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Overactivism Causes Harm on College Campuses

This piece was published in the December 2015 issue of the Prep News

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college cartoon 1 – Illustration by Noah Boucher

 

The name “Yale” has been in the news frequently lately, but not for the usual reasons. The university is not garnering attention for advancements in medicine or technology, and it is not making headlines for being a top-tier school. Instead, it is drawing the public eye for the same reason that schools like Amherst and Mizzou are—very public college activism.

To us so close to State Line, Mizzou is the most notable of these locations, and it has been arguably the most intense. Between one student’s hunger strike, the resignation of the University’s president and chancellor, and widely-publicized student protests, the school has had no shortage of public student activism.

While these events were perhaps the most drastic, they are a subject for another day. The Mizzou protests had a degree of complexity that was not as present in the Yale or Amherst protests, both of which took the form of sit-ins and impromptu confrontations with faculty and administration. Both protests had racial themes, but neither included accusations to the degree that the Mizzou protests did.

Rather, the Yale and Amherst protests were centered on a narcissistic, privileged view of how change is enacted. At Yale, for instance, a group of student protestors screamed their demands (namely the firing of two teachers) over an email dealing with racially insensitive Halloween costumes. The email, by the way, was about as intelligent and tempered as they come—certainly not grounds for firing two teachers (who happened to be married). Since then, one of those teachers has resigned.

Students at Yale and Amherst also took umbrage with the honorary names of various buildings and symbols. At Amherst, for instance, one primary student demand is the changing of the unofficial mascot, Lord Jeff (short for Jeffery Amherst, for whom the school is named), who owned slaves during his lifetime.

While I agree that honoring slave owners for that singular portion of their life would be appalling, that is not at all the circumstance at hand. Throwing out tradition like this is the equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, which cannot be done if colleges are to remain institutions of intellectual curiosity and higher learning, rather than intensely politically correct echo chambers. Let me remind you, also, that many of America’s founding fathers owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson, the author of our Declaration of Independence, was a slave owner. Should we, then, throw out the entire document on which our liberty is based?

Do not misunderstand me—I am in no way a proponent of racial inequality or large-scale discomfort. I am merely a proponent of room for intellectual dissent, which is an idea that is coming under fire from groups that promote a level of political correctness that does not help anybody.

In the same way that America has embraced its past, for better and for worse, colleges need to do the same. Our institutions of higher learning, especially those with reputations like Yale and Amherst, have a responsibility to pick battles wisely and to breed intellectual students who can handle controversy. If these students decide that certain battles do, in fact, need to be fought, then they need to go about doing so in the proper ways. Screaming for the immediate dismissal of faculty members and their spouses is not the best way to enact change, and students around the country would do well to remember that.

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