Tales From The Safe Space, Part 57 – Transphobia Inquisitions And A Kafkaesque Nightmare At Wilfrid Laurier University

Lindsay Shepherd - Wilfrid Laurier University Ontario Canada - Academic Freedom - Social Justice - Transgender Pronouns - Jordan Peterson

University professors and diversity officers now haul students to appear before campus Social Justice Star Chambers, imposing disciplinary measures without ever explaining the nature or context of the charges against them

One of the interesting developments in the continued takeover of academia by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is the way that enforcement of the strict new leftist orthodoxies has swung from college students pressuring their professors and university administrators to university professors and newly hired diversity officers now pressuring and bullying the students.

It is as though university faculties and leadership teams were so scared by the wave of occupations, campus protests and media spectacles (not to mention high-profile forced resignations) over the past several years that they became determined to get out ahead of the curve and be part of the identity politics vanguard, becoming the hunters rather than the hunted.

We saw this a few months ago at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where more than one professor saw fit to encircle a conservative student recruiting for her campus political organisation and hurl insults and taunts in her direction. So desperate were these middle-aged professors to be seen as sufficiently “woke” “allies” of various designated victim groups that they ended up behaving in a far more raucous, juvenile way than the poor girl they were tormenting.

But now an even more disturbing case has emerged, this time at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. Graduate student and teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd recently found herself hauled in front of a Star Chamber consisting of two professors and a campus diversity officer after an anonymous complaint was made against her for showing a video – fully within the context of the class she was teaching – of somebody expressing a point of view which did not accept or validate current transgenderism doctrine, specifically the use of alternative pronouns.

From The Star:

Lindsay Shepherd, a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, said she ran afoul of school authorities after she aired a clip in two tutorials of a debate on gender-neutral pronouns featuring polarizing University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson.

The excerpt from TVO’s current affairs program The Agendashows Peterson, who has famously refused to use gender pronouns other than “he” or “she,” defending his position against a professor who argued it was necessary to use the pronouns that a person prefers to be called.

Shepherd said she was chastised by her superiors for failing to condemn Peterson’s remarks outright and told her neutral approach to the clip was tantamount to remaining neutral on other objectionable views such as those of Adolf Hitler.

While Global News reports:

She was called into a meeting in which Laurier faculty and administration told her that playing the clip without condemnation legitimizes the viewpoint, which they don’t support.

[..] The meeting, which Shepherd secretly recorded, left her in tears after staff said playing the clip created a toxic environment for transgender students and called her transphobic.

Note: Lindsay Shepherd considers herself a leftist and did not actually agree with the perspective which Professor Jordan Peterson expressed in the now-controversial video. She was hauled before a disciplinary body merely for presenting a different argument in an academic context.

Summaries really do not do the exchange justice, so I strongly encourage you to spend 9 minutes listening to the secret recording of the meeting made by Lindsay Shepherd, or at least to read my transcript below. The purpose of this is not to generate more superficial outrage about “crazy campus SJWs” but to emphasise the degree to which universities are running at full speed away from any commitment to academic freedom and towards uncritically promoting one very particular (and flawed) worldview to the exclusion of all others.

Full transcript below:

PROFESSOR 1: …why that might have been seen as problematic by some of the students, maybe even threatening?

SHEPHERD: Um, I don’t see how someone would rationally think it was threatening. I can see how it might challenge their existing ideas but for me that’s the spirit of the university is challenging ideas that you already have. And I don’t know who this came from, I would be interested to see the original complaint or complaints, because like I don’t really have any context as to what exactly their problem was.

PROFESSOR 1: Sorry, can I, um…

SHEPHERD: The thing is, can you shield people from those ideas? Am I supposed to comfort them and make sure that they are insulated away from this, is that what the point of this is? Cause to me that is so against what a university is about. So against it. I was not taking sides, I was presenting both arguments.

PROFESSOR 1: So the thing is about this is, if you’re presenting something like this, you have to think about the kind of teaching climate that you’re creating, and, um, this is actually, these arguments are counter to Canadian human rights code, ever since – and I know that you talked about, um, C-16, ever since this passed it is discriminatory to be targeting someone due to their gender identity or gender expression. So bringing something like that up in class, not critically, I understand that you’re trying to, like –

SHEPHERD: It was critical. I introduced it critically.

PROFESSOR 1: How so? Like, as in?

SHEPHERD: Like I said, it was in the spirit of debate.

PROFESSOR 1: Okay. In the spirit of the debate is slightly different to being, like, “this is a problematic idea that we maybe wanna unpack”

SHEPHERD: But that’s taking sides.

PROFESSOR 1: Yes.

SHEPHERD: That’s me being like “oh look at this guy, everything that comes out of his mouth is BS but we’re gonna watch anyway”.

PROFESSOR 1: Okay. So I understand the position that you’re coming from and your positionality, but the reality is that it has created a toxic climate for some of the students. Y’know, it’s great that —

SHEPHERD: Who? How many? One?

PROFESSOR 1: Okay. May I speak? It’s —

SHEPHERD: I have no concept of, like, how many people complained, what their complaint was, you haven’t shown me the complaint.

PROFESSOR 1: Yes, I understand that this is upsetting, but there’s also confidentiality matters.

SHEPHERD: The number of people is confidential?

