In this Fall of Capitulation, Yale University doesn’t want to be left behind.
Responding to student demonstrations and demands related to the racial climate at Yale University, its president, Peter Salovey, introduced a host of initiatives and promises in a letter to alumni on Tuesday.
“It is clear that we need to make significant changes so that all members of our community truly feel welcome and can participate equally in the activities of the university, and to reaffirm and reinforce our commitment to a campus where hatred and discrimination have no place,” he wrote.
What? You’re paying tuition so junior can learn particle physics? Heh, you naïve fool. Did you not see the viral video of brave students protesting for #BlackLivesMatter in the library at Dartmouth? Because so many students are at risk from racist paper cuts, libraries being what they are. And if that was your daughter who was told, “fuck your white tears,” suck it up, as somebody has to take a bullet for the cause.
After all, going out on the street, to protest against the cops who do the killing, and using such language to their cop faces, would require students to leave their “safe space,” like the college library. And that would make them sad. And very angry. It’s so much easier to yell at fellow students who won’t shoot.
Harvard Lawprof Jeannie Suk has connected the dots on much of this in a brilliant article at The New Yorker.
Particularly in the way things have unfolded at Yale, students’ social-justice activism has been expressed, in part, as the need for care from authority figures. When they experience the hurt that motivates them to political action, they’re deeply disappointed with parental surrogates for not responding adequately or quickly enough to support and nurture them. The world in which it’s not bizarre for a young person to rebuke someone for failing to “create a place of comfort and home,” or to yell, “Be quiet … You’re disgusting!,” and storm away, is the world of family, where a child in pain desperately desires empathy and understanding from a parent.
The online scorn heaped on the student who was filmed behaving this way represents an unproductive refusal to compassionately translate her behavior across the generational divide. In a piece called “Hurt at Home,” another Yale student wrote, “I feel my home is being threatened,” and contrasted her comforting relationship with her father to the care she felt students emphatically did not receive from the master of Silliman College. Yale tells its students that the residential college is their “home away from home,” but this generation might be the first to insist so literally on that idea.
From the language used to express their “pain,” to their cries for paternalistic support, Suk adds up the demands and comes up with the lowest common denominator. These children want a daddy. Or a mommy, not to be sexist. A parent. Someone to wipe their brow, rub their tummy, tell them they love them and everything will be alright.
While some apologists for the cause seek to compare today’s campus protests with those of prior generations, based upon shallow appearances rather than substance, Suk goes to the heart of the matter:
The list of concrete demands recently announced by student activists at Yale is decidedly not anti-establishment. They seek more connection with the Man, not less. Many of their calls are for more bureaucracy: the creation of an academic department, the hiring of more employees for cultural centers, and the development of training, surveys, and reporting requirements (borrowed from the now established Title IX school bureaucracy). But it is in the demands for more mental-health services, for stipends and food for students in need during breaks, for dental and optometry care, and for eight financial-aid consultants that we most clearly see their yearning not only for safety but for a safety net.
These students aren’t anti-establishment. They aren’t just pro-establishment. They are double-secret pro-establishment, demanding that institutions create bureaucracies dedicated to protecting them from, well, everything.
At Amherst College, the student emphasis is on apologies to current and former students from the president and chancellor for the institutional legacy of everything from white supremacy to cis-sexism to mental-health stigma. These demands for administrative affirmation of students’ needs are far from a rejection of the institution. Instead, they reach for a familial embrace.
The demand for apologies, like the demand to rename historic buildings because a guy back then was a wealthy slave owner of the sort who funded the existence of the school, is notable for its lack of substance. College presidents, deans and chancellors are tripping over one another to get in their tummy rub.
But the empty demands are only one part of the changes that deans “clearly” need to make. Watch for the curriculum distribution changes, ranging from mandatory sex training (and not the good kind) to mandatory diversity and inclusiveness sensitivity labs. Each will need properly colored and gendered professors, and a dean with two assistant deans to watch over them.
So what if you tightened your belt to send your child to college to become an engineer? Who needs those classes in thermal fluids when there’s ethnic and gender studies to be learned? If some students demand that other students take courses that are all about feeling their pain, then something has to give. After all, who needs a college curriculum that focuses on, you know, the courses for which you went to college, when there is an identity group who demands that your kids study their feelings?
And if the schools won’t appease their students by unvaluing their cries of pain, then what?
We should remember that it wasn’t too long ago that campus buildings burned in student protests. But I hope I am right that this generation of students has too much family feeling to be so destructive to the institutions they call home.
Maybe the dean will put out a letter telling these suffering students that if they break anything, they’re going to get a spanking and sent to bed without dinner. Or would that be a microaggression, and the better way of dealing with it is to promise them all a sundae with a cherry on top? That always made my kids feel better. When they were ten.