Harmless College Jokes Punished at Mandatory Civility Seminar

At a Virginia college, inspirational slogans were recently posted in a residence hall to buoy the spirits of students cramming for exams. Resisting the inspiration, some students posted satirical  responses. “You are what you think you are, aim high!” drew the reply “You appear to be suffering from delusions of adequacy.” Another encouraging slogan, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” drew the non-inspirational answer, “Yeah, but you miss 99% of the ones you do.”

Harmless, right?  No! A residential life officer was not amused and sent this message to all residents: “This is not a joke…. This is not ok. Our community is meant to be one of encouragement and acceptance and the posting of materials against this goes directly against what we are called to stand for. This is home, no one should be insulted or fear insults within the domain of their own house, apartment or residence hall. If you feel attacked by any of these notes, please know that I am here to listen and support you.”

The RA asked students to inform on the irreverent counter-posters, and scheduled a dorm-wide meeting, with attendance mandatory, to discuss “civility.” Underlining the gravity of the allegedly humorous prank, the RA continued: “I would like to remind you of the power of words. You do not know the affect your words may have on someone else. Words that mean nothing to you may trigger an emotional response to someone, you do not know everyone’s backstory. Because of this, I encourage each of you to think carefully before you speak.

“Tensions are high due to elections, and exams are around the corner; we all need to be at our peak performance to succeed. Take care of each other, don’t say anything that can hurt someone, regardless of whether you think it is funny. A person finding offense at your joke or statement is not their fault, it is not a result of them needing to change or of them being weak. The change needs to happen in your words.”

The mandatory civility session was set for “after the break,” apparently a reference to the Thanksgiving break, though the RA seems to have avoided the term as too religious. The student who sent all this information said the dorm was ready to organize a “secret Santa” gift-giving, but would call it a “secret snowflake“ instead since “Santa” seems to evoke the overly religious term, ”Christmas.”


  • 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.

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4 thoughts on “Harmless College Jokes Punished at Mandatory Civility Seminar

  1. RA: “I would like to remind you of the power of words. … Because of this, I encourage each of you to think carefully before you speak.”

    Shorter form: Anything you say may cause discomfort to someone, somewhere.

    Shortest form: Shut up, unless you have official protection such as I have.

    Totalitarians are concrete, with no nuance or humor. They are baffled and angry at any non-compliant response. They do not see why their earnest application of power should be considered funny.

  2. As Chris Rock & Jerry Seinfeld have already told us — Comedy is Dead on America’s college campuses.

    A moment of silence, please.

    Of course humor’s whimpering demise was obvious & inevitable as soon as Seriously Self-Righteous Dolts began saying Seriously Idiotic Things like, “Our community is meant to be one of encouragement and acceptance.” That this was not met with loud guffaws and farting noises is clearly evidence that the end was near.

    Sadly, without humor there is no sense of perspective, no counter balance to blatant stupidity. And without perspective, without balance, there can be no education, no growth, no learning or understanding.

    When we insist, “Our community is meant to be one of encouragement and acceptance” such nonsense should be immediately greeted with a loud & resounding NO — IT’S NOT. The Stepford Campus of smiling uniformity thus advocated is not a ‘community’, it is an asylum….it is tyranny….it is oppression: a hollow place, empty of all humanity.

    Certainly & absolutely the College Community is meant to be a place of free expression….but when you freely express an idiocy, you will freely be taken to task (with both satire and pointed attack). You are free to defend your inanity, of course, to the very best of your abilities. [As the Demotivator Poster proclaims: “BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!!! Because the rest of us think you’re an idiot!” https://despair.com/collections/demotivators/stupidity%5D… but you are also free to be laughed right out of the house.

    Jonathan Rauch, in his 1993 book, Kindly Inquisitors, spoke to this very point: “Knowledge does not come free to any of us; we have to suffer for it. .. Sometimes we feel we are treated rudely, even viciously. As others prod and test and criticize our ideas, we feel angry, hurt, embarrassed. We would all like to think that knowledge could be separated from hurt…. But what we would like to think is not so; the only such distinction is in the eye of the beholder… A no-offense society is a no-knowledge society.”

    Sadly this Virginia College of Pleasantville seems well on its way to “no-knowledge” nirvana. Mandatory Civility Sessions for Everyone!!

  3. This whole nonsense at colleges today started when some junior assistant dean somewhere gave a student mouse a cookie, not having read Numeroff & Bond’s immortal work.

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