PROFESSOR 1: Yes. It’s one or multiple students who have come forward saying that this is something they were concerned about, and that it made them uncomfortable. You’re perfectly welcome to your own opinions, but when you’re bringing it into the context of the classroom that can become problematic. And that can become something that is – that creates an unsafe learning environment for students.

SHEPHERD: But when they leave the university they’re gonna be exposed to these ideas, so I don’t see how I’m doing a disservice to the class by exposing them to ideas that are really out there. And I’m sorry I’m crying, I’m stressed out because this, to me, is so wrong. So wrong.

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Can I mention the gender violence – the gender and sexual violence policy?

PROFESSOR 1: Yeah, please.

DIVERSITY OFFICER: So under that, um, gender violence does include sexual violence but it also includes, um targeting folks based on gender, um, so that includes transphobia, biphobia, homophobia, all those sorts of things are protected under the policy, and so those are things that Laurier has upheld as values as well as the Ontario human rights code. Um, and so those are things that we’re responsible for, uh, not impacting our students in that way, and not, um, not spreading transphobia in that way.

SHEPHERD: Okay, so what I have a problem with is I didn’t target anybody. Who did I target?

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Trans folks.

SHEPHERD: How? By telling them ideas that are really out there? By telling them that? By telling them? Really?

PROFESSOR 1: It’s not just telling them. In legitimising this as a valid perspective, as this is another valid perspective —

SHEPHERD: In a university all perspectives are valid!

PROFESSOR 1: That’s not necessarily true, and —

SHEPHERD: Well, this is something that’s being intimated in current society and I don’t feel the need to shield people from what’s going on in society. Like, to imagine that this is happening in a university, it’s just…bad.

PROFESSOR 1: Okay, so just to give you a context. Also within all of this that is happening, um, Laurier’s being blanketed with white supremacist posters currently. There’s another debate in society which is whether or not North America should be a set of white nationalist states and that it should be ethnically cleansed of other people. That is also a current debate in society. Would you show something in your tutorial that had, y’know, white supremacist and non white supremacists debating whether or not other people should live in North America? Is that something that you would show?

SHEPHERD: If that was related to the content of the week and we were talking about right wing speakers then maybe. It depends on the content, like, I mean if there’s really ideas that are existing out there like that then, I mean… Look, the thing is I don’t see what’s transphobic about showing a video of Jordan Peterson. He’s a real person. He is out there.

PROFESSOR 1: He is a real person, but he is a real person who has engaged in targeted behaviour or targeting of trans students, um, in the particular, like — basically doxxing them, if you know the term, like giving out their personal information so that they will be attacked, harassed, so that death threats will find them. This is something that he has done to his own students, he has done to other students, um, and this is also something that the students are aware of. So this is, this is basically like playing – not to kind of do the thing where everything is kind of compared to Hitler – but this is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos from GamerGate. This is the kind of thing that, departmentally, in terms of critical communication studies and in terms of the course, of what we’re trying to do, is diametrically opposed to everything that we have been talking about in the lectures. Was this one of the reasons that you wanted to do this, because it was like, a reaction to the lecture content and, uh…?

SHEPHERD: No, we were talking about gendered language, and I was asking them to structure sentences using “they” or using “his” and “her”. And then we talked about the societal context of it. So I don’t get why I’m being seen as transphobic by virtue, by proxy of me just saying, just stating, just exposing people to an idea. I don’t get how that label is attached to me, I really don’t.

PROFESSOR 1: It’s more about the effect rather than the intention, like obviously that wasn’t your intention, but nevertheless it disturbed and upset students enough —

SHEPHERD: So everything’s about those students who are disturbed? Everything is catered to them?

PROFESSOR 1: [Sighs]

PROFESSOR 2: Can I just offer a different perspective? Um, were you, was this, um, tutorial based on looking at grammar?

SHEPHERD: Uh-huh.

PROFESSOR 2: And it was focused on the use of pronouns and the use of grammar?

SHEPHERD: Uh-huh.

PROFESSOR 2: Um, is grammar not something that’s not really subject to debate?

SHEPHERD: The “they” and the “his” or “her”? It’s a huge debate right now. Can we use “they” in the singular?

PROFESSOR 2: Yeah, but you do know that “they” has actually been used in the singular and —

SHEPHERD: Yeah, and that was in the video I showed to the class, and that was a point I made. The thing is, that’s kind of funny, is I disagree with Jordan Peterson. I disagree. But, um, you guys seem to think that I’m like pro-Jordan Peterson or something. It’s very funny.

PROFESSOR 2: Well, um, do you understand how what happened was contrary to – sorry, what was the policy, the —

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Gender and sexual violence.

PROFESSOR 2: — Gender and sexual violence policy? Like, do you understand how…

SHEPHERD: Sorry, what did I violate in that policy?

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Um, so gender-based violence, transphobia in that policy, causing harm to trans students by, uh, bringing their identity as invalid or their, uh, pronouns as invalid.

PROFESSOR 2: Or something like that.

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Potentially invalid.

SHEPHERD: So I caused harm and violence?

DIVERSITY OFFICER: Which is under the Ontario human rights code and a protected thing, and also something that Laurier holds as a value.

SHEPHERD: Okay. So by proxy, me showing a YouTube video, I’m transphobic and I caused harm and violence? So be it. I can’t do anything to control that.

PROFESSOR 2: Okay, so that’s not something that you have an issue with, the fact that that happened? Like, are you sorry that it happened?

