In fact, offensive language has pretty much become the norm in popular culture. Popular music is not the "At last" lyrics that Etta James melted us with, and movies for grown-ups rarely are clean enough to watch with one's grandmother. The other day I was waiting at the traffic light when two young white guys were addressing each other with the n* word. The words f*k and b*h have become so normal that they have pretty much lost their shock value.
The irony, the bitter and tragic irony, is that against this backdrop, college students apparently want to be treated as kids, and plenty of professors and administrators at colleges and universities are willing to bend over backwards to make sure that these legal adults will be treated as kids! How bizarre that "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" have become a part of our daily conversation!
I have always been an ardent supporter of free thinking and speech when it is adults all around. Especially in a university setting, where we are in the very business of inquiry that is not constrained. Which is why the letters to students from two private universities encourages me. The following is from the letter that Claremont McKenna College sent out:
To benefit fully from the free exchange of challenging ideas, we must ensure that all people with different viewpoints, experiences, and analyses are included in our conversations. We protect the freedom of association as an individual and collective right. We reject exclusion and ad hominem attacks as barriers to learning. All of us —- students, faculty and staff -— must commit to high standards of civility, respect, and appreciation for differences. All of us must value and support one another in challenging ourselves to analyze issues from many sides, to develop rigorous tools of intellectual inquiry, and to cultivate the habits of mind of an educated citizen.Now, just because I encourage students to think, it does not mean that they can freely use words like f*k or b*h or n* in the classroom. They cannot. Engaging in ideas is what we do, and we can easily do that without the Trumpian language. However, it is the engagement with ideas that apparently "kids" these days are worried about. How strange and how disappointing!
Claremont's leaders make it very clear:
We encourage our professors to challenge our students intellectually. We teach sensitive material. We do not mandate trigger warnings.Awesome!
I was intrigued by the name of the president: Hiram E. Chodosh. Not your 'John Smith" name. So, I looked it up; the guy has some impressive credentials. I spotted this:
He worked in more than 20 countries in Asia and the Middle East, serving in advisory positions on pressing problems in justice reform for the World Bank Justice Reform Group, the International Monetary Fund Legal Department, and many court systems, non-profit organizations, and national commissions. He also served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in India in 2003.Hey, there is an India connection as well!
The letter was co-signed by the provost, Peter Uvin; this name also interested me--sounded "foreign." It is; "a native of Belgium."
His academic specialization has been in the development, conflict, and human rights areas, foremost in Rwanda and Burundi. The African Studies Association honored his Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda as the most outstanding book of 1999. In 2006, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he used to conduct research in Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world, on life in a post-civil war environment.These two have spent a good chunk of their lives trying to understand some of the toughest problems in this world, in some of the most materially deprived societies. I imagine students who want "safe spaces" going to either one of them, and the president or the provost telling them something like "let us talk about the unsafe spaces in Rwanda or Iraq."
Is it too much to ask adults to behave like adults?