Who Made Our College Students into Ideological Monsters?

During my fifty years teaching anthropology at McGill University, my impression of undergraduate students was of reasonable young people, many of whom were seriously engaged in learning about the world and its peoples. Graduate students were fiercely focused on gaining professional status, were more ideologically militant than undergraduates, and were consistently on the wrong side of every political issue, for reasons I will discuss below.

The rapidly increasing intellectual corruption in academia was brought home to me by the senior undergraduate anthropology students taking my seminar on immigration and culture. Among the eighteen registered students, all females, half were academically strong, and several were both very bright and impressively creative. But they stunned me with their various ideological proclamations, particularly their claim that we have a “rape culture.”

Please keep in mind that “culture” has been a central concept in anthropology for over a century. Definitions range from E. B. Tyler’s 1871 broad definition of culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society,” to Clifford Geertz’s narrower definition of culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.”

Culture is important because, as Geertz puts it in The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man, “we become individual under the guidance of cultural patterns, historically created systems of meaning in terms of which we give form, order, point, and direction to our lives.” As both Ruth Benedict in Patterns of Culture and Clifford Geertz in The Interpretation of Cultures emphasize, there is no general human culture, just many individual cultures, each historically and geographically distinct. And as Emile Durkheim explained in The Division of Labor in Society, each society has its own form of social control that protects its culture with rewards for conformity and punishment for deviation and violation.

How can we find out what a particular culture is? By answering these questions: What do mothers and fathers teach their children? What are children taught in schools? What ideas are encouraged and what discouraged, and what behaviors are encouraged and what discouraged? What acts are rewarded, and what acts are punished? Answering these questions would give a good start to understanding the nature of a particular culture.

Let us apply these questions to the claim that we North Americans live in a “rape culture.” Do mothers teach their sons that it is okay to rape? (When my son reached adolescence, I repeatedly stressed to him the necessity of being respectful of girls, and never, never to force a girl to do anything that she did not agree to.) Do fathers tell their daughters it is okay to be raped? Do teachers teach their students how to rape? Are rapists celebrated and rewarded, or are they condemned and punished? Rape is a serious crime, for which those convicted do serious time. We do not have a rape culture; we have an anti-rape culture.

But there are rapes. How many, we do not know. Tendentious claims by feminists notwithstanding, rape is rare—according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, there are 2.7 cases per 1000, i.e., per thousand, in the U.S. population in 2018, and campuses are safer than society generally. Rape is one of the many things condemned by North American culture that nonetheless happen, including murder, drug overdoses, car accidents, airplane accidents, illiteracy, and surgical mistakes. Our culture condemns all of these and has put procedures in place to reduce them. Human weakness and error are to blame, not our culture. Our culture is divided on other questions, such as abortion, suicide, and riots (depending on which party commits them).

How did my otherwise good anthropology students get the idea that we have a “rape culture,” even though it is contrary to their disciplinary training as anthropologists? The answer is that feminist professors have dismissed scholarly restraints in order to pursue a political victory over “the patriarchy,” i.e., all males. The vilification of “toxic” males—“the future is female”—is both a political strategy and a prediction about the future of universities and society generally as long as feminists are successful at maintaining and expanding the special preferences and the wide range of special benefits for females that universities have given. But there is more to the “rape culture” claim than vilifying men. Imbuing fear of men in females drives them into the welcoming circle of protective feminists, thus reproducing female solidarity and the anti-male ideology.

The feminist adoption of neo-Marxist identity class conflict theory, in which “patriarchal” males oppress helpless female victims, paved the way for the gay rights movement, the transgender movement, and the racial movement framing the white majority (plus “adjacent whites” such as Jews and Asians) as villainous oppressors of “racialized,” “marginalized,” and “underserved” minorities of color. The identity politics advocated by the “woke” radical professors and administrators grants the “racialized, marginalized, and underserved minorities of color” special preferences for admission, financial support, and hiring, and grants racial segregation in housing, eating facilities, and ceremonies. Racial segregation is the new wokeness.

