Campus Hypersensitivity—at Last a Pushback

A campus debate on sexual assault was too much for Emma Hall, a junior at Brown, She had to retreat to a “safe space” because “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.” Exposure to ideas you don’t already have is problematic on the modern PC campus, as Judith Shulevitz explained Sunday in a New York Times article, “In College Hiding from Scary Ideas.” We are in the midst of a flurry of articles on the fear of ideas, the discomfort with disagreement and the infantilization of college students. Some of the articles are appearing in outlets that almost never tell readers about such things, such as the Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In the Chronicle, Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis, discussing a ban on teacher-student sex, objects to campus codes that depict women  as quivering and vulnerable in the face of male  power. She writes: ‘’’what do we expect will become of students, successfully cocooned from uncomfortable feelings, once they leave the sanctuary of academe for the boorish badlands of real life?…The new codes sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing. Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen. If you wanted to produce a pacified, cowering citizenry, this would be the method.”

On the left, both Michelle Goldberg  (the Nation) and Todd Gitlin  (The Tablet) criticized the hypersensitivity movement.  Gitlin wrote, “it’s hard to resist the thought that overwrought charges against the trigger-happy curriculum are outgrowths of fragility, or perceptions of fragility, or of fears of fragility running amok. “

On the FIRE website, Susan Kruth writes: ‘Jeremiah True, a student at Reed College in Portland, has reported that he was banned from his Humanities 110 classroom by Professor Pancho Savery because of statements he made about rape culture that made others in the class uncomfortable. In particular, True said he challenged the controversial statistic that one in five college women are victims of attempted or completed sexual assault.”

An anonymous article on Tumblr drew a lot of attention, arguing that teachers face a risk exposing liberal students to any complication or doubt. The author wrote:

‘Personally, liberal students scare the shit out of me. I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a Facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back….The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip—not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery—and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.”

Discussing several of these articles, Walter Russell Mead wrote on the American Interest site:

“Our classrooms have become more and more like cocoons just as the real world has become harsher.” He said  there is something even worse about this trend toward infantilization than the loss of free speech and liberty on campus: “the catastrophic dumbing down and weakening of a younger generation that is becoming too fragile and precious to exist in the current world—much less to fight the real evils and dangers that are growing.”


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

3 thoughts on “Campus Hypersensitivity—at Last a Pushback

  1. “On the left, both Michelle Goldberg (the Nation) and Todd Gitlin (The Tablet) criticized the hypersensitivity movement.”

    It’s pointless for people to remain on “the left” and “criticize” hypersensitivity. There’s no chance that the left will reclaim itself from the feminists and the social justice warriors. There are decent leftists, but they need to abandon leftism. A friend of mine was driven out of a co-op which he’d founded because of politically incorrect ideas. It was because he, and the rest of the co-op members, are leftists, that the p.c. thought police knew they could succeed.

    1. I should add that my friend is also a Palestine solidarity activist. He surmises that one of the reasons the p.c. left got him fired from his job was because of that. I realize that most contributors to this website will find that hard to believe.

  2. Alas, I view this serious problem differently:

    There are sufficient customers wishing to purchase a cocoon that a sufficient number of suppliers can be induced to offer their services. In short, for too many, college education has become a consumption good. If they pay their own money, I have no problems with that.

    I wish to believe that there still exist colleges where none of the above is mostly true. I hope I am not wrong.

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