Life can be rough: our students must learn that
Published 05/04/2016 | 02:30
A few days ago the president of America's Emory University met with student demonstrators who said they were concerned and frightened after someone wrote "Trump 2016" in chalk on campus buildings. Sounds scary. "Trump 2016" written in chalk, imagine.
This display must mean that we've now reached peak victimhood. You see we've created a cult of victimhood where the excessively sensitive are able to find gripes everywhere, in any micro-aggression, handclap or unsafe space. It's been going on for a long time on America's university campuses and has created a potent robust censorship movement there, where lecturers and guests are frequently accused of racism, sexism, homophobia or ethnocentric thinking. Campuses eagerly ban speakers whose ideas might distress students.
The moral panic about speech and sexual activity in universities has reached Britain and Ireland too. Last year feminist author Germaine Greer was due to give a talk at Cardiff University. She was demonised after a number of activists protested her repeated derogatory comments about trans women. Yes, Greer has spoken out against "man's delusion that he is female", claiming trans women are "some kind of ghastly parody" but will never be women because they do not know what it's like to have a vagina.
Wading into the row, evolutionary biologist and atheist author Richard Dawkins very rightly lashed out at people who tried to get Greer blocked from speaking simply because they disagreed with her opinion. "Those who think it's nonsense are entitled to stay away. Or come and argue. They should not censor views they think are nonsense," he said. "A university is not a 'safe space'. If you need a safe space, leave, go home, hug your teddy and suck your thumb until ready for university."
A campaign also started last year at Oxford called Rhodes Must Fall. It wanted to remove what the protesters saw as an offensive symbol of colonialism: a statue of Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes, after all, was a white supremacist who was involved in the exploitation of southern Africa. Looking at his statue was far too triggering for our Generation Snowflake.
It's happening here too, just look to the outrage and histrionics at the entirely fictional 'UCD 200' last month, something that didn't even happen.
I read an interview where one female student spoke about her "terror" when walking around the campus after the incident that never actually happened. We are living in a generation of internet wars, over-used counselling centres, and hand-holding coddling - and this only accentuates the sexual paranoia pervading campus life. But it's disappointing to see students clamour for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged their predecessors a few generations ago. What happened to free love, that it now needs to be policed by a small army of counsellors, consent classes and the like?
Why are students so eager to self-infantilise? I blame the generation of parents who raised these children to be fragile snowflakes who are simply unable to cope with the slings and arrows life throws at us. I blame social media most of all.
Despite all the talk of "trolls", social media is an exceptionally safe space, where you can censor anything that you disagree with. Our current generation of students has grown up fully in cyberspace, and now they want to make the real world as unchallenging as they can make their Twitter and Facebook feeds, by reporting, blocking and muting anyone who has different ideas to theirs.
These are the kind of people who wouldn't have applied to university if they knew it might put them at risk of meeting a Renua supporter, a Zionist or a meat-loving culchie.
Students, you're not a unique and precious snowflake and there is no such thing as safety. That is asking too much of life. That is asking too much of people. Life gives you possibilities for freedom, love, all sorts of wonderful things, but it never promised that you would be "safe".
Teaching young adults that they have this kind of right is incredibly harmful. No matter who you are - white, black, male, female, trans, queer, straight - you will be offended loads of times throughout your life. People will be insensitive towards you. Life isn't an ideologically safe space.
People will say and do things that are wrong, stupid; things that are meant to hurt you. They'll bring up topics you find upsetting. You will be uncomfortable. But that's the price we pay for freedom and especially for that glorious right that I will defend forever: freedom of speech.