So my “soapbox” for today – this new disagreement with the focus of collegiate students and the focus on creating a safe environment. It has become the cry of many conservative perspectives across the nation as well as some that have tended to have more liberal stances such as South Park and even our own President Obama. In honor of these feelings, I would like to open up that debate they lay out.
The main arguments behind their stance is either that we are coddling our youth, stifling debate, or merely that universities are brainwashing students to be liberal.
In regards to the third, I will not be debating that point mostly because the first two thoughts that come to mind are either Stephen Colbert’s quote from 2006 about reality, or the comment sections on just about any Chronicle of Higher Education which would seem to disagree strongly.
As for stifling debate, as President Obama mentions, is certainly a negative thing at a University. What should be kept in mind, however, is that an institution of higher education is meant to create cognitive dissonance and challenge students, not create pure discomfort. There is a difference, then, in standing against a speaker who promotes what is, by definition, rape, and standing against a speaker who merely holds a political stance you disagree with.
Naturally though, it is not that simple. The reason being that we live in a far “smaller” world today thanks to the prevalence of social media. We live in a 24 hour news cycle where anyone and everyone suddenly becomes credible, as the recent controversy over Donald Trump recent tweet would attempt to suggest (when Bill O’Reilly thinks you were ridiculously ignorant of facts….well). What that means is that it is far more common that even these political speakers, or just about any speaker for that matter, has come forth to state something that can be seen as detrimental to individuals who are United States citizens as well as international students. This means that bringing these speakers to campus comes to represent the second category as opposed to the first.
So we come to the idea of coddling students. Let me start by letting you in on what many say is the first Student Development theory, Sanford’s Theory of Challenge and Support (1962). Sanford poses that students require a balance of Challenge and support. Too much support means no growth. Too much challenge merely leads to frustration. There is, however, a third proponent of this theory, and that is where terms such as “trigger warnings” come into play a bit more obviously if that was not already apparent, readiness. See, students are obviously coddled by benefiting from these warnings which allow them to avoid topics, statements, and discussions which may lead to feelings of threat (not challenge, but actual threat).
When we say students are being coddled, what we are saying is that they are not sitting through the same challenges we did, choosing instead to make use of their political voice. We are disappointed, it seems, with students electing to seek support as they process challenging subjects rather than simply being thrust into them.
Here is the thing: are there times where students seem to be pressing the “coddling” too far? Quite possibly. I would say certainly from my own perspective, though not nearly as often as some seem to argue. On that same note, however, I feel many of the “we” (not current students) seek the same protection for ourselves. it is one of those things where every generation had that same, “back in my day” mindset going on. I am only a few years beyond college myself and already find myself saying that sort of thing.
So before you get upset or frustrated with the “coddling” currently going on, consider you do not sit in the current seats of these students, you nor I have lived their lives, and we are facing the students who are electing to put into practice the tools we as a society have given them. These students look to ourselves and history to learn, so where have they learned these things that upset us so?