SHEPHERD: Like, I mean, I know in my heart and I know I expressed to the class that I’m not transphobic, and if any of them — I don’t know, again, I don’t know what they said — but I made my — I don’t think I gave away any kind of political position of mine. I remained very neutral. And, um —

PROFESSOR 2: And that’s kindof the problem…

[AUDIO ENDS].

Note how the professors are totally unable to distinguish between the idea of raising an idea for critical discussion and targeting a student and inciting hatred or violence against them based on that idea. Time and again, the professors imply (and sometimes outright state) that any idea or argument which deviates from the prevailing transgender orthodoxy can only be discussed if it is first denounced as wrong or even “evil”. Students are not to be exposed to ideas and left to evaluate them in a neutral environment; rather, they will be informed of the “correct” response to such ideas upfront, presumably to avoid “harmful” misunderstandings.

One also wonders how far the professor/inquisitor had to dial down his definition of white supremacy when he made his remarks that the campus is being “blanketed in white supremacist posters”. One imagines that any literature advocating any kind of immigration enforcement at all would now fall into this category, together with any poster bearing the image or advertising the appearance of a prominent mainstream conservative. And when some future Wilfrid Laurier student is hauled before the same Social Justice Star Chamber for illicitly watching a Ben Shapiro or Tomi Lahren video under the covers at night in the privacy of their dorm room, the definition of racism and white supremacy will be just as expansive and unquestionable as transgender doctrine was at Lindsay Shepherd’s trial.

After all, the professor seriously posits the idea that there is a mainstream debate going on in society over whether North America should be ethnically cleansed of non-white people. These academics are so unhinged, so utterly untethered from reality, that they interpret a far-right argument on the very fringes of society – one which is actually diminishing, not gaining traction over time – and elevate its importance to that of some widespread national movement. This is a childlike catastrophisation of the current situation at best, and brazen intellectual deception at worst.

Listening to the recording, what is really surprising (besides the content) is the fact that at all times it is Lindsay Shepherd, the grad student, who sounds not only more reasonable and measured but more intellectually astute than her inquisitors. Shepherd was apparently being grilled by two professors and a Wilfrid Laurier University diversity officer, and despite being placed in a hugely stressful situation and occasionally fighting back tears as a consequence she sounds poised and articulate while her academic tormentors reach for every worn-out phrase or comparison in the book, frequently having to “tag” one another in and out of the discussion as they are repeatedly stumped and confounded by Shepherd’s logical responses.

Is this what the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics does to academic minds? Did the capacity for reasoning and critical thinking faculties of these professors gradually rot away after they drank too deep from the well of identity politics? Did they jettison independent thought and learn to mindlessly repeat approved orthodoxy so long ago that they now find themselves bested in debate by a scared grad student despite enjoying a 3 to 1 numerical advantage?

These really are third rate academic minds. Who says “positionality” in a sentence? Be under no illusion – this is a thoughtcrime investigation panel, and the judges are so inarticulate that they can only keep restating their blunt, unwavering dictum in occasionally varying language rather than engaging with and rebutting Shepherd’s arguments – hence their heavy overuse of the word “problematic” without any kind of granular explanation as to what was problematic or why it was so. These professors cannot even make a rudimentary case for their own intersectional ideology; all they can do is state and restate its core commandments.

These inquisitors do not deserve the title of “professor” when their snivelling, cowardly attempt to enforce their credo was so comprehensively deconstructed and debunked by a nervous but principled and steadfast grad student. Neither do they deserve to be employed by any academic institution which calls itself a university.

And unless Wilfrid Laurier University rapidly takes steps to publicly sanction those professors and apologise to Lindsay Shepherd, they should no longer be taken seriously as a place of higher education.

 

UPDATE – 20 November

Rod Dreher makes a good point in his own reaction to the Lindsay Shepherd story:

It’s worth listening to the clip to hear how nicey-nice and bland the inquisitors are. These people are destroying academic freedom and the purpose of a university, and they’re doing so in anaesthetic tones that conceal the act of real violence to the core values of a university.

The tone adopted by the two professors and the diversity officer is indeed striking. The language they use is incredibly passive and their voices never become harsh or accusatory. Instead they appear to be trying to undermine Shepherd with bland niceness, to keep hammering home the same illogical message with soft insistence in the hope that she will ultimately break down and state that 2+2=5.

It is worth remembering that the gravest threats to free speech and academic freedom in the West come not from angry student protesters but from the impeccably credentialed, dulcet-toned bureaucrats and functionaries who share their worldview.

 

UPDATE – 23 November

Professor Nathan Rambukkana, Lindsay Shepherd’s inquisitor-in-chief, has apologised to the student in a fairly gracious open letter. Money quote:

Second, this entire occasion, and hearing from so many with passionate views on this issue from across the political spectrum, has made me seriously rethink some of the positions I took in the meeting. I made the argument that first-year students, not studying this topic specifically, might not have the tool kit to unpack or process a controversial view such as Dr. Peterson’s, saying that such material might be better reserved for upper-year or grad courses. While I still think that such material needs to be handled carefully, especially so as to not infringe on the rights of any of our students or make them feel unwelcome in the learning environment, I believe you are right that making a space for controversial or oppositional views is important, and even essential to a university. The trick is how to properly contextualize such material. One way might be through having readings, or a lecture on the subject before discussion, but you are correct that first-years should be eligible to engage with societal debates in this way.

