Tales From The Safe Space, Part 49 – Chicago Universities Are Raising A Generation Of Infantilised Young Adults

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Students who are offered Play Doh and “therapy horses” to help them make it through university will be cannon fodder in an unforgiving, competitive global labour market

At this point we are used to seeing outrageous stories of overbearing, coddling universities going to extraordinary lengths to teach the young adults studying on their campuses like delicate, helpless infants.

But the Chicago Tribune has done quite a job in summarising all of the instances of infantilisation-posing-as-stress-management taking place at institutions in and around the city. And the extent of the trend is quite shocking to behold.

Some excerpts:

Sephanie Delgado can feel the stress of her to-do list as she works to finish the semester at Roosevelt University: three essays, a presentation and exams.

To escape the pressure, the 20-year-old college junior, who also works as a restaurant cashier to help pay for school, sculpted a chunk of blue Play-Doh into Popplio, a Pokemon character. She was at a table next to other students who colored and decorated cookies before two miniature therapy horses wearing sneakers trotted into the room Wednesday for the university’s De-Stress Fest.

“I know I still have to do all that work, but coming here I’m able to take some time off to hang out with friends, have fun and empty my mind for a little bit,” said Delgado, who lives on the Southwest Side. “It’s like a refresh. My mind is nice and clear so when I go to start my homework, I’m well focused.”

As the semester nears its end — and students pull all-nighters to cram for exams, type papers and finish projects that weigh heavily on final grades — colleges in the Chicago area are taking steps to help students manage stress. It’s part of a broader approach to focus on students’ mental health and expand proactive outreach efforts instead of waiting for students to seek help. Local schools this week are offering activities ranging from animal visits at Roosevelt to a bubble-wrapped room at the University of Illinois at Chicago to the long-standing tradition of a stress-busting primal scream at Northwestern University.

More:

At Northwestern, “because of the hectic academic pace that exists here, it is stressful and very pressure-packed,” university spokesman Alan Cubbage said.

Students can blow off steam with a visit from miniature horses Friday and release their frustration through a campuswide scream, in which students let out a collective yell at 9 p.m. Sunday before finals week. Next week, a number of activities such as Lego building, board games, midnight coffee breaks and late-night breakfast are planned for exam relief.

More:

The series of events UIC hosts during finals week helps junior Liz Huss manage stress in a healthful way.

Students got a visit from comfort dogs Wednesday and are invited next week to pop bubble wrap at the student center, get chair massages, do candlelight yoga and leave notes of encouragement for fellow students.

“I like to take 10, 15, 20 minutes to rejuvenate, reflect and relax, and these events really help with that,” said Huss, an accounting major.

I’m sure that the large professional services firm that she may one day seek to join will be more than happy to bend over backwards to accommodate Liz Huss’s artificially-instilled need to reach for the soothing presence of a “comfort dog” whenever the going gets tough.

More:

For Andersonville resident Rob Chesler, a junior at Roosevelt, stress can motivate him to get his work done. But he also welcomed the distraction of the De-Stress Fest, during which he took a selfie with Lunar, the oldest miniature horse from the Barrington-based nonprofit Mane in Heaven.

“If you’re living in this world of hard work every second of every hour of your life, then you’re not going to be happy and you’re just going to be all about work,” he said. “If you have little horses every now and then, you have moments where you can just breathe and enjoy life.”

Little horses for everyone!

Fortunately there are also voices of sanity:

Clay Routledge, psychology professor at North Dakota State University, believes universities should be promoting psychological strength and resilience, not coddling students.

“I’m not ignorant to the fact there are vulnerable students that need services,” he said. “I’m not against that at all. My criticism is: Are we promoting more broadly a culture of sensitivity and victimhood than we need to do?”

Many colleges and universities are becoming more than educational institutions and overreaching by not letting students figure things out on their own, he said.

“We need to promote toughness and strength, and we know from decades of research that humans are extremely resilient,” Routledge said. “You have to have real stressors in life. You have to fail. You have to be embarrassed and you have to face situations where you’re wrong and you’re challenged — and you’ll be strong as a result.”

