Once upon a time, not too long ago, social justice inspired movements in the United States worked towards the goal of creating equality in areas where inequality existed. Once upon a time, women really were paid less than men, blacks were not allowed to vote, and interracial marriage was not permitted. Once upon a time, social justice movements were about securing more freedom and more rights. While many of the methods employed over the years can certainly be seen as distasteful or even harmful, it was always with the end goal of freedom. Always, until now. For the first time in our country’s history, we are seeing an uprising of social justice inspired movements dedicated to restricting freedom and removing rights – and it is gaining traction.
— The Progressive Mind (@Libertea2012) November 13, 2015
I spent the better part of my weekend reading through the extensive lists of demands for 64 colleges and universities, compiled at TheDemands.org. These demands are varied, and include free tuition for black and indigenous students, revisions to free speech policies, the creation of black-only safe spaces, banning groups, segregation, firings, and official public declarations of support and alliance with specific student groups. Some of the demands are reasonable, some are laughable, and some are outright terrifying.
The protesters at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, for example, want the elimination of tuition in an effort to “end the mythology of meritocracy” as well as “mandatory programming” for all students and faculty that teaches “the historical racial violence of this University and town as well as a historical and contemporary look at the ways in which racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and cisheteropatriarchy structure our world.” In addition, they not only demand that all department heads and deans of racial studies courses be people of color, but that priority “must be given” to the hiring and tenuring of faculty of color in those areas over white candidates, “to the extent that 80% of the faculty of said departments must be made up of faculty of color.” They state that white professors “must be discouraged from leading and teaching departments about demographics and societies colonized, massacred, or enslaved under white supremacy.”
Over at Webster University, protesters don’t seem to know exactly what they want, writing “We demand for the formation of a Minority Scholarship Fund. If something like this already exists, we demand the money for this fund to be increased by Fall 2016.” In other words, they want the thing. And if they already have the thing, they want more of it. Research is hard. Meanwhile, Amherst students want a public statement from President Martin condemning both “All Lives Matter” posters and “Free Speech” posters that appeared on campus, as well as a warning that the posters were “racially insensitive to the students of color” and that the people responsible would be subject to disciplinary action if a complaint were to be filed. Martin must also support an Honor Code revision that will reflect a zero-tolerance policy for “racial insensitivity and hate speech.”
Students at Duke University want a policy in response to “discriminatory hate speech and racial harassment toward students of color,” with hate speech being specifically defined as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity, gender expression, disability, or other traits.” They also want mandatory learning on institutional racism and anti-oppression practices for both students and faculty alike.
At Purdue University, there are demands for a revision to the free speech policy in order to address “hate speech” – both in person and on social media – as well as a demand that the university protect students from hostility. The University of San Diego demands include the banning of popular social media app Yik Yak, while students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro demand “No Hate Groups on Campus. Ever. Freedom of speech should not be used as a justification for rampant hateful language or opinions that further marginalizes historically oppressed communities.”
Emory University students feel it is “violent” to force black student organizations to work with predominantly white student organizations, while Kennesaw State University students are angry that the university owns land that was previously owned by a racist. University of Wyoming demands that all freshmen and first year students be required to take, and pass, a course focused on social justice and cultural awareness.
Students want to be emotionally coddled instead of intellectually challenged. Most troubling are the attempts to stifle the right to free speech and expression on campus. The overwhelming number of demands dedicated to focusing resources on the policing of personal discourse pose the risk of interfering with the ability of other students to get a serious education. These protesters want not only to dictate the criteria of “acceptable” thought, they want to exclude that which is deemed offensive from areas of discussion. They believe that disagreement is akin to hatred, without accepting that diversity exists not only in the color of our skin or the ways in which we physically identify, but also in our opinions.
This is the direct result of what has been dubbed the “Everyone Gets a Trophy” era. People believe they deserve, without ever having to earn. They want to teach, not be taught. They want to be told they are special without ever having to prove it. They believe that the higher learning institutions should invest in them, without them having to invest in themselves. Most of all, they believe that a college education is a trophy to be awarded without ever having to swing the damn bat.
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