George Boardman: Somehow, California’s best and brightest students have become victims
Observations from the center stripe: Low down edition
I SUSPECT the folks in Alta Sierra are resisting a Dollar General store because it’s too down market for their taste. I’ll bet a Trader Joe’s wouldn’t get this kind of flak … SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE, I: You can now buy Peeps-flavored milk, but only until Easter. The good news: You can’t buy it on the West Coast … SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE, II: The feds have approved powder alcohol drinks. Just add liquid. Teenagers will love it! … CALIFORNIA ADDED 498,000 jobs last year to lead the nation in job creation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Remember that the next time somebody whines about California’s job-killing business environment … CAUSE AND effect?: There’s a gun store next door to a mortuary in Reno … SO MUCH for: Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president by emphasizing freedom and liberty to a group of students who were ordered to attend his speech or be fined …
It’s a good thing University of California President Janet Napolitano isn’t a student at one of the nine campuses she runs in the state, or she might be facing a student tribunal for some abusive speech she uttered recently.
The scene of the crime was a UC regents meeting in Los Angeles, where students were engaging in an exchange of ideas with their masters by shouting down all statements they didn’t agree with and removing their clothes to show that tuition was costing them the shirt off their back (get it?).
After several minutes of this guerilla theater, Napolitano had enough. Not realizing her microphone was on, she turned to regents chair Bruce Varner and said: “Let’s go. We don’t have to listen to this crap.”
If she were a student, Napolitano could well be facing a disciplinary committee for violating a campus speech code out to impose civility on our First Amendment right to discuss the world as it is, replacing offensive language with sanitary euphemisms.
Hateful speech is out while sensitivity to an endless list of racial, ethnic, religious, special needs and special interest groups is in. This culture of hyper-victimization apparently has no bounds, as recent events at UC Irvine show.
The student legislative council voted 6-4 (two abstained) to ban all flags — including the American flag and the state flag of the people who paid for that campus — from the common lobby area of the student offices.
Supporters of the measure argued that flags harbor much cultural significance, and in some instances can elicit negative associations. Flags — and the American flag in particular — have been “flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism” and “they serve as symbols of patriotism or weapons for nationalism.”
Here’s the real clincher: “Freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible, can be interpreted as hate speech.”
Fortunately, there are some adults in the student population. The executive branch of the Associated Students vetoed the measure, and school administrators made it clear they oppose the effort.
This incident reflects a popular narrative that college students are tender flowers that must be protected by elaborate speech codes and trigger warnings, an image that’s difficult to square with the reality that UC students are the winners of a four-year Darwinian struggle to be anointed California’s best and brightest students.
But you never know what dangers can be lurking in the groves of academia, which is why the student government at UC Santa Barbara has urged professors to place cautionary “trigger warnings” on class syllabuses that contain depictions of violence, prejudice, and other realities of the world we live in.
Under this plan, “The Merchant of Venice” might carry the warning “Contains anti-Semitism” while the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” would be labeled as racist. The warning label for “Mein Kampf” would probably be longer than the book.
Trigger warnings are spreading to other aspects of student life at other schools. MIT conducted a student survey to determine the prevalence of sexual assaults on campus, and preceded the questions with a notice that counseling would be available to any student traumatized by the questions.
But that doesn’t mean students have to be sensitive to people — say, law enforcement officers — beyond the campus boundaries. Thus we have black students at UC Berkeley demanding that the chancellor rename the building that houses the Ethnic Studies Department Assata Shakur Hall. Shakur used to be known as Joanne Chesimard, a member of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper. She escaped from prison and resurfaced in Cuba in 1984, where she is still living.
Since Chancellor Nick Dirks didn’t respond to the demand by the deadline set by the students, they declared that “the chancellor has not prioritized the dire needs of black students on this campus.” They were silent on the needs of UC students whose parents are in law enforcement, or whose parents died in the line of duty.
Napolitano apologized for her statement, but that wasn’t enough for some students. The UC Student Association called her remark “a disturbing disconnect with the students she serves” and a slap at free speech. They even suggested she bullied the poor students.
“It takes a lot of courage to speak in public in front of figures of authority, and being vulnerable about concerns,” read a statement from the UC Student Association. “To hear this come from the president of the university makes it even more challenging for students to come forward to share their thoughts with university administration, especially when it is accompanied by an intimidating police presence.”
Sharing thoughts is difficult when student leaders walk out on Napolitano at a meeting they requested to discuss tuition hikes, and when they shout down the regents rather than hear them out.
But these students have been told they are special and raised with a sense of entitlement, so we shouldn’t be shocked when they take us at our word.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays in The Union.
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