Is the letter perfect? By no means. It still adopts the whole “I’m sorry if you were offended” self-exculpatory language in places, and Rambukkana certainly does not forsake his main positions or his belief in identity politics. But still, better this than nothing at all. And at least there was an apology for the awful Hitler comparison.

Wilfrid Laurier Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy also took the opportunity to “apologise” via open letter, writing:

After listening to this recording, an apology is in order. The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires. I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd. I will convey my apology to her directly. Professor Rambukkana has also chosen to apologize to Lindsay Shepherd about the way the meeting was conducted.

I remain troubled by the way faculty, staff and students involved in this situation have been targeted with extreme vitriol. Supports are in place at the university to support them through this situation.

Waah waah waah. Way to make it all about yourself. More:

Let me be clear by stating that Laurier is committed to the abiding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Giving life to these principles while respecting fundamentally important human rights and our institutional values of diversity and inclusion, is not a simple matter. The intense media interest points to a highly polarizing and very complicated set of issues that is affecting universities across the democratic world. The polarizing nature of the current debate does not do justice to the complexity of issues.

Laurier is prepared to engage with these important discussions in a thoughtful and determined way. I have announced a task force to delve into these issues. Further details will be announced in the days ahead. I look forward to the process and I am confident that the outcome will contribute to a better understating of these issues for Laurier and the broader community.

This is a total deflection. Giving life to the principles of free speech and academic freedom is indeed “a simple matter” – it just requires a backbone and a baseline commitment to the basic principles of a university. If MacLatchy feels constrained by the incredibly stultifying Canadian human rights laws then as a university vice-chancellor she should have been vociferously opposing damaging, censorious developments like C-16, not cheering them on from the rafters. MacLatchy needs to go.

 

Lindsay Shepherd - Wilfrid Laurier University Ontario Canada - Academic Freedom - Social Justice - Transgender Pronouns - Jordan Peterson

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 53 – Enforcing Social Justice Dogma, From Student Protest To Academic Coercion

Language Police

“Linguistic intervention” is the polite term for coercing students into adopting certain language, phrases and social justice codewords on pain of academic penalty

The Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics continues to capture and subvert our academic institutions, but until now the high priests of social justice have generally contented themselves with shouting down opponents, physically suppressing free speech and socially ostracising those who do not enthusiastically buy into their warped worldview.

That was bad enough. But as nervous university administrations seek to stay one step ahead of their restive student bodies, in some cases they are now going further than the activists and seeking to use their power and authority to enforce new speech codes and language guidelines – rules that do not merely govern personal conduct while on campus, but which impose academic penalties on students who hold the wrong beliefs or use the wrong language in their work.

From the Guardian:

Students at Hull University face losing marks on essays unless they employ “gender-sensitive” language.

Documents obtained under freedom of information legislation show undergraduates at the university have been advised that “language is important and highly symbolic” and informed they should be “aware of the powerful and symbolic nature of language and use gender-sensitive formulations”, while “failure to use gender-sensitive language will impact your mark”.

The document, obtained by the Sunday Times, related to undergraduates on a religious activism course in the university’s school of social science.

The direction follows moves by a number of universities to promote gender-neutral language.

Cardiff Metropolitan University’s code of practice on language has a “gender-neutral term” checklist, giving alternatives for words or phrases, including using “efficient” for “workmanlike” and “supervisor” for “foreman”. Bath University encourages neutral alternatives to “mankind” such as “humanity”, “humans” or “people”.

Two years ago, the University of North Carolina handed out a gender-inclusive language guide, which encouraged students away from using words such as “mailman” , “policeman”, “man-made” and other terms, giving alternative titles or descriptions, such as “postal carrier”.

The Hull University directive is seen as going further, with some critics describing it as “linguistic policing”.

Frank Furedi, the emeritus professor of sociology at Kent University, told the Sunday Times: “Usually such threats are implicit rather than spelt out as in the case of Hull. This linguistic policing is used as a coercive tool to impose a conformist outlook. The alternative is to pay a penalty of being marked down.”

In other words, if you commit a sin such as writing “mankind” rather than “humankind” when submitting an essay at Hull University then you will now be at risk of incurring grade penalties and potentially jeopardising your future. Mastery of the academic principles and subject matter contained within the curriculum are no longer sufficient – now one must also think the “correct” things and use the correct language, unrelated to one’s own subject, in order to maintain an unblemished record.

If you are an English literature student who happens to prefer the cadence and evocations of older language when writing an essay, that’s just tough – every piece of coursework now has to help strike a hammer blow for social justice by drawing from the current leftist lexicon, on pain of penalty.

If you’re a mathematics or engineering geek who deals in empirical data and has little time for the subtleties of the English language, that’s tough too – you’d better learn fast how “words can harm” and ensure that your work meets academic standards while simultaneously avoiding the hair-trigger sensitivities of the most demented leftist professor.

And if you are a conservative religious student who sincerely believes that the new progressive orthodoxies on gender and sexuality are wrong and in conflict with your beliefs, that’s also tough. Now you must continually self-censor, guarding against ever inadvertently expressing what is in your heart, or run the risk that those beliefs might colour your writing, lest a misplaced pronoun or awkward turn of phrase cost you a vital grade.

And all of this shall be done, of course, in the name of creating a safe and inclusive environment for all students and faculty.

We are in new territory here. Most of the social justice outrages covered by this blog have involved cultists enforcing their ideology by either threatening heretics with social stigmatisation or using their power to shout down opponents and bend people to their will. That is bad enough. But this goes to another level – this is a university administration using its power to enforce social justice-compliant language (and thus thinking) among students.