The tendency toward ideological extremism is seen particularly among graduate students, professors, and administrators who are competing with one another for recognition and status. Innovating and strengthening woke ideology, each trying to outdo the other, is a strategy for claiming status. As formulations become more radical, so punishment of rivals for failing to follow becomes more severe. This cultural dynamic guarantees ever more extreme ideological formulations.

Examples of student ideological monstrousness are legion. Let us being with the infamous Oberlin College debacle. In 2016, a black, underaged Oberlin student shoplifted two bottles of wine from a local store, Gibson’s Bakery. He was pursued out of the store by the store owner, who was set upon by the shoplifter and two female students, was knocked to the ground, and sustained minor injuries. The next day, hundreds of students and some faculty members gathered across the street from the store to demonstrate against Gibson’s, charging it as—surprise!—racist. The Oberlin student Senate passed a resolution stating that the Bakery “has a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment of students and residents alike.” The resolution also demanded that students “immediately cease all support, financial and otherwise, of Gibson’s.”

The Oberlin administration, which prides itself on being “progressive,” suspended its purchase agreement for its food service with Gibson’s. The Administration stated that the fault for all of the fuss was Gibson’s: “Gibson bakery’s [sic] archaic chase-and-detain policy regarding suspected shoplifters was the catalyst for the protests … The guilt or innocence of the students is irrelevant to both the root cause of the protests and this litigation.” In other words, according to the Oberlin Administration, shoplifting while black is an innocent event and must not be punished. Oberlin College, in Ohio, has apparently adopted San Francisco’s policy of legalizing shoplifting, at least by black students.

Gibson’s sued Oberlin for defamation and interference with business. In 2019, the jury awarded Gibson’s forty-three million dollars ($43,000,000) in damages. In response, the Oberlin Administration, ever ready to defend its progressive stance, stated “Colleges cannot be held liable for the independent actions of their students. Institutions of higher education are obligated to protect freedom of speech on their campuses and respect their students’ decision to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights.” Oberlin thus defends Constitutional rights, like shoplifting while black and accusing anyone who you disagree with of being a racist.

Smith College in Massachusetts was apparently jealous of all the good publicity that Oberlin enjoyed and decided to follow suit. Here is a summary of the events that I have reported previously. A detailed and balanced New York Times account of the incident begins this way:

In midsummer of 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a Black student at Smith College, recounted a distressing American tale: She was eating lunch in a dorm lounge when a janitor and a campus police officer walked over and asked her what she was doing there. The officer, who could have been carrying a “lethal weapon,” left her near “meltdown,” Ms. Kanoute wrote on Facebook, saying that this encounter continued a yearlong pattern of harassment at Smith. “All I did was be Black,” Ms. Kanoute wrote. “It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color.”

The American Civil Liberties Union helpfully chimed in, claiming that student Kanoute was racially profiled for “eating while black.” Other students came to Kanoute’s aid: “Students walked out of autumn convocation in solidarity with Ms. Kanoute. The Black Student Association wrote to the president saying they ‘do not feel heard or understood. We feel betrayed and tokenized.’”

What appears to have happened is this: Student Kanoute, working on campus during the summer, entered a closed building, which no one was authorized to enter, to eat her lunch. A janitor, seeing someone in a closed building, followed procedure and called the campus police. The unarmed campus policeman politely inquired of the student what she was doing there. The law firm hired by Smith College to investigate this incident found “no persuasive evidence of bias.”

Smith College’s administration refused to let evidence destroy their narrative and so responded as do most college and university administrations and caved to the false claims of racism. Smith’s president“said the report validated Ms. Kanoute’s lived experience, notably the fear she felt at the sight of the police officer. ‘I suspect many of you will conclude, as did I,’ she wrote, ‘it is impossible to rule out the potential role of implicit racial bias.’”

