By CHRISTOPHER XIE, political columnist
Is it racist to call someone “black”? Must there always be a sensationalistic and disruptive demonstration to follow whenever an alleged racial or homophobic event occurs? These are questions that have been increasingly asked by the public in recent years. In the decades following the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, student activism and the push for political correctness have grown tremendously, and perhaps erroneously, in the eyes of the media. In fact, given the recent events at Mizzou and Yale University, it is safe to say that student activism movements, which are deeply intertwined with the pervasiveness of political correctness, have become overused, ineffectual, and absolutely meaningless.
Decades ago, student activist movements had worked towards appropriate goals of equality and fairness. Participants spoke out against controversial social issues and presented reasonable demands, as evident in the anti-war demonstrations and the memorable civil rights sit-in movements of the 1960s. Student activists also played a major role in the Women’s Rights and Gay Liberation movements. In fact, they formed the core of the New Left, a body of left-leaning political activists that fueled the liberal movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the anti-discrimination laws that we hold dear today have been the long-lasting and revolutionary achievements of preceding activists. With legitimate and reasonable goals and courses of action, their movement was able to achieve success with minimal damage and fear mongering.
However, in stark contrast, student activists of today seem too infused with a hypersensitivity to nonconformity. This new generation of activists stiffens at the slightest breach of political correctness, grasping at nonexistent issues. What once was a progressive method of change has now become pure paranoia and nonsense. This distorted sense of freedom of speech has instigated the unfortunate Halloween incident at Yale University. Just before Halloween of this year, an email was sent out by the Intercultural Affairs Council, admonishing students to not wear costumes that were culturally insensitive. In response, Erika Christakis, an associate master at Yale University, replied with an email pointing out that judging the offensiveness of a costume itself is subjective, and that the university should not overly restrict what costumes students were permitted to wear. In particular, she wrote, “If you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.” In a bizarre move, a considerable amount of Yale students found offense with her email and demanded an apology. When Christakis refused to apologize for simply stating her opinion and with her husband Nicholas Christakis, a fellow master, also defending her, students demanded the resignations of the two masters. In an attempt to further their agenda, these so-called student activists organized angry and belligerent protests and demonstrations. By attacking the couple with an onslaught of hateful insults, public shaming, and verbal abuse, student activism today has only taken well-intentioned ideologies and warped them for the worse.
Adding to their long list of unreasonable demands, student activists called for the Yale campus to become a “safe space,” a politically correct environment free of any “offensive” opinions or actions. What these students don’t realize is that “safe spaces” are counterintuitive to an intellectual college environment, where people with differing opinions are allowed and encouraged to debate issues. As Christakis argues, college students should be challenged with different points of views in order to learn and broaden their perspectives. Even President Obama spoke out against university students being too “coddled and protected from different points of views.”
Similarly, at Mizzou, student demonstrations and protests erupted after alleged acts of racism and bigotry on campus. Students took to social media purported sightings of death threats toward African-American students and even the KKK’s presence. While some of their concerns were legitimate, many of the students’ actions were outrageous. In one incident, when Tim Tai, a student photographer on an assignment for ESPN, attempted to film the protests, he was physically heckled by some of the participants and forced out. During the same protests, professor Dale Brigham told his students through an email that he would still be administering a planned exam with makeups available at a later date despite students raising concerns about safety. Brigham declared that he would not allow any protest or alleged threats to disrupt his students’ education. In response, students spread his emails on social media, publicly deriding and crucifying him. These are not the actions of rational student activists who genuinely want change; rather, they are only the responses of illiberal thinking compromising the safety of others.
Both of the student protests at Yale and Mizzou are symptoms of the needless sensationalization and misdirection of student activism. Most of all, they reflect the stifling pervasiveness of political correctness. As students who will soon enter the college campuses where this activism is prevalent, we must understand the pros and cons of participating in these movements. Student activism can be a positive force for change, but only when it is used to address legitimate issues in a legitimate manner.