Speech Codes Catering to Ever So Sensitive Children

Given all the cases that FIRE has handled over the years that
display the same mistake committed by university administrators over and over
again, one has to wonder how FIRE staff can avoid a permanent state of
exasperation.  How many times do they have to say “You cannot base speech
policies on the response of hypersensitive children” before campus life,
diversity, and disciplinary officials stop doing it?

Just last week FIRE got another illiberal regulation struck
down.  Here is the
press release from FIRE describing how N. C. State revised its “civility” policies
so that they would not conflict with First Amendment rights and basic moral
norms. FIRE’s statement includes a link
to N.C. State’s “Civility Statement” which caused FIRE to act in the first
place.  It only takes a moment for any reasonable individual to realize
the problems with the policy.  It is short enough to be reproduced in full:

Living on
campus provides unique experiences for students to interact with others from diverse
groups and backgrounds. Residents engage in interactions that promote learning
and appreciation of each other’s individuality. The privilege of living on
campus comes with responsibilities for personal behaviors regarding others in
the community.

In order
to create a positive living and learning environment, campus residents must be
civil with each other. Residents are expected to understand the impact of their
individual actions on the community and change any behavior that does not
support our community expectations, stated below.

As a
member of our residential community, students will:

Speak to each
other in a civil manner.

Recognize how
their actions and language impact the community.

Treat community
members with consideration and respect.

Refrain from
displaying items that are disrespectful and hurtful to others.

Refrain from
utilizing technology in a way that is disrespectful and hurtful to others.

Create a
community in which actions of bigotry, oppression and hatred will not be

Confront behavior or report to staff incidents of incivility and intolerance. 

Of course, how  much common sense and grown-up experience
does it take to discern the coercions of “Refrain from displaying items that
are disrespectful and  hurtful to others”; to see the soft paranoia latent
in “Recognize how their actions and  language impact the community”; and
the tattletale mentality of Confront behavior or report to staff incidents of
incivility and intolerance”?  The measure of guilt here is others’
“hurt”–an incitement for 19-year-olds to take ordinary social frictions as
cause for complaint, an effort to control the messy motives of human beings no
matter how trivial, an expression of socio-political anxieties and resentments
that don’t belong in an academic setting.

When is this infantile nonsense going to stop?



  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

One thought on “Speech Codes Catering to Ever So Sensitive Children”

  1. Just a stab in the dark here, but I’d guess that if someone has a “Free Palestine” sweatshirt showing “Palestine” as the entire former British mandate, a Jewish student’s objection regarding items “hurtful to others” would not get very far.

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