If civil discourse in this country isn’t dead or on life support, it’s almost certainly doodling in an adult coloring book while cowering in a safe space.
We experience the ugliness of overheated rhetoric everywhere: It’s on the news, where talking heads scream at one another and never actually discuss anything. It’s on social media, where otherwise rational, thoughtful people spend hours arguing with strangers. It’s in our homes, where politics can break apart valuable relationships.
We all engage in it and we’re all to blame: Politicians. Journalists. Parents. Everyone. And we need an immediate course correction, or our violent tribalism will lead us further down the path of hatred and contempt.
Perhaps this brokenness is best revealed on college campuses, once home to intellectual diversity and rational discussions. Now, campuses, thanks to the safetyism of the progressive left, are little more than echo chambers that profess to care more about students’ feelings than academic achievement. Critical thought—a key component of a healthy life and career—is nowhere to be found.
Consider the recent controversy at Boise State University. In June, outgoing President Martin Schimpf, who served as the interim leader after Bob Kustra’s departure, touted his accomplishments and agenda in a schoolwide email. Schimpf offered a menu of programs straight out of the left-wing playbook: separate graduations for minority students, school positions specifically to aid Native American students, and taxpayer scholarship funds for the children of illegal immigrants.
In response, state Rep. Barbara Ehardt, a Republican from Idaho Falls, authored a letter to the school’s new president, Marlene Tromp, to suggest BSU might be heading in the wrong direction.
“This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students,” Ehardt wrote. “These initiatives by nature highlight differences and suggest that certain groups are treated unequally now—and that BSU should redress these grievances.”
Another 27 House members co-signed the letter.
Tromp offered a measured response, but other BSU elites didn’t handle the letter so wisely.
Just yesterday, BSU students received an unbelievable email from Leslie Webb, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management and Chris Wuthrich, the dean of students. The duo, apparently seeking to reassure students of their inestimable worth to the school, apologized for Ehardt’s letter in a disgraceful way.
The duo wrote: “We recognize and understand that reading this letter was painful for those of you who felt personally devalued by its content,”
Read that again. Webb and Wuthrich, shapers of young minds, suggest state legislators harmed and personally devalued students by exercising their appropriate oversight capacity and writing a perfectly civil letter. Webb and Wuthrich promise to guide students down the path toward social justice, with some academic challenges sprinkled in the experience. “We will continue to support you in your unique journey - advocating, advising, and gently challenging you along the way,” the duo close the letter.
Wait—gently challenge? A worthy campus rocks a student’s worldview and causes them to rethink even their most treasured beliefs. Unfortunately, it looks as though BSU has abdicated that duty.
Webb and Wuthrich likely wrote their email with good intentions, but the effect is detrimental to intellectual development. The duo sends the message that rational, civil discourse is harmful if it makes you uncomfortable. They further suggest students need not consider alternative points of view if feelings get in the way.
This mindset doesn’t lead students anywhere good or productive. In fact, it leads to a place of anxiety and disempowerment.
That’s essentially the argument of Greg Lukianoff, co-author of “The Coddling of the American Mind.” This treatise examines how cultural institutions, including universities, are teaching youngsters distorted thinking patterns that lead to crippling anxiety.
Lukianoff, who wanted to title his 2018 book, “Disempowered,” argues we “have unwittingly taught a generation of students the mental habits of anxious, depressed, polarized people, and we need to rethink how we do everything from parenting in K-12, through, of course, higher education.”
In short, Lukianoff and his co-author, social scientist Jonathan Haidt, explain that instead of teaching youth resiliency and open dialogue, many of our cultural institutions inculcate youngsters with cognitive distortions that cause severe problems as young adults enter the workforce.
I wholeheartedly agree. Our culture is toxic because we’re taught to think with our feelings instead of our rational minds. Uncomfortable thoughts, we are told by institutions like BSU, are scary or painful, and thus must be discarded as quickly as possible.
But that’s not how the world works. Adults must learn to work together without special treatment, special liaisons, or safe spaces. BSU knows this , but for whatever reason, it’s dedicated to coddling students, which won’t prepare them for the real world. And that’s a tragedy.