Don’t blame conservatives or free speech advocates for endangering student mental health; blame the modern cult of Identity Politics
Latest to fall victim to the scourge of Milo Fever is the University of Pittsburgh, where a scheduled talk by the touring Milo Yiannopoulos brought some adult student protesters to the point of tears.
The university’s own Pitt News reports:
Pitt police officer Scott DuBrosky said he and the other officers working at the event escorted about 17 people — most of them students — from the event for protesting, but that no protesters gave the Pitt police any problems.
He said Pitt police anticipated the highly tense atmosphere at the event and agreed with Pitt administrators before the event to remove those who disrupted Yiannopoulos’ speech.
Pitt police did not remove about 15 students who silently held signs saying, “My friend who was raped needs a safe space,” and, “My friend who is depressed needs a safe space,” throughout the entire event.
Some students left on their own accord — a few of them sobbing.
While the Daily Caller reports on the aftermath of Yiannopoulos’s speech:
But in the aftermath of Yiannopoulos’ visit, many liberal students found themselves struggling to come to terms with an event they deemed “unsafe” and even “violent.” Hundreds of students attended a meeting of Pitt’s student government to express their distress that the event was allowed to go forward in the first place.
“I felt I was in danger, and I felt so many people in that room were in danger,” student Marcus Robinson said of the non-violent event. “This event erased the great things we’ve done … For the first time, I’m disappointed to be at Pitt.”
Robinson faulted school officials for not providing a room next door staffed with counselors that could provide emotional support for students “traumatized” or “invalidated” by Yiannopoulos’ speech.
Many students argued Yiannopoulos had engaged in “hate speech” and therefore should never have been allowed a public platform in the first place. One even said that despite the lack of any physical attacks, the event was still “real violence” against liberal students.
“This is more than hurt feelings, this is about real violence,” said student Claire Matway. “We know that the violence against marginalized groups happens every day in this country. That so many people walked out of that [event] feeling in literal physical danger is not all right.”
There is so much ridiculous in here to unpack, not least:
1. The fact that any student – and recall, these are grown adults with the right to vote and take up arms in defence of their country – should feel in “literal physical danger” as a result of opinions expressed by a guest speaker who at no point advocated or incited discrimination, let alone violence.
2. The fact that a speaker who expresses ideas which go against the prevailing Social Justice orthodoxy can, with only their words, “erase” any of the tangible things which the students may have done in pursuit of their agenda.
3. The persistent, wheedling call for academic institutions to treat their students like an overbearing parent might treat a child, with the demand for a designated safe space room and trained counsellors on standby to treat the walking wounded – mown down in their seats by a hail of wordfire which contradicted or mocked their own values – much as one might have a field hospital behind the front lines in combat, or a Red Cross tent at a music festival.
4. The notion that anybody can be “invalidated” – essentially made to disappear in a puff of smoke, as though they never existed – by the words of another human being.
5. The hysterical and frankly insulting conflation of “violence against marginalized groups [which] happens every day in this country” with the fact that a group of privileged students chose to attend an event at which they heard ideas and opinions contrary to their own. And the supremely self-regarding notion that having one’s views challenged places one on the same spectrum of suffering and injustice as (say) Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown.
There is a real problem – manifesting mostly on American college campuses but creeping inexorably across the Atlantic to infect British universities, too – of young and impressionable students drinking so deeply from the well of Identity Politics and Social Justice that they are in genuine danger of doing themselves real, self-inflicted mental and emotional damage.
I’ve been reading and researching these phenomena for many months now, and I no longer doubt that in their minds, many of these students genuinely believe that by hearing a contrary opinion or a less-than-affirming remark about their life choices, they are incurring real, physical and mental harm.
(Though it is also plainly apparent that many of the more wily students know this Identity Politics scam and “mental safety” trope to be complete hogwash, but nonetheless embrace it as a means of exercising power over their peers and supposed academic supervisors).
But I’ll now readily concede that for many of these infantilised students who are reduced to tears by a voluntarily-attended, non-violent talk by Milo Yiannopolous, they have indeed incurred a trauma of some kind. Though it may seen completely absurd and hysterical to a normal person, to them it is profoundly real. I will accept that much. We only differ as to the cause of this sudden mass vulnerability, and the proper remedy.
They say ban speakers like Milo Yiannopolous and prohibit the things that they say from being spoken aloud on campus, essentially elevating certain people and ideas above debate and criticism. I say that they need to stop doing the thing which is making them – grown adults! – so vulnerable to speech and writing which contradicts their dogma in the first place.
And what makes them so vulnerable is the incessant and obligatory dividing up of student bodies by race and gender and sexuality, and forcibly separating this group of equal students into an artificial hierarchy of privilege and oppression which exists more in their minds than their lived experience on campus. What makes them vulnerable is the false notion that the social justice causes for which they campaign in wider society are anywhere near as prevalent or serious within their cloistered college campuses, when this is manifestly not true.
Take the example of the students of Silliman College at Yale University who were apparently seriously considering transferring away from one of the best universities in the world because they felt that their college Master was not treating them sufficiently like an overbearing parent by dictating which Halloween costumes were permissible for them to wear and which should be banned for being offensive.
As Conor Friedersdorf noted at The Atlantic, these students were blessed to be studying not only at one of the world’s premier academic institutions, but within surroundings of almost unparalleled luxury – including two Steinway grand pianos, a film editing lab and an art gallery for student use – which are utterly unimaginable for millions of people for whom the chance to study at even the lowest-rated and most ramshackle of higher education institutions is nothing but a distant dream.
That’s not to say that instances of racism, sexism, rape and assault do not take place on college campuses, and that it is terrible when they do. But today’s student activists have lost all sense of perspective. For many of them, hearing any narrative which differs in any way from the progressive Identity Politics interpretation of the world in which they marinate is now just as bad as being the victim of a physical or mental assault.
And we should no longer doubt them at their word. Anybody who is able to work themselves into a tearful tizzy at the sight and sound of Milo Yiannopoulos, perceiving themselves to be in “literal physical danger” at his presence on their university campus, clearly is acutely mentally vulnerable in some way.
But this vulnerability is utterly self-inflicted, and is entirely a consequence of the victim having delved so deep into the cult of Identity Politics now peddled on campus, and Tumblr-style Social Justice culture beyond, that any sense of perspective or capacity for rational thought is completely destroyed.
And for their own sake and ours, these fragile people need to leave their places of academic instruction and return home to their parents, because frankly, they are starting to create a very unproductive – if not yet unsafe – space indeed for those students who went to university naively expecting that they would be attending a place of learning and intellectual debate.
Top Image: The Pitt News – “Conservatism and controversy: Milo Yiannopoulos speaks at Pitt“
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