It’s the start of new school year, so it’s time to hear bizarre stories from the nation’s universities — those politically correct hothouses where seemingly intelligent people enforce rules that appear to have been designed in an insane asylum. After university officials issue their statements and denials, the matter fades from the front pages. But nothing ever changes.
Last year, the University of California held faculty seminars that included a fact sheet with a remarkably forthright list of dos and don’ts. Asking a student of Latino descent where he or she is from is a “microaggression” that creates a “hostile environment.” So too is mistaking a female doctor for a nurse. Other evils include making such statements as “affirmative action is racist” or “men and women have equal opportunities for achievement.”
The average Spectator reader probably “microaggresses” on a regular basis, which is why few of you noticed my evil remark above. I referred to “he or she.” One young person I know, a freshperson at a California public university, told me about the orientation program she/he/it was required to attend. Students were told not to make any assumptions about anyone’s gender. Using gender-specific pronouns is a definite no-no.
It’s not just California. As one news report explained, “Students in at least one Rutgers University residence hall are being encouraged to use only language that is ‘helpful’ and ‘necessary’ to avoid committing microaggressions.” That’s right. Keep your eyes to the ground or stare blankly ahead of you. Don’t make jokes or engage in human contact. And you’ll be OK — safe for yet another day from the U.S. equivalent of the “mutaween,” the Iranian religious police.
After the University of California brouhaha last year, a spokesperson in the university’s Office of the President assured me “no one is prohibited from making statements such as ‘America is a melting pot.’” The seminars were voluntary, the office said, and were designed to “make people aware of how their words or actions may be interpreted.”
No one really thinks the UC system has its own PC police, but it’s clear such seminars create an atmosphere hostile to free expression. How many students — or non-tenured faculty members — are going to take the risk? After media outlets mocked the university, it scrubbed the fact sheet from its website. But the office still has plenty of related literature on its site regarding microaggressions and “critical race theory,” which the taxpayer-supported system suggests for faculty.
That theory gave rise to the fad-ish thinking about “white privilege.” This isn’t a benign approach designed to promote equality and root out prejudices. It’s a leftist racial theory that rejects colorblindness, neutrality, and merit-based policies. In trying to create a society that applies the laws equally to all people, white Americans are creating a new tool of oppression, supporters say.
The term “microaggression” always seemed odd. If theorists have to focus on unseen, hard-to-perceive, and even well-intended slights, there must be little at a macro level worth worrying about. But “critical race theorists” see the little stuff as the biggest problem: “Probably the most grievous of offensive mechanisms spewed at victims of racism and sexism are microaggressions,” according to a quotation in one article recommended by the University of California.
These are the worst offenses because they are so deeply rooted in society and enmeshed in our psychology that they are hard to notice. The theorists’ answer is a race-based society, filled with reparations and self-flagellation by privileged majorities — and, ultimately, more segregation.
This year’s biggest PC university scandal takes place at California State University-Los Angeles, which has established “‘black-only’ co-ed housing in response to demands from African-American students seeking refuge from what they consider insensitive remarks and ‘microaggressions’ from their white classmates,” according to a recent report on Fox News.
The Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community is open to everyone, according to university officials. But the goal is segregationist. A Los Angeles Times article reports that this approach is nothing new: “UC Berkeley has seven communities that each offer housing themed around a specific community, including Native Americans, Asian Pacific Americans and African Americans.” Private Stanford University in Palo Alto has 20 ethnically themed houses, per the report.
Is this supposed to make us feel better about the situation?
Don’t confuse California State University-Los Angeles with the University of California at Los Angeles. The latter is a highly competitive place, part of the premier University of California system. It has an 18-percent acceptance rate — and draws from straight-A students across the nation. It embodies every problem one will find in an elite university, but it is an elite university. Presumably, kids who get a degree in “oppression studies” at least have enough privilege to fall back on when they find few postgraduate career prospects.
Cal States are the gargantuan public universities whose 21 campuses primarily serve their geographic regions. Cal State LA accepts 61 percent of its applicants, from mostly poor and working-class areas. The student population is 61-percent Latino, 7.6-percent white, and 4.2-percent African-American. It’s highly unlikely that white “privilege” is a dominant cultural force there. I wonder if this is a reflection of the common black versus Latino tensions in the LA-area high schools from which this university draws its student body. Are we sure we want to keep going down this race-based route?
The mirror image of the microaggression movement is, of course, the newly emergent “alt right,” which is “inclined to prioritize the interests of their tribe,” according to a Breitbart news article co-authored by one of its thought leaders, Milo Yiannopoulos. It’s no surprise the failure of our universities (and our society in general) to withstand repugnant leftist separatism is driving the brash re-emergence of repugnant rightist racialism.
During a trip last week to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I read the words on the obelisk in the plaza: “To the heroes who have fallen in various battles with ——– Indians in the territories of New Mexico.” The word missing: “savage.” A brass plaque was added in the 1970s explaining that the “Monument texts reflect the character of the times in which they are written.… Thus, we see on this monument, as in other records, the use of such terms as ‘savage’ ….” Except we don’t see the word, because it was later inelegantly chiseled out of the marble by a vandal and the word was never replaced.
This, apparently, is the path our nation is taking — one that tries to stamp out aggressions large and small, rather than facing up to our history, warts and all. But there may still be hope for colorblindness, regardless of how our universities continue to behave. After leaving the plaza, my daughter purchased a souvenir from a Native American… who happened to be wearing a Washington Redskins cap.