Smith College officials emphasized “reconciliation and healing” after the incident. In the months to come they announced a raft of anti-bias training for all staff, a revamped and more sensitive campus police force and the creation of dormitories — as demanded by Ms. Kanoute and her A.C.L.U. lawyer — set aside for Black students and other students of color.

Apparently, racial segregation is the new tool of anti-racism!

The true victims of this incident, along with Smith College’s integrity and the truth, were the college’s working-class employees. A cafeteria worker, who had worked at Smith for 35 years and who mentioned to student Kenoute that only children from the summer camp were supposed to use the cafeteria, but allowed her to take her lunch, was accused by Kenoute of being a “racist person,” and was moved by the Smith administration away from the dormitory where she had worked for decades. The janitor, also a 35-year employee of Smith, who followed security protocols, was put on leave for several weeks; another janitor, who was not working at the time of the incident, was publicly accused by student Kenoute of “racist cowardly acts.” The campus security officer was accused of “implicit bias.” These employees, who had been thrown under the bus by the Smith administration, also experienced the distress of repeated accusations of racism.

Student Kenoute’s false accusations were validated by the Smith administration, and she suffered no punishment for her abuse of long-standing employees. Rather, she was celebrated and feted for her “victimhood.” The lesson appears to be that black people can make false accusations of racism with impunity, and that injuries to innocent parties go unpunished. And that privileged black students at elite colleges and universities can lynch white working-class employees at will.

The Oberlin-Smith model has three steps: First, a student does something wrong. Second, the student plays the race card. Third, administration victimizes white people in the vicinity. Clearly, students have learned that administrations have their backs, whatever the students do. Under the guise of “social justice,” pampered and privileged members of “marginalized minorities” are allowed free reign. For college and university administrations, no amount of anti-white race baiting is sufficient, and no amount of white working-class employee or civilian victimization is sufficient to satisfy the need for woke virtue signaling.

Then there is the cancellation model beloved by social justice warriors. It works this way: If anyone has an opinion with which students disagree, students designate that as “hate speech” and “violence” which must be suppressed. The author of the opinion is blocked from speaking and fired from his job. His books are burnt and his social media accounts are closed. He’s otherwise tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. This is mob rule, but, hey, it’s for “a good cause”. There is a myriad of cases like this, each one stupider than the other.

A recent example is the wisdom of Harvard Law School students and alumni, America’s elite in the legal profession, destined to become judges and legislators. They have demanded, through petition to Harvard, that Harvard boycott any employees or supporters of the Trump administration, and not hire them or allow them to affiliate. Never mind that the Trump administration was democratically elected, and that (most of) its employees fulfilled their duties to serve the country. But for Harvard Law School students and graduates, being elected gives no right to enact policies with which they disagree. No, anyone who disagrees with Harvard Law students and graduates must be canceled. Apparently, the latest fashion at Harvard is fascism.

Woke poison has spread across the oceans. Agence France-Presse reports on French Government condemnation of a student campaign against two professors at the Institute of Political Studies at Grenoble, run by Sciences Po University. The professors were accused of “Islamophobia” and fascism, putting up posters saying “Fascists in our halls. Islamophobia kills.” With memories of high school teacher Samuel Paty decapitated by a disgruntled Muslim student for showing the Mohammad cartoons still fresh in the public mind, these accusations were not taken lightly, but seen as potential threats. The professors are under police protection, and the students are facing a criminal complaint laid by Sciences Po. French university administrations appear to have more backbone than those in America.

In an article about politics of tribes and premodern states, I stated that “the Middle East is a place where doing harm and being cruel to others is regarded as a virtue and a duty.” This characterization should not be a surprise, given that we are describing tribal warriors defending their homes and livelihoods, and expansionary states seeking wealth and slaves. Some McGill students took exception to this sentence. They did not, in an academic spirit, challenge its accuracy, or offer counter argument and evidence. They also criticized a number of my articles, misrepresenting the theses and conclusions of those pieces. The students could have expressed their disagreement with the articles in the comments sections of the sites that published them, notably Minding the Campus and PJ Media. But instead, they denounced the Middle East article as “racist” and “Islamophobic,” although neither race nor Islam was mentioned in the article.