A rare voice arguing for building resilience the way that university has done for decades, if not centuries – focusing on the academia, not seeking to micromanage every moment of each student’s pastoral experience on campus, and letting them grow through trial, error and experience. Expect Professor Clay Routledge to be blacklisted by the social justice / identity politics cultists at his university and drummed out of his job any day now.

I have always found American universities to be slightly odd places. Having spent a reasonable amount of time on various campuses in the Mid-West, I have always been struck by the way that universities do not treat their students like autonomous adults to the extent that one might expect in Britain.

Despite eye-wateringly high tuition and accommodation costs, undergraduates are usually expected to share a small room with a roommate, at least in their first year, an almost unheard-of indignity for British students (who would probably feel the same way about this as Americans would feel about staying in one of the NHS’s communal hospital wards rather than having a private room of their own). American universities often see fit to correspond with the parents of students as though they are still school children rather than adults over the age of eighteen, old enough to wear the uniform and fight for their country (though not old enough to drink). These, and many other odd customs, long predate the social justice and identity politics craze which has infected Western academia.

But while customs and practices such as these treat students as though they are not quite yet fully-grown adults, the new trend for safe spaces and infantilising activities masquerading as “stress relief” are of a different order because they effectively serve to stunt any further emotional growth, making it harder for students to ever become autonomous, successful adults.

Making an eighteen-year-old incurring $60,000 of annual student debt sleep three yards away from a roommate is one thing. Treating students as though they are fragile and unresilient children who need bubble wrap, puppy videos and therapy horses to make it through the academic year effectively becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, ensuring that they enter the world utterly unprepared to function in a society and labour market which does not put their feelings and emotional health on a pedestal.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt joked about this when he compared two fictional universities – Strengthen University and Coddle University – in a lecture / college recruitment pitch given to high school seniors. But more and more, Haidt’s send-up of Coddle University is coming to pass and being made real on campuses across America, and in Britain too:

We are based on a very simple psychology which is that people are fragile. People are so easily hurt. Anything that upsets you could trigger trauma, repressed trauma, unrepressed trauma, trauma that you somehow put up there in the closet and forgot to take – there’s trauma all over your mind and your memory. And we don’t want to trigger your trauma. That could damage you.

And this is especially true for members of the six protected classes [women, African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, differently abled, and Native Americans]. If you are a member of one of the six marginalised and oppressed groups you are especially vulnerable. You’ve been traumatised and oppressed your whole lives. Microaggression theory teaches us that when people repeatedly cut these little nicks, these little insults, these little exclusions, they don’t develop calluses, they bleed to death. And so we will not let you be cut while you are at Coddle. We will protect you. Now don’t try to do it yourself, that’s very dangerous. WE will protect YOU from aggression.

At Coddle University we offer access to therapists 24/7. Just dial 811 from any phone, or we have this new feature – just raise three fingers, go like this [he gestures] and we have sensors all around campus, go like this and a therapist will be airlifted right into you.

University is supposed to be stressful. Balancing the academic workload and social events and newfound freedom away from the family home is supposed to develop key skills required to navigate the world as an independent adult later in life. Shipping in a bunch of therapy horses onto campus is not “offer[ing] students opportunities to learn self-care”, as one University of Missouri jobsworth claims, because it simulates an environment which will not exist outside of the university campus.

There are no therapy horses laid on for employees in the average workplace. Teaching students to survive daily stress by reaching for Play Doh and therapy animals is like training an astronaut to undertake spacewalks while failing to simulate the essential conditions of weightlessness and limited oxygen supply, and every bit as likely to lead to disaster.

But still the universities teach this nonsense and lay on these extravagant, infantilising services, unaware or unconcerned that they are setting their students up for failure the moment they set foot off campus.

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 45 – Puppy Therapy Session Arranged For Stressed Cambridge University Students

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Et tu, Cantabrigia?

