As Robby Soave of Reason.com pointed out in a March 22 article, students today come to college with a basic problem. They are scared on ideas that challenge them. Soave gave an illustration of this from a debate between a left-feminist, Jessica Valenti, and a libertarian feminist, Wendy McElroy at Brown Univesity. Apparently some students were so frightened of the libertarian that the administration set up a “safe space” for students who opined that the event would “invalidate people’s experiences” (from Sexual Assault Task Force member Kathryn Byron of Brown). What was so frightening? Well, read the description from the New York Times of the safe space and the debate:
“The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments ‘troubling’ or ‘triggering,’ a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and ‘sexual assault peer educator’ who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. ‘I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,’ Ms. Hall said.” (emphasis added)
Ms. McElroy was merely pointing out that the rape and assault statistics thrown around by the media (and actually contradicted by the Justice Department itself) were vastly overstated, and led to vast over reaction by campus decision makers, that put others in danger of ruining their lives without a shred of evidence. For that inconvenient truth, the Brown people set up what is essentially a kindergarten playroom for “victims.” If I were a woman I would have been insulted that I was treated this way. But after thinking a bit more, I realized that the women (perhaps men too) who went to the room went voluntarily because they felt traumatized by ideas they had not heard before. That is just sad.
Where and how did our young people (since I am now considered old) get this mind-set. It seems obvious they picked it up in their schools or universities in the students’ early career, also from the media, and possibly even to some extent from over-protective parents. I go for schools as first choice. But that is for another day. The fact is, it is there. What can we do about it?
It is not an easy task for the Christian, who believes both that we cannot endorse every idea that comes along and that we do owe some compassion to all people. So I am not comfortable at all with “coddling” by insulating them from uncomfortable ideas. We are about truth and sometimes truth hurts, to use an old saying. But it is necessary if we love others that we not leave them in intellectual darkness. But on the other hand, I do not advocate that we allow any and all ideas to pass as equally true or valid. But on the other hand (if I had another one) I do not advocate insulating students from hearing all those ideas. Our obligation as Christian teachers is to ensure they know them well, but also to be sure we do not leave students in uncertainty as to the truth.
But one thing I cannot imagine is what Brown University did. We do students no favors if we try to keep them from hearing or reading about ideas, or encourage reactions more suited to children when they are exposed. Our society cannot survive without a willingness to face truth and engage in discussion and even debate on ideas. And by the way, this especially includes a willingness to face the truth of the Scriptures over rational autonomy.
Some (David French in National Review for example) have argued that at least a good portion of those we label “fragile” are really “vengeful and malicious.” (NRO, march 24, 2015). He may be correct if he means those behind the movement, but still there thousands of “victims” of its propaganda. But though I oppose such silly attempts to police and stifle speech, I do not believe all speech is “created equal” because I do not believe all ideas are equal. Nevertheless, I will defend the right to express those ideas by those who hold them, hoping they will defend my right to oppose their ideas with other (Biblical) ideas.