Political correctness sprang from a noble desire to avoid offending women, minorities and other typically marginalized groups through language. Sexist, racist and other pejorative terms referencing minorities from homosexuals to the handicapped were frowned upon, first in academic circles and gradually within the general population.
Unfortunately, what began as a laudable initiative has gone too far. Merely uttering the wrong word in classroom discourse can spark protests and the loss of a professor’s job or tenure. Offending a well-connected student with an online platform to vent their offense can mobilize vast segments of the liberal blogosphere against a hapless teacher, school newspaper, or administration. Entire websites have sprung up explaining the rainbow of politically correct terms for slivers of gender identity that didn’t even exist ten years ago. Internet commenters engage in episodes of “oppression olympics,” trading barbs about the other’s privilege - he grew up black and rich, while she was white and poor and also a queer woman, so who has it worse? Great works of literature with potentially distressing themes - rape, for example, or slavery - now are written into lesson plans encased in “trigger warnings,” lest students respond emotionally to the material in a way they find distressing (a process that might once have been called “making them think”).
When did the emotional maturity of a five-year-old scared of monsters under the bed become a prerequisite for college admission? Like the parents of the child in kindergarten with a peanut allergy, the hyper-politically-correct have come out to demand “safe spaces” on college campuses where students can avoid any potentially hurtful terms, discrimination, or the nebulous “micro aggressions,” these difficult-to-define encounters which seem innocent on the surface but theoretically build up to cause great psychological harm in those on the receiving end, perpetuating discriminatory structures and creating an atmosphere of oppression on campus.
The proponents of “safe spaces” who decry the rampant micro aggressions of the typical college environment are looking to create padded rooms for the next generation, bubbles in which students’ ideas, preconceived notions and identities cannot be challenged - with the result that they will are in suspended animation, incapable of growing and learning as people. Universities are traditionally places to argue over ideas, and arguments require confrontation. Terming any such confrontations “micro aggressions” defangs the intellectual battlefield in the name of emotional well-being. Moreover, the vicious backlash against anyone accused of impinging on these “safe spaces” is hardly tolerant or considerate of THEIR emotional well-being. The micro aggression police are nothing if not hypocritical.
How well, psychologically and emotionally, will these students be when they graduate and are thrust into the real world, replete as it is not only with legions of “micro aggressions” but also REAL racism, sexism, “able-ism” and other forms of discrimination? The safe-space bubble cannot protect them outside the rarified university environment, while those years they should have spent shoring up their identities and gaining confidence in themselves and their ideas were instead spent being coddled by administrations treating the students more like a glass menagerie than a human zoo. Unsurprisingly, rates of depression and anxiety have been on the rise in recent years - a 2014 survey by the American College Health Association notes a 5% increase in just one year of students reporting they had “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the last 12 months, and the same organization cited a survey of campus mental health directors reporting an increase in students displaying “severe psychological problems.” So much for psychological and emotional well-being.
For a culture that trumpets free speech as one of its defining values, we are systematically dismantling it in the name of political correctness, and this has to stop where it began - in the universities.