It is sad to see Cambridge University, my first alma mater, playing host to one of these infantilising “student puppy therapy” sessions. But after the Rhodes Must Fall nonsense at Oxford, it was only a matter of time before Cambridge started displaying more symptoms of the Adult Infantilisation Virus rapidly tearing through academia.

The advertisement reads:

Whether you have a deadline looming, are worried about your workload or are stressing over the number of societies’ you signed up to at the Freshers’ Fair, what better way to take a break than with a puppy therapy session, organised with the kind help of volunteers at Guide Dogs UK. The Union welcomes the volunteers and their canine counterparts for a relaxed afternoon of socialising which forms part of the puppies’ Guide Dog training. Donations for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association welcomed.

Now, to be fair: this is a slightly more laudable event than some other puppy therapy sessions we have seen on other university campuses. In many cases, the puppy therapy has been presented entirely as a student service (like a dining plan or library facilities) but at least in this case there is a clear and worthy charitable connection. Any harm that attending students may do to their own future emotional resilience will at least be balanced by a well trained new generation of Guide Dogs for the visually impaired.

But this could have been sold to students just as effectively by calling it “puppy socialisation training”. This being Cambridge, they probably still would have had a line out the door had they named it “Canine-Human Familiarisation and Interaction Practice in a Social Setting.” But they didn’t, because puppy therapy is now all the rage on college campuses, and because the prevailing culture tells us that we are all only one unexpected bad grade or nasty personal remark away from a nervous breakdown, and so are in constant need of institutional hand-holding.

It is the same corrosive worldview which gave us “Inner Child Day” at Cardiff University earlier this year, and the introduction of “Therapets” sessions at Edinburgh University. Therapy animals have traditionally been used to help PTSD sufferers such as returning armed forces veterans, children with severe autism and hospice patients undergoing palliative care for terminal conditions. Are we really now including “two essays due on the same day” or “signed up to too many societies” in this list of severe mental stresses?

The danger of doing so is that we wrongly exceptionalise the normal stress of everyday life, putting relatively pedestrian problems on a pedestal and making it seem as though the sufferer is truly benighted and in need of external aid. This just about works so long as the student remains within the infantilising university setting and part of the noxious Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. But when these links are severed and the real world beckons, students who have been encouraged for years to celebrate and exaggerate their own fragility are opening themselves to incurring real trauma when they have their first less-than-pleasant contact with an indifferent world.

Most employers – excepting some of the large or wealthy technology companies, who were some of the first to be infected by the virus raging through academia – will not provide a puppy room for harried employees under tight deadlines. And while HR departments are scrambling as they (rightly) respond more positively and proactively to mental health issues among their employees, they will never be able to be the overbearing, protecting, auxiliary parent in the same way that universities are now becoming.

If universities are to have a pastoral role beyond pure academia, surely they should see the nurturing of anti-fragility (the quality of absorbing negative impacts and becoming stronger as a result of them) among their students as far more valuable in the long term than pandering to students’ largely imagined sense of vulnerability.

Throughout their storied histories, Cambridge University has provided Britain with 14 prime ministers while Oxford has supplied 27, including Theresa May. These illustrious records will likely soon begin to wither if future Oxbridge graduates are conditioned to reach for the puppy videos every time there is a crisis.

The Cambridge Union – of which I am a disappointed life member – should strongly look at rebranding their puppy therapy event, now and for any future events. The time has come for the university and its associated institutions to take a brave stand and become part of the solution to the rise in victimhood culture, rather than a collaborator in feeding the problem.

 

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Top Image: Pixabay

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Therapets For Students, And The Downward Definition Of Mental Illness

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The current focus on student mental wellbeing infantilises grown adults, pathologises everyday emotions and trivialises real mental health issues

Earlier this month, our “Tales from the Safe Space” series looked at the way in which mental health is being trivialised and used as a tool to infantilise students on our university campuses – specifically Cardiff University on that occasion.

