How Campus Censorship Culture Could Be Causing Students Psychological Harm

 

pic_giant_040615_SM_Safe-Space-DTI’m excited to announce that The Atlantic just published my feature article, The Coddling of the American Mind, which I co-wrote with best-selling author and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt and I examine some of the behaviors we’ve observed on the modern college campus and the way they illustrate a new campus movement that goes beyond the PC movement of the 1980s and ‘90s. We write:

The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.

Examining vindictive protectiveness through a psychological lens, Haidt and I ask whether this new movement, created to help students, is actually hurting them:

[Vindictive protectiveness] prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified  by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.

You can learn more about the ideas in our article at the FIRE website, too. The parallels between how administrators and students seek to shield themselves from uncomfortable thoughts and the various cognitive distortions identified by cognitive behavioral therapy are both intriguing and disturbing.

 

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  1. Penfold Member
    Penfold
    @Penfold

    Whenever I read stories about this, I’m reminded of a scene from The Red Violin.  The scene takes place in China during the cultural revolution.  An “intellectual” who was apparently teaching something “wrong” is seated in a chair, made to wear a dunce cap with a placard hanging from his neck.  The placard details his crime.  A crowd of students is carrying him and the chair through the streets, berating him, abusing him and denouncing him to the crowds.  (My recollection may be faulty, but this is what I remember)  Is this what we’re headed for?

    • #1
  2. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    A good article, and I hope it gets a national conversation going.

    • #2
  3. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Congrats!   I find myself reading more and more of the Atlantic.

    • #3
  4. lesserson Member
    lesserson
    @LesserSonofBarsham

    Penfold:Whenever I read stories about this, I’m reminded of a scene from The Red Violin. The scene takes place in China during the cultural revolution. An “intellectual” who was apparently teaching something “wrong” is seated in a chair, made to wear a dunce cap with a placard hanging from his neck. The placard details his crime. A crowd of students is carrying him and the chair through the streets, berating him, abusing him and denouncing him to the crowds. (My recollection may be faulty, but this is what I remember) Is this what we’re headed for?

    It’s possible, but it’ll be the digital version. It already happens on twitter frankly.

    • #4
  5. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    One thing I’ve noticed about college campuses as I visit with my kids who are in the middle of choosing –  students today seem to think they are there to teach, not learn.

    Every campus has students with little tables of literature set up where they try to teach the passersby things they think they know better than others.

    When do they learn?

    • #5
  6. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Penfold is correct. This is social conditioning. They are teaching the young that freedom of speech and thought are illusions and subjugation to the whims of the state is to be preferred. It is all couched, of course, in the benign terminology of tolerance, understanding and sensitivity.

    When you write, “The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically,” you infer that this is an unwanted side effect. No, this is its main aim. It is designed to destroy individual thinking. It is designed to make us wary of each other. It is designed to make us want to attack each other and to bring the force of the state down on those that would dare utter thoughts contrary to the official line.

    • #6
  7. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Congratulations! Can’t wait to read it.

    • #7
  8. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Fearful,  maladjusted, insecure, unskilled people who readily seek the protection of Big Brother sounds like the base for a certain political party.  College as an exercise in deformation of character and personality is a feature not a bug.

    • #8
  9. Man With the Axe Inactive
    Man With the Axe
    @ManWiththeAxe

    What a terrific insight, and a great prescription for the problem. Even the most politically correct will have a hard time rejecting the arguments you make in this article, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

    • #9
  10. Greg Lukianoff Contributor
    Greg Lukianoff
    @GregLukianoff

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone! It was a lot of work.  And after nearly 12 hours of positive reception the howls of “why should I listen to #oldwhitemen” are popping up, only likely to increase. Check it out on my twitter feed @glukianoff.

    What I love about that is that if the old white mean agrees with you, you get to keep his opinion, if not….well we don’t have to listen to folks we disagree with, now do we? If you add in all the ways colleges have taught students to dismiss views they don’t like by attacking the identity of the speaker you realize they have created a formula for perfect fortress of dreary conformity.

    Also, I am not that old. :-)

    • #10
  11. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    Maybe the free market can help. I sense a business opportunity. Maybe someone can open a bar or club where speech can be spoken freely. (perhaps we can call it a “speakeasy”) Words prohibited by The Man can be spoken aloud without shame. No recording devices allowed. Thoughts and ideas exchanged freely over beer, fried foods and loose women. That place used to be called “America”.

    • #11
  12. PsychLynne Inactive
    PsychLynne
    @PsychLynne

    I am delighted to take some time and read this piece. I have loved Haidt”s work and looks forward to what I am sure is a well thought out and serious piece. Thank you for all the work you have put in so far, as wel as the work to come from the negative responders!

    • #12
  13. David Sussman Contributor
    David Sussman
    @DaveSussman

    The list of offensive statements included: “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

    Stunning, sad and jarring. The ones who consider themselves ‘most tolerant’ are in fact the least.

    • #13
  14. Brandon Shafer Coolidge
    Brandon Shafer
    @BrandonShafer

    Penfold:Whenever I read stories about this, I’m reminded of a scene from The Red Violin. The scene takes place in China during the cultural revolution. An “intellectual” who was apparently teaching something “wrong” is seated in a chair, made to wear a dunce cap with a placard hanging from his neck. The placard details his crime. A crowd of students is carrying him and the chair through the streets, berating him, abusing him and denouncing him to the crowds. (My recollection may be faulty, but this is what I remember) Is this what we’re headed for?

    I don’t know, but did you see the story of a Chinese TV Star is being punished for criticizing Mao?

    • #14
  15. Dean Murphy Member
    Dean Murphy
    @DeanMurphy

    As far as its effect after college; we use college students as interns here.  After they graduate, we sometimes hire them outright.  One of those college hires was assigned to work with me on a project.  We had a problem because whenever I would disagree with her, she would get upset.  One time when I told her outright that I thought she was wrong, she cried.

    I was upset because “there’s no crying in baseball”.  I’m not a mean person, but I’m not going to go along with incorrectness because it might hurt someone’s feelings.

    • #15
  16. J. D. Fitzpatrick Inactive
    J. D. Fitzpatrick
    @JDFitzpatrick

    Greg Lukianoff:Thanks for the kind words, everyone! It was a lot of work. And after nearly 12 hours of positive reception the howls of “why should I listen to #oldwhitemen” are popping up, only likely to increase. Check it out on my twitter feed @glukianoff.

    What I love about that is that if the old white mean agrees with you, you get to keep his opinion, if not….well we don’t have to listen to folks we disagree with, now do we? If you add in all the ways colleges have taught students to dismiss views they don’t like by attacking the identity of the speaker you realize they have created a formula for perfect fortress of dreary conformity.

    Also, I am not that old. :-)

    I’m going to start sounding like a broken record around here but “Poisoning the Well” is a logical fallacy. That statement is the only response that these replies deserve.

    • #16
  17. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    Somehow, the idea of teaching students cognitive therapy doesn’t appeal to me.  It sounds vaguely like psychoanalyzing students -which I’m generally opposed to on grounds that it is, itself, an example of the mind reading fallacy.  It’s also the reason things like the “ideological turing test” that Brian Caplan came up with don’t exactly fill me with ecstasy.

    All the same, if the choice is between psychological manipulation of students who are still basically children in the hopes that they will grow up and become decent human beings -let alone adults -and creating a generation of Red Guards, I guess I’m in favor of manipulation.

    Incidentally, as a style point -I was horribly confused by each section opening with a different psychological problem/solution until I got to the bottom and saw the “these are cognitive therapy methods.”  I don’t know if I missed something or if it just wasn’t explained.

    • #17

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