tradition?
• Could someone take offense with your costume and why?
I hope you all appreciated as much as I did the lip service reference to free expression. The rest of the email, of course, is a grand wallow in political correctness that kowtows to trigger warnings and the horrors of microaggressions. (By the way, I want to apologize for the cultural appropriation in the preceding sentence. The word “kowtow” is a Chinese word, and one that I, a white person, have not formally been authorized to use.)
You probably also know that the fecal matter really hit the fan when Erika Christakis, a lecturer in her own right and the wife of a professor who is also a dorm adviser, wrote a very politely phrased email to the residents in her husband’s dorm suggesting that students in the Yale community would be better served if they lowered their antennae and stopped being quite so sensitive about . . . well, everything. Had I written that letter, I doubt I could have maintained such a polite tone. Despite her placating manner, Christakis was excoriated as was her husband who, after first defending her, later apologized for being insensitive. (It’s no surprise that the professors and administrators back down. They’re the ones who created, and quite possible believe in, the toxic ideological stew in which the students marinate.)
What I wonder, though, is how many people paid attention to Christakis’ specialty or the way she wove that specialty into her discussion about students learning to tolerate things that might rub them the wrong way. Christakis is an Early Childhood Educator and, as she explains in the email, she also used to be a preschool teacher.
It was not accidental that, in the first part of this post, I made several references to elementary school. I wanted to highlight the infantile level of student discourse. Christakis did the same thing, although in a fawning, “please don’t hit me” way. Thus, she compares the students’ hypersensitivity to Halloween costumes to a failure to develop properly when it comes to playing nicely with others, and suggests (tactfully, very tactfully) that they would do well to mature away from that developmental stage:
As a former preschool teacher, for example, it is hard for me to give credence to a claim that there is something objectionably “appropriative” about a blonde-haired child’s wanting to be Mulan for a day. Pretend play is the foundation of most cognitive tasks, and it seems to me that we want to be in the business of encouraging the exercise of imagination, not constraining it. I suppose we could agree that there is a difference between fantasizing about an individual character vs. appropriating a culture, wholesale, the latter of which could be seen as (tacky)(offensive)(jejeune)(hurtful), take your pick. But, then, I wonder what is the statute of limitations on dreaming of dressing as Tiana the Frog Princess if you aren’t a black girl from New Orleans? Is it okay if you are eight, but not 18? I don’t know the answer to these questions; they seem unanswerable. Or at the least, they put us on slippery terrain that I, for one, prefer not to cross.
Only after setting the stage in a preschool classroom did Christakis get to the point that aroused such umbrage amongst the special snowflakes and fragile flowers at Yale. and that’s been so often quoted in the media since the kerfuffle began:
Even if we could agree on how to avoid offense – and I’ll note that no one around campus seems overly concerned about the offense taken by religiously conservative folks to skin-revealing costumes – I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition. And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power? Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity – in your capacity – to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you? We tend to view this shift from individual to institutional agency as a tradeoff between libertarian vs. liberal values (“liberal” in the American, not European sense of the word).
(By the way, I did not intend to derogate students of color when I referred to special snowflakes. After all, we’ve all had warnings about not eating yellow, black, or brown snow, so we know such snow exists. That makes my use of the phrase “special snowflakes” appropriately inclusive.)
What nobody has commented upon is one of Christakis’ later comments, following the paragraph I just quoted:
But – again, speaking as a child development specialist – I think there might be something missing in our discourse about the exercise of free speech (including how we dress ourselves) on campus, and it is this: What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment?
The way I read this is that Christakis is saying, “Dear Yale students, I’ve seen preschoolers more mature, less judgmental, and better well-adjusted than you are.” And if that is indeed what she’s saying, she’s right.
In other words, it’s significant that the woman who had the courage to write this letter (and, despite her humble and tentative tone, it was courageous to write this, as subsequent events proved) is someone who has worked with children at the earliest stage of their development. No one could have seen more clearly how America’s parents and educational institutions have infantilized those who, because of good grades in high school, can lay claim to being America’s best and brightest.
Too many of these children, sadly, are not the best and brightest at all. As someone who’s familiar with a very good American public high school, the best students (at least the liberal arts) aren’t always the hard workers. They are, instead, the ones who successfully regurgitate their English, Social Studies, and History teachers’ hard Left BS. They are the sheep at every high school who wouldn’t dream of questioning what’s taught to them. And that same passive receptiveness to Leftist cant is encouraged, and indeed cultivated, at college. I believe I have expressed before my disdain for an education system that fails to provide outlets, such as trade schools, for people who have other types of intelligence and who should also be supported and lauded, especially because they often contribute a heck of lot more to society than those womyn’s studies majors.
Oh! Speaking of those womyn’s studies majors, John Hinderaker took at look at Melissa Click’s academic resume. Click, you’ll recall, is the professor at the University of Missouri who did her level best to destroy Tim Tai, a stalwart member of the student media, when he tried to photograph the Missouri students’ mental breakdown. Tai recognized the rights conferred by the Constitution; Click, whose academic specialty is hard-Left communications issues involving lesbians and other womyn, did not.
Lastly, I’m certainly not the first, and won’t be the last, to comment on the fact that these little bits of campus fluff believe that the safe feelings only flow one way — to them. As you’ve noticed, the hysterical abuse the visit upon others is eerily reminiscent of the old Rage Boy posters from early in the Iraq War. America’s “Feelings Fascists” believe that, when it comes to dealing the meanies who hurt their feelings and scare them, the Feelings Fascists have no obligation to lead by example.
I promised you links, and here they are:
Regarding the University of Missouri, it’s reasonable to believe that the poop swastika might not have happened or might be a hoax — just as many alleged campus racial crimes have been, if not hoaxes, then performance art by Lefty students trying to “educate” people.
When these flowers and snowflakes graduate, they bring the same intellectual rot to the places in which they work — although currently the hard-Left Center for American Progress is, surprisingly, trying to hold the line.
Glenn Reynolds suggest that, given how appallingly unschooled and immature our students are, it’s time to repeal the 26th Amendment. Things are so bad, though, he doesn’t believe we should role the voting age back to its prior setting of 21. Instead, he thinks it should be raised to 25, which would see at least some of those kids having jobs and living in the real world.
And Brenda Smith-Lezama, Reynolds is talking to you. Yeah, you, the little girl who said:
“I personally am tired of hearing that first amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment for myself and for other students here,” Smith-Lezama said on MSNBC. “I think that it’s important for us to create that distinction and create a space where we can all learn from one another and start to create a place of healing rather than a place where we are experiencing a lot of hate like we have in the past.”
Jonathan Rauch gets the last word. After commenting on the abysmal fluffy marshmallow in which their parents raise them, in which never is heard a discouraging word or a scary idea, he has this to say (emphasis mine):
So it is only fair to warn students and their parents that higher education is not a Disney cruise. Tell them in advance so they can prepare. Not, however, with multiple trigger warnings festooning syllabi. One will suffice:
“Warning: Although this university values and encourages civil expression and respectful personal behavior, you may at any moment, and without further notice, encounter ideas, expressions and images that are mistaken, upsetting, dangerous, prejudiced, insulting or deeply offensive. We call this education.”
Display that trigger warning prominently on the college website. Put it in the course catalog and in the marketing brochures. Then ask students and their parents to grow up and deal with it. And watch as they rise to the challenge.
I believe that, currently, Mike Adams is the only professor in America taking seriously the necessity of issuing this particular warning.