According to Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, America’s universities have succumbed to ‘safetyism’, whereby students are protected from anything that might cause them anxiety or discomfort. In their book The Coddling of the American Mind, published this week, they attribute the spread of ‘trigger warnings’, ‘safe spaces’ and ‘bias hotlines’ on campus to a misplaced concern about the psychological fragility of students. In their view, millennials aren’t ‘snowflakes’, but imagine themselves to be on account of having been surrounded by over-protective parents and teachers. The fact they are the first generation of ‘digital natives’ hasn’t helped, since it has left them marooned in echo chambers, unaccustomed to challenge. In addition, students’ familiarity with social media and their ability to whip up outrage mobs to shame university authorities into doing their bidding has shifted the balance of power in their favour.
No doubt there is some truth in this, and from a tactical point of view it may be the most sensible way of getting university authorities and students to engage in a dialogue about free speech. It enables Lukianoff and Haidt to draw on a wealth of research showing that the suppression of dissenting views is, in fact, bad for students’ psychological wellbeing. That’s more pragmatic than complaining about left-wing bias or a culture of political correctness, which is likely to result in the authors being dismissed as ‘alt-right’ or, worse, ‘white supremacists’. By focusing on mental health — a big concern of millennials — they will at least get a hearing.
But reading between the lines, it’s clear that the real problem on college campuses is not the whiny, neurotic students, but the post-modern neo-Marxist professors who are manipulating them. (To read more, click here.)