For once, rather than scrambling to keep up with restive campus activists, the university is coming out in front of them, preemptively doing their bidding by forcing every last disinterested student to use the same prissy, stilted language as the most committed social justice zealot.

Fortunately, Hull University’s draconian move has also provoked a measure of dissent within the wider academic ranks:

Prof Judith Baxter, emeritus professor of applied linguistics at Aston University, said: “The principle of gender-neutral language has been around for at least 30 years. Businesses, schools, publishing, academic and educational texts use gender-neutral language now. So there is a total expectation.

“Most universities have just incorporated it in their general way of things. So it is a little bit odd that they have made it regulatory. I just think that is a step too far. Taking this regulatory, punitive attitude to the whole business of gender neutrality is a backward step. What it does is set up resistance. It will make people annoyed, not want to comply, when I think the majority of students would incorporate these sorts of approaches anyway.”

Precisely so. Leaving aside the most extreme linguistic absurdities to emanate from the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, most people are happy to use respectful terminology in their public interactions, as a matter of basic politeness. To use the threat of academic penalty to coerce adherence to a speech code – the vast majority of which most students are happy to follow anyway – is a massive overreach.

More than that, it is simply wrong. Academic discovery can only take place when people are free to challenge existing orthodoxies, theories and beliefs. Insulating any worldview – especially such a new and untested one as intersectionalism-soaked social justice – from academic enquiry and criticism goes against the core duty of a university. Whether it is theoretical physics or (as in this case) the social sciences, ideas can only be refined, proven or disproven if people are free to question them. Nobody and no theory should be exempt from such criticism.

With this punative, draconian policy, Hull University is essentially teaching their entire student body that some ideas are above criticism, above reproach. They are functioning not as a university but as a social justice madrassa – because, ultimately, the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is less science, even less objective fact, and far more like a religion.

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 46 – Purging Catholicism From A Catholic University In The Name Of Social Justice

hammerton-college-1751689_960_720

When academic or religious freedom is at stake, principled pro-free speech professors can expect no cover or support from their spineless university administrations

We have already seen how the leaders and administrators at one American Catholic university – DePaul University in Chicago – have demonstrated that they would sooner purge their own faith from campus than do anything which might risk upsetting the SJW cultists and their new secular gods of social justice and identity politics.

And now Rod Dreher brings us news of another persecution taking place, this time at Providence College in Rhode Island, where literature professor Tony Esolen finds himself besieged by vengeful students and hung out to dry by his superiors for having written a thoughtful essay for Crisis Magazine, questioning the current cult of Diversity At All Costs.

Was the essay rather provocative? Well yes – it was titled “My college succumbed to the totalitarian diversity cult”. But at one time university professors were expected to do and say provocative things. It was part of creating a climate of no-holds-barred intellectual debate, the kind which seems to have become so unfashionable of late.

But Esolen made a compelling argument in his essay – writing, remember, from the perspective of an orthodox Catholic teaching at a supposedly Catholic educational institution:

I understand what it is to have a Greek festival or an Italian festival, or a parish festival where fellow Catholics come out to enjoy good high-calorie food, play some innocent games of chance, and try to get the priest to sit in the dunking machine. For man is always united from above, not from below, and that includes even the make-believe transcendence of the local baseball team, which is harmless enough if not taken too seriously. When Catholics come to Mass to pray, they do so as members of one Church, not ten, not fifty, praying the same prayers all over the world, because they give thanks to the one Lord and Savior who died for them on one cross, on the one hill of the Skull, on that one Friday long ago. This was the same Lord who prayed that we would be not ten, not fifty, but one, even as he and the Father are one.

But the watchword at Providence College right now is not unity, but “diversity,” as is made evident by the four-page Diversity Program featured prominently on our website. When I see the word “diversity” in its current use as a political slogan, I ask myself the following questions:

What is diversity, as opposed to divergence?
What is diversity, as opposed to mere variety?
What goods, precisely, is diversity supposed to deliver?
Why is intellectual diversity not served by the study of a dozen cultures of the past, with their vast array of customs, poetry, art, and worship of the gods?

Immediately one can see how this would offend the SJW ideological enforcers, who preach that we are not one, but many, and that we must continually emphasise and acknowledge our differences – often to the extent of resegregation – rather than highlight our common bonds.

Esolen concludes his essay:

But there is no evidence on our Diversity page that we wish to be what God has called us to be, a committedly and forthrightly Catholic school with life-changing truths to bring to the world. It is as if, deep down, we did not really believe it. So let us suppose that a professor should affirm some aspect of the Church’s teaching as regards the neuralgia of our time, sex. Will his right to do so be confirmed by those who say they are committed to diversity? Put it this way. Suppose someone were to ask, “Is it permitted for a secular liberal, at a secular and liberal college, to affirm in the classroom a secular view of sex and the family?” The question would strike everyone as absurd. It would be like asking whether we were permitted to walk on two feet or to look up at the sky. Then why should it not also be absurd to ask, “Is it permitted for a Catholic, at a college that advertises itself as Catholic, to affirm a Catholic view of sex and the family?” And I am not talking merely about professors whose specific job it is to teach moral philosophy or moral theology. I am talking about all professors.

