Tales From The Safe Space, Part 7 – Halting The Encroachment Of Identity Politics On Campus

A role model for spineless university administrators everywhere

If rolling over and meekly submitting like a well trained dog is not the answer to the ideological coup underway in many of our universities – and it most assuredly is not – then what is the correct way for university administrators to respond to the encroachment of Identity Politics and its attendant chilling effects on freedom of thought and speech on campus?

Amid the ignominious resignations and grovelling apologies, we have seen a few encouraging early signs of academic leaders pushing back on the demands of their coddled students for their universities to be turned into ideologically homogeneous, endlessly self-validating bubbles. The speech by Oxford University chancellor Chris Patten, in which he told students protesting a statue of Cecil Rhodes that they should consider being educated elsewhere if they are unable to tolerate difficult or contrary points of view, stands out as one such example.

But no response to student complaints has been so direct as that of Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, a Christian institution in the American heartland.

After attending a mandatory chapel service at university, in which the sermon was from the book of Corinthians and on the topic of love (of all seemingly benign subjects), a student approached Piper and complained that he felt invalidated and victimised for not having lived up to the Biblical standard in his own life. Because being set an aspirational standard of moral behaviour at a religious institution was, to the student’s mind, an intolerable criticism of his own “lived experience”.

Piper perhaps had a little more latitude in the frankness of his response than many other university administrators, being the president of an explicitly religious private institution rather than a public university in receipt of taxpayer money. But nonetheless, his electrifying response is worth reproducing in full, because it puts so many other academic leaders to shame.

From the Oklahoma Wesleyan University president’s blog:

This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.

So here’s my advice:

If you want the chaplain to tell you you’re a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you’re looking for. If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.

If you’re more interested in playing the “hater” card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don’t want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.

At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered. We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict. We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin. We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue “trigger warnings” before altar calls.

Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.

This is not a day care. This is a university.

What astonishing, revolutionary words – the idea that university should not be first and foremost a place of “comfort and home“, but rather a place of academic enquiry and personal growth through challenge. How astonishing, too, that a Christian university leader might dare to suggest that campus life should not revolve around the arbitrary offence-taking of students, and indeed that things larger than the individual self – community, society, God’s creation – are equally important and deserving of attention.

Except that none of this should be astonishing at all. This should be the way that every university president or chancellor reacts when confronted with the self-obsessed complaints of a generation of students who by most measures are the most privileged in history, but who nonetheless want to wallow and talk endlessly about their “pain”.

Piper’s interview with The Daily Signal (see video above) is also instructional as to the root of  the problem. Today’s snowflake students did not create themselves – they are a product of social and educational policies stretching back decades, and cannot be separated from the therapeutic yet authoritarian culture that has given us draconian hate speech laws, absurd political correctness and the elevation of Identity Politics.

In the interview Piper argues:

We’ve taught lousy ideas for decades. Let’s just cut to the chase. The academy, the university, the College with a capital C has created this monster. We’ve taught narcissism and self absorption. We’ve taught self-actualisation rather than personal morality. We’ve told students generation after generation it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as it works for you. We’ve actually come to the point where we can say I can’t tolerate your intolerance and I hate you hateful people and I’m sure that nothing is sure and I know that nothing can be known and I’m absolutely confident that there are no absolutes.

It’s the self-refuting duplicity of the 60s and 70s and 80s coming home to roost in the current generation, so we’ve got faculty who have created this monster and celebrated it until it turned around and bit them and starts consuming them, and now they’re scared.

Could there be a more blisteringly accurate condemnation of the missteps which have led our colleges and universities to their current dystopian reality of trigger warnings, safe spaces and Identity Politics mob trials?

And could there be a greater demonstration of how to show true leadership of an academic institution – not by meekly surrendering to the brazen power play being executed by today’s youthful, misguided activists, but rather by placing free speech, academic enquiry and debate first and foremost in the life of a university?


Postscript: Dr. Everett Piper was presented with the Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick award for Academic Freedom at CPAC on 4 March.

h/t Rod Dreher at The American Conservative


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