Due to a scheduling conflict, I missed my opportunity last week to see Jonathan Haidt plugging his most recent book, The Coddling of the American Mind (co-authored with Greg Lukianoff). In compensation, a colleague told me a story at lunch about a snowflake student she had to deal with.
The student, a military veteran, objected to the presence of Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice on the professor’s syllabus, the objection being that the book glorified abortion, and was in various and sundry respects hostile to men. Apparently, triggered by the book, the student cornered the professor in a small room, yelling at her about it, and demanding its exclusion from the syllabus.
Result? The Department in question is now considering whether or not to keep it there. And the question suddenly arises: is Carol Gilligan really worth keeping on board? I mean, we are a Catholic institution that wouldn’t want to be seen as glorifying abortion. And we are governed by federal regulations that punish us for being perceived as a hostile environment for any demographic, including easily-triggered men. So maybe there’s a case to be made that Carol Gilligan is more trouble than she’s worth. I made a quiet plea for keeping the book, but I get the distinct sense that Carol Gilligan has worn out her welcome at Felician. I guess some voices are more different than they ought to be.
I’ve never quite understood why it is that the controversy concerning “snowflakes” and restrictions on unfettered campus discourse is predominantly about left-wing students triggered by this, that, or the other common sense claim. In my experience in higher education, the vast majority (by far) of complaints about being offended by this or that idea expressed in the classroom has come from right-wing students.
I don’t deny that left-wing students can easily be triggered, and don’t deny that they can be obnoxiously insensitive to free speech issues when they are. I simply register the fact that in my experience, left-wing snowflakes not only aren’t unique in that respect, but aren’t the real problem–or at the very least, aren’t the only problem worth discussing. Right-wing students can be a real handful. Handful of what, I leave to your imagination.
Maybe my experiences are very idiosyncratic, or maybe I’m just very forgiving of left-wing students, or undiscerning of the offenses they commit, or biased in favor of them. Or maybe my experiences are the norm at the lower-tier institutions I’ve inhabited for the bulk of my career–institutions not on the radar screen of people at better institutions (like Jonathan Haidt, of NYU). Whatever the explanation, the stories you hear about academia don’t even come close to matching my experiences in it. Which really offends me. Not that I’m suggesting they should be censored.