In my now extensive experience, Catholic professors in Catholic colleges have been notably tolerant of the limitations of their secular colleagues. We make allowances all the time. We understand, though, that some of them—not all, but then it only takes a few—would silence us for good, if they had the power. They have made life hell for more than one of my friends. All, now, in the name of an undefined and perhaps undefinable diversity, to which you had damned well better give honor and glory. If you don’t—and you may not even be aware of the lese majeste as you commit it—you’d better have eyes in the back of your head.

So naturally, outraged SJW students at Providence College went running to the college president in tears, claiming that they had been “harmed” by these thoughtful and completely non-malicious essays.

Equally predictably, the university authorities rolled over in the face of this tyrannical power play by the band of wobbly-lipped permanent victim students, and effectively censured Esolen. As Esolen recounted to Rod Dreher:

My friends of course were outraged, and I was stunned — basically, I had been singled out and exposed before the whole faculty, very few of whom were probably even aware that there was such a thing as Crisis Magazine; and of course they and the students are not my audience when I write for Crisis or whatever. Then, as if that were not bad enough, the President met with faculty on Wednesday afternoon, and all they did for a solid hour was to revile the evil Professor Esolen, with a few old-fashioned liberals defending my right to express my opinions, and several of my stalwart friends from philosophy and theology defending me personally and criticizing the president for his decision and for his handling of related matters. When the president said that he believed that he had to act “for pastoral reasons,” they replied that it was a strange form of pastoral care that pits every member of a community against one.

And it is still not over. The faculty have circulated a “petition,” or a resolution, or something neither flesh nor fowl, to the effect that though we all have academic freedom, it has to be exercised responsibly, and reviling “some part of the PC faculty” that is “unabashed” in publishing articles that are racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinistic. The petition has been signed by various faculty members and students. And STILL I hear that they are not satisfied, but are trying to figure out if they can use my articles to nail me for “bias” and hate, basically asserting that I am not capable of teaching certain categories of students — gay, female, and so forth.

Though he remains able to appreciate the bitter humour in the situation:

As I’ve said to people, authors don’t choose the titles for articles for Crisis Magazine; the editor does that, for the sake of “traffic” on the page. His title was a bit provocative. But everything that has happened since then has shown me, alas, that the editor saw more than I did, or more than I have been willing to admit. The irony would seem to be obvious: “How DARE you suggest that there is a totalitarian impulse in our behavior? You should be FIRED!” And then of course there is the brazen cheering of the faculty when it is proposed that we should not be Catholic after all.

The strange irony of it all is that I’m the one who believes that a wide diversity of cultures and of institutions is a good thing, and they really do not. I do not WANT all colleges and universities to be basically the same; they do.

The list of demands presented to Providence College by the student protesters is full of all the demands for compulsory re-education (of students and faculty), gutting the core undergraduate curriculum to de-emphasise the Western Canon and make it more SJW-friendly, pumping more money into ethnic and gender studies, aggressive hire of minorities on an affirmative action basis, trained counsellors to minister to the delicate emotions of the student snowflakes, the building of a “multicultural center” and – naturally – the hire of new dedicated Diversity Professionals to oversee the new regime.

We are becoming accustomed to reading these laughably impertinent demands, but this document really does take one’s breath away with its sheer scope. And given the fact that the president (Fr. Brian Shanley) folded faster than Superman on laundry day when students first protested professor Esolen – sending them a grovellingly conciliatory letter which basically threw Esolen under the bus – I would not bet against the list of demands being implemented in full, unquestioningly, within the space of a decade.

When spineless university administrators are forced to choose between academic freedom or facing down the minority of SJW agitators who are determined to turn academic life into a pointless, totalitarian dystopia of identity politics totalitarianism, academic freedom loses every time. And when Catholic university administrators are forced to choose between defending the right of orthodox Catholics to express their faith or bowing to endless demands from the most privileged generation of college students in history, again there is no question. The demands are implemented and Catholicism goes out the window before you can say “that’s oppressive”.

Hopefully the new attention focused on this case – plus the fact that Professor Esolen has tenure – will mean that his job remains safe. But the long term outlook is bleak. Academia having nearly completely fallen to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, Catholic universities across America may soon become safe spaces for everyone and everything, save Catholicism itself.

 

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Debating Political Diversity And The Importance Of ‘Brave Spaces’ At The University Of Miami

college-lecture-hall-safe-space

Whether “brave spaces” are any less infantilising than “safe spaces” is a matter for debate, but the University of Miami community’s recognition of the importance of a more politically diverse faculty and campus is an encouraging sign

The editorial board of the University of Miami student newspaper, the Miami Hurricane, takes a surprisingly bold stance on the problem of progressive ideological dominance on campus, and – encouragingly for a student publication – calls for greater ideological diversity rather than the fearful conformism demanded by many students.

From the Hurricane’s editorial:

UM leans to the left, as do most universities. A report published earlier in the campaign by The Tab documented that 60 percent of faculty donations were made to Hillary Clinton’s campaign; the other 40 percent was split between the other Republican candidates and Bernie Sanders.

In the classroom, professors can be very vocal about their political opinions, whether that’s a subtle joke woven into a lecture or an actual discussion of their political beliefs.

When professors deride or mock certain political views in their teaching, that only alienates students and undermines the purpose of an educational forum. Part of the reason that conservative students feel so disenfranchised from the media and academia may be because for most of their lives, the intellectual “authorities” in their lives have been liberal and taught in left-leaning ways.

