In his recent piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The University of Pennsylvania education and history professor, and the author of the soon-to-be released The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools, tackles free speech on campus in the wake of Middlebury and Claremont-McKenna.
Here is a taste:
How did two ideas that used to run in tandem – free speech and racial diversity – get pit against each other? Part of the answer lies in the remarkable growth of diversity itself. Between 1976 and 2012, the number of African American college students in the United States tripled. And women now receive 57 percent of undergraduate degrees, nearly double their proportion of 50 years ago.
Over the same span, more and more students reported mental-health problems. That reflected a new and welcome awareness of psychological illness, which lost some of its longstanding stigma.
Finally, new technologies inhibited in-person communication. More than half of community college students and a third of four-year college students agree with the statement, “I pretty much keep to myself socially.” Even phone calls are avoided in favor of texting and social media, which give people more control over any interaction – and less anxiety about its outcome.
When you put these factors together, it’s easy to see why there’s less solicitude for free speech at colleges today. Arriving on campuses made up of diverse groups, students are warned that their comments and behavior could cause psychological distress to any of them. That’s a pretty distressing prospect, in and of itself, so we shouldn’t be surprised that many students would rather retreat to Facebook than risk offending someone to their face.
Read the entire piece here.