Now, Spiked (one of the first outlets to sound the alarm about the defining downward of mental health issues) take up the case again, in light of goings on at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association:

For the past year, the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) has been promoting a message of ‘wellbeing is everything’. EUSA has introduced a special mental-health fund, and our president even took a pay cut to boost the totals. Now, after a year of mental-health activism, some of the dangerous effects are being felt. Students are being infantilised and are pathologising normal experiences. Students at council meetings are complaining that they are being ‘intimidated’ by hand-raising or head-nodding. And, surprise surprise, there has been a 75 per cent increase in the demand for counselling.

EUSA has been advertising its new ‘de-stress therapets sessions’. This follows the rising trend of animal therapy on campuses in the US. For example, students at Oberlin College flocked to their Safe Space along with a ‘therapy dog’ after academic Christina Hoff Sommers (‘the factual feminist’) delivered a controversial speech.

Therapy dogs are used worldwide to help those suffering from PTSD. They are also used by carers to assist children with serious autism, and in hospices to help bring joy to those suffering in isolation. Now, therapy dogs are being used to ‘treat’ students suffering from exam stress. Students, no longer trusted to deal with the challenges of academic life, are being treated as if they are suffering from debilitating illness.

And it’s not just therapets. You can also see the wellbeing obsession in ‘self-care’ initiatives, offered at Oxford and elsewhere, where students are encouraged to do finger-painting or bake cupcakes. Or the Safe Space at Manchester, a plush, comfy room where students can retreat to when the ‘triggering’ is just too much. When students aren’t being told they’re mentally ill, they’re being treated like easily upset children.

Therapets. For students. Not for returning veterans who witnessed death, carnage and unbelievable stress close-up while serving our country in uniform. For students.

The mind boggles.

Charlie Peters, University of Edinburgh student and author of the piece, points out the damaging effect that this dumbed-down mass application of mental health treatments is already having in the real world:

The emotionalisation of politics, academia and debate has damaged the intellectual capacity of students. If you ask a student today what they think about a pressing social issue, they’ll tell you how they feel about it. Thinking is no longer important – emotions are. Rationality and reality go out the window when offence-fearing students are asked a difficult question. As for those who deviate from the prevailing groupthink, they tend to answer weakly, or insincerely, so as not to upset the campus thoughtpolice.

But campus hypersensitivity is not only damaging the academic sphere – it is stretching already limited resources and pulling them away from those who are truly suffering. Student therapists are being overworked, and the quality of care is bound to suffer. Queues of students complaining about exams, deadlines and stress are putting a strain on resources to the detriment of those who are genuinely in need.

It is also dangerous – and contrary to the very idea of university – to debate ideas primarily in emotional terms, as students are encouraged to do by the excessively broad focus on mental wellbeing and the cult of Identity Politics.

There is a real element of selfishness at work here. But then perhaps it is no surprise that a generation raised to believe that they are unique and precious snowflakes have difficulty considering the needs of others, or appreciating that by clogging up student mental health services complaining about exam stress or their”trauma” at hearing contradictory ideas in class might actually result in fewer services available for those with, say, depression or bipolar disorder.

As this blog recently remarked:

This is dangerous stuff, inflating good mental health with a regression to a sanitised version of childhood, with face painting and cookies and puppy dog videos. And whatever transitory benefit it may provide to students who are not really mentally ill but are simply stressed or homesick, it will do nothing for – and in fact diverts attention and resources away from – the far smaller number who are genuinely in need of help.

True mental health comes about by building a healthy resilience to the kind of everyday emotional bumps and scrapes which characterise adult life. In the real world, people sometimes have completely contradictory views about fundamental issues, but must nonetheless live, shop and work together.

Safe space policy makes that harder by sending the message that students should not have to so much as glimpse opposing ideas, while the entire cult of Identity Politics is built on the notion of a backbiting Hierarchy of Privilege, where everybody is an oppressor and nearly everyone (except for cis white men at the top of the pyramid) is also oppressed.

Therapets for students. And bouncy castles, and finger-painting, and Play Doh and puppy videos.

Soon these people will have jobs.

 

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Top Image: Queen Margaret University Students’ Union

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