At this point, I actually felt a little uneasy. While it is certainly true that the progressivism and intolerance of conservative ideas shown by many university professors is often off-putting to conservative students and academic peers, the idea of people being disenfranchised or excluded because of the words of other peers and authority figures skates awfully close to the wheedling complaints of Social Justice Warriors that criticism and free speech must be suspended for their own mental health.

This blog has warned before that it is only a matter of time before conservatives, persecuted for their beliefs by fellow students and university administrators alike, begin to use the same language of fragility and vulnerability used by the SJWs – and I think we are now starting to see that prediction come true. None of that detracts from the point made by the Hurricane’s editorial board, which remains valid. But as always, a creeping culture of victimhood is something to watch out for, and guard against.

Fortunately, the editorial soon improves:

Courses like The Election are great because they expose students to professors and guests from both sides of the aisle, which can help break down the barriers of bias.  It is much easier to dismiss the opinions of a peer, a social media troll, or a crazy uncle than it is to automatically dismiss the ideas of an authoritative figure who has a Ph.D. in the relevant discipline. Ideological diversity may also help students recognize the flaws in their own opinions and be more self-critical.

When conversations focus on sweeping platitudes rather than individual reasons, our personal networks suffer as well. Too many students have given up Facebook friends or real-life acquaintances over political differences. It’s easy to generalize a whole group of people just based on one or two beliefs that they voice, but these generalizations create many false assumptions, especially in this election when few people are completely behind their candidate.

Restrain from automatically assuming that another student is racist, sexist, elitist or corrupt due to a few of their demonstrated ideological beliefs. People have reasons for holding their beliefs, and if they’re willing to talk about it in a respectful way, then take the opportunity to respond with dialogue rather than a diatribe. Identity politics has made political opinions just as personal as ethnicity and religion, making it hard to separate feelings from ideas.

This is good. Most of us can at times be too quick to pigeonhole and condemn people based on a few assumptions and extrapolations about their political leanings, and the board’s point that many people are not strongly behind their candidate this time (either disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters reluctantly supporting Hillary Clinton or Republicans holding their nose while supporting Donald Trump) should warn us of the sweeping range of variety and nuance which is lost when we simply label people as Trump or Clinton supporters.

The editorial board is also quite right to observe that the rise of identity politics has made it much harder to separate feelings from ideas. A self-aggrandising worldview which places the individual at the centre of everything is an atrocious way to discuss ideas, as it makes rejection of an idea seem like a personal attack. That’s why weepy young students now talk about their identities being “invalidated” when people do not accept the new orthodoxies around sexuality and gender, as though they might simply vanish in a puff of smoke unless everyone on campus is forced to approve of everyone else’s life choices.

And then comes an unusual suggestion:

A healthier alternative for a “safe space” is a “brave space.” A “brave space” encourages people to freely explore different questions and issues – still trying to respect other people, but not restricted by the fear that certain ideas make others feel uncomfortable.

The goal of a diverse college campus is not to create comfortable spaces, but to be caught a little off guard by all of the different types of people and ideas that might not be found in East Portland or a small town in South Dakota. That’s okay. If we embrace that vision, we can create a more tolerant, educated and cooperative community.

Well, a brave space is certainly an improvement on a space where the First Amendment is suspended in order to prevent glass-jawed snowflakes from colliding with reality. The rejection of the notion that uncomfortable ideas should be avoided is, in these depressing times for free speech and academic freedom, a positive step forward.

But surely it would be better still to simply cease talking about “spaces” at all? The term is now ubiquitous – even news articles totally unrelated to the Social Justice agenda talk about the need for public bathrooms to have a “safe space” for parents to change their baby’s diapers. As opposed to what, an unsafe space like a gun range or a demolition site?

Why, when the term “a convenient place” would have sufficed a decade ago, must we now describe everything as a “safe space“? Welcome to my home; here’s a safe space for you to hang your coat, and over there is a safe space for you to sit and watch television. It’s puerile and infantilising.

Is the whole world really so riddled with danger that we need to mark out those places which are actually safe for human foot to tread? The journey from my dorm room to my Ivy League college classroom is fraught with many dangers, but at least the gender neutral restroom offers me a safe place to pee, the shuttle bus provides a safe space for me to ride across campus, the students’ union is a safe place for me to relax between classes and the lecture hall itself is a place where no idea that I deem central to my identity can ever be challenged.

Flippant, yes, but also an accurate transcription of how the contemporary student mind seems to work. And of course it is utterly offensive – there are people in benighted parts of the world where daily physical safety cannot be taken for granted and is routinely violated, yet here are some of the most privileged youths of any generation in history trembling in fear that they may encounter disapproval or mean comments while walking between buildings at their $40,000-a-year degree factory.

(As Malcolm Gladwell explains, this is a result of a shift in the way which we describe actions or behaviours which are undesirable. Whereas once we would have condemned sexism, racism or homophobia as simply being wrong, today we talk spuriously of the “harm” that these words and encounters visit upon us. And when every single human interaction is viewed as having the ability to physically or emotionally harm us, calls for network of safe spaces to act as stepping stones through the world inevitably follow).

Brave spaces are marginally better, perhaps, but it is depressing indeed that we now have to pat ourselves on the back and give ourselves a lollipop for being “brave” and subjecting ourselves to the mere possibility of hearing contradictory viewpoints or unpleasant ideas.

