“…the university experience in America is now not one that will adequately prepare students for real life…”
Madeleine Kearns from Glasgow, Scotland, decided to study journalism at NYU. She received a shock when she arrived on campus and found the “stifling of free speech” and different pronouns a person can be called.
She detailed her experience in The Spectator:
As a child in Glasgow, I learned that sticks and stones might break my bones but words didn’t really hurt. I’m now at New York University studying journalism, where a different mantra seems to apply. Words, it turns out, might cause life-ruining emotional trauma.
During my ‘Welcome Week’, for example, I was presented with a choice of badges indicating my preferred gender pronouns: ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ or ‘ze’?
The student in front of me, an Australian, found this hilarious: ‘Last time I checked, I was a girl.’ Her joke was met with stony silence. Later I realised why: expressing bewilderment at the obsession with pronouns might count as a ‘micro-aggression’. Next stop, ‘transphobia’.
It was soon obvious to my fellow students that I was not quite with the programme. In a class discussion early in my first semester, I made the mistake of mentioning that I believed in objective standards in art. Some art is great, some isn’t, I said; not all artists are equally talented. This was deemed an undemocratic opinion and I was given a nickname: the cultural fascist. I’ve tried to take it affectionately.
After a year on campus, on a course entitled ‘Cultural Reporting and Criticism’, I still feel unable to speak freely, let alone critically. Although it doesn’t apply to my own course, friends have told me about ‘trigger warnings’ that caution they are about to be exposed to certain ideas; the threat of micro-aggressions (i.e. unintended insults) makes frank discourse impossible. Then there is the infamous ‘safe space’ — a massage-circle, Play-Doh-making haven — where students are protected from offence (and, therefore, intellectual challenge).
Madeleine had to find small cues from her classmates to determine if they were free thinkers like her:
I was thrilled to see a scribbled note — ‘This is utter shit’ — on someone’s copy of one of the reading requirements, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (an introduction to queer theory). In this way, I found the members of my secret non-conformist book club.
They managed to make their own “unsafe space” where they could freely speak and share ideas without any fear of being shot down.
Then Madeleine explained that she spent Thanksgiving with a friend….whose father is Rick Santorum! She was so excited to hear Santorum’s insight into Trump as president and she wanted to share her experience. But then she received this email:
But before I had mustered the courage to share my experience, I received the following email from a professor: ‘Dear all, hope you are all recovering well from any encounters with Trump-supporting relatives over Thanksgiving. I should be all right myself in a day or so.’ Naturally, when this professor asked me, ‘How was your first Thanksgiving?’ I chose to speak exclusively about marshmallow yams.
Here are her final thoughts
This is daft, certainly. Even funny, in a macabre way. But it also raises a serious point: the university experience in America is now not one that will adequately prepare students for real life. In real-life democracy, people disagree — and normally they don’t die or suffer emotional injury because of it. In normal life, there’s no reason not to like someone with whom you disagree politically. On campus, opinions are often ontology: you are what you think. But this is dangerous logic: if I hate what you think, I must hate what you are.
At the end of the year I hosted a party in my grungy sixth-floor apartment in Washington Heights, where my classmates finally came face-to-face with some real-life conservatives. I had naively hoped people wouldn’t talk about politics. But my hopes were soon dashed. A friend’s boyfriend came wearing a Reagan and Bush T-shirt. When confronted about his choice of outfit, he shrugged confusedly: ‘It’s laundry day.’ Another friend, an African-American conservative, who was wearing a US military cap, was furiously berated from across the room by a liberal of colour, ‘How can you be a conservative and black?’
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.