This used to simply be called “being an adult”. Is it really too much to ask that we return to that bygone age of resilience and maturity?

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 41 – UCL Archaeology Students Triggered By ‘Scary Bones’

In tracking the spread of social justice/identity politics poison through the academic world, every day now seems to bring some new ridiculous example of petty intolerance or exaggerated student fragility. And each new story prompts the incredulous reaction that things can’t possibly get any more surreal, that we must surely have now reached Peak SJW. And then something even more ridiculous transpires on a Western university campus.

From the Daily Mail:

Students at UCL taking the archaeologies of modern conflict course have been told that they will encounter ‘historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatising’.

If they feel stressed, they can ‘step outside’ for the rest of the class ‘without penalty’, though they should catch up by copying the notes of another student.

Lecturer Gabriel Moshenska, who co-ordinates the UCL course on how archaeology can help unearth the truth about 20th and 21st century conflicts, said some students had been in the Armed Forces and may have suffered psychological trauma.

He admitted no one had ever complained that they found one of his talks upsetting and said the alert was ‘precautionary’.

What’s particularly concerning here is that the professor involved, Gabriel Moshenska, took the decision to add the precautionary trigger warning to his class entirely voluntarily, through his own initiative. There was no coercion to do so by angry students staging a sit-in outside his office, or through a coordinated social media campaign. Moschenska simply decided that people who had signed up to study the archaeology of modern conflict might need to be warned that they would encounter the remnants of conflict during the course of their studies.

What this shows us is that the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, and its associated infantilising of students, has reached a critical mass whereby the culture of enforcing safe spaces, trigger warnings and treating grown adults like they are children takes place automatically without any further need for threats or campaigns. Professors and lecturers are capitulating to the student babies before anything is even demanded of them, either because they simply want an easy life and to avoid conflict, or because they actively support these efforts to infantilise young adults.

This is not a good development. If we thought it was bad when universities like Yale and Mizzou limply rolled over and capitulated when threatened by snarling, baby-faced SJWs with their protests and boycotts, that’s nothing compared to the further setbacks we may witness when faculty are active co-conspirators.

And this can lead nowhere good, as Brendan O’Neill laments The Spectator:

But of course there’s a major problem here: the relentless infantilisation of students, the treatment of them as overgrown children liable to be plunged by mere words or images into actual trauma (‘a disturbing experience which affects the mind or nerves of a person so as to induce hysteria or psychic conditions’: OED). The very idea of the university becomes impossible if students are presumed to be so mentally fragile that even class chatter could unhinge them psychically.

[..] This presumption of mental frailty among students, now seen as so psychically vulnerable that even F Scott Fitzgerald might traumatise them, is antithetical to the whole idea of university life, whose starting point must surely be that young adults are not only mentally competent but morally autonomous and intellectually curious. The overuse of the word ‘trauma’ to describe everything from an archaeology class to an old play shows how entrenched this view of students has become. As an American professor of psychology says, ‘When we describe misfortune, sadness or even pain as trauma… [we] turn every event into a catastrophe, leaving us helpless, broken and unable to move on’. In short, the more we tell young adults that everything is potentially traumatic, the more likely they are to experience everything as traumatic, or at least terrifying. We’re seriously teaching young people to see Shakespeare as potentially harmful to their mental health.

Strikingly, the UCL archaeology lecturer says that so far none of his students has accepted his offer to leave a ‘traumatic’ class discussion. That’s encouraging. It’s also revealing. It suggests the new campus craziness, the wild allergy to difficult debate and fear of offensive texts, doesn’t always come from students themselves. It’s been institutionalised, among actual academics, to such an extent that universities no longer instil in their students the Kantian idea that one should ‘Dare to know’ but rather tell them: ‘Sometimes it’s risky to know. What you find out might hurt you. So maybe you shouldn’t know that thing, or read that book, or listen to this lecture.’ The safety of ignorance.

Brendan O’Neill is more optimistic than I – he sees it as a positive thing that none of Nanny Moshenska’s students have yet chosen to avail themselves of their Right to Flee. And I suppose it is a good thing. But when professors provide even the option of leaving the classroom when confronted with learning material that arouses anything but positive emotions, they effectively legitimise the idea that words and ideas can cause actual physical harm, that being exposed to contrary viewpoints or shocking information is somehow dangerous, and that avoidance coping (staying away from things that upset you) actually works. In reality, there is no proof for any of these assertions, and many reasons to suspect that they are complete psychobabble hokum.

This year’s intake of Archaeologies of Modern Conflict students may be a hardy bunch (by the low standards we now set for young adults, meaning they won’t burst into tears and soil themselves at the sight of a human skull). But now that it is widely known that professors and Serious Adults consider it perfectly acceptable if students do have extreme reactions to academic material and need to flee the lecture hall, such behaviour is normalised and given the tacit approval of university authorities, making it much more likely that future students – believing it to be normal – will opt out of lectures which cause them emotional or intellectual discomfort.

In other words, academic freedom (and the reasonable expectation that students be treated like responsible adults) is now trapped in a pincer movement, with angry SJWs demanding to be infantilised on one side, and spineless collaborationist professors happy to oblige them on the other.

If there is an upside to all this, it can only be that with student populations and turncoat faculties now racing to outdo each other in their contempt for academic freedom and personal resilience, we will now reach our eventual rock bottom – wherever that may be – sooner than was previously the case.

Rejoice and be glad.

 

Safe Space Notice - 2

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