Fully eight student groups—The Students’ Society of McGill University Executive Team, The Anthropology Students Association, The Anthropology Graduate Students Association, World Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies Association, Black Students Network, Muslim Students Association, Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, Thaqalayn Muslim Association—signed an open letter denouncing my work. I wonder how many of these students read the article in question, or any of the other allegedly offending articles? And how many knew anything whatever about the Middle East, or any of the other topics?

The students felt that they did not need to counter my arguments, because it was sufficient to claim that the article made them feel “unsafe.” Of course, if the parents of those of Middle Eastern ancestry had not brought them to North America, they would probably have real reasons to feel “unsafe.” So the point was not to refute my arguments, but to punish me for making them. Thus, they maliciously demanded that McGill revoke my Emeritus status, a status that I had earned through fifty years of institutional service and scholarly contribution. McGill declined, Provost Manfredi stating that

I affirm McGill’s staunch commitment to academic freedom. The pursuit and testing of ideas – even those that are unpopular or unorthodox – must be permitted without hindrance on a campus. Hence, no single idea, argument, word, or work is “prohibited” at McGill; too many historical and contemporary examples have shown the danger of institutional censure.

McGill has been exceptional among colleges and universities in not only stating support for academic freedom abstractly, but also doing so in the face of student attempts to destroy it.

In the cases so far mentioned, leaving aside the feminist cancellation of the male half of the population, a small number of individuals were attacked, and, except for Samuel Paty, suffered painful but not life-destroying attacks. Far more serious are the student frontal assaults on America and Canada, Western Civilization, and the white people who make up the supermajorities in the two societies. Students mobilized against the teaching of Western Civilization in universities, because why would you need knowledge of what you plan to destroy? It should be no surprise that students have learned to be anti-American, anti-Canadian, and anti-Western, because that is what they have been taught by their Marxist, critical-theory-steeped, postcolonial professors.

Having learned all of the negative spins on Western culture and history, what North American university students are not taught is anything about the Chinese Empire, the Arab Islamic Empire, the Mogul Empire, the Mongol Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Empire, the Nazi Empire, the Communist Chinese Empire, among many others.

Woke students have expressed their disdain for America and Canada by rioting, destroying historical statues, municipal and federal buildings, and vehicles, assaulting police, looting, burning, attempting murder, and occasionally successfully murdering. But the destruction by woke students and their intellectual guides goes beyond attempting to destroy society—they are systematically attempting to cancel Western culture. Feminist professors reject cultural products by “dead white men,” while identity conflict neo-Marxists reject the cultural work of whites in their entirety. Even Shakespeare has come under attack, with students as the storm troopers.

University professors and administrators are supposed to be the adults in the room. But all too often, they are more like adolescents trying to shock their parents. Their message seems to be to side against the majority, and side with the favored minorities. It would be funny, if it were not so dangerous and spreading like the plague throughout society, undermining not only the entire educational system, but also industry, the military, the press, the government, and most importantly, our identity-independent individuality. Identity politics and “social justice” ideology have corrupted our universities, and the universities have corrupted the students they were supposed to educate.

Image: RODNAE Productions, Public Domain


  • Philip Carl Salzman

    Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and Past President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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9 thoughts on “Who Made Our College Students into Ideological Monsters?

  1. The author’s statement “feminist professors have dismissed scholarly restraints…” is a euphemism. The truth is feminist professors have abandoned scholarly standards. Women’s studies, black studies, gender studies–indeed, all so-called social sciences degree programs—have no objective standards. In STEM fields phenomena observed in nature is (with a few exceptions) objectively investigated and analyzed and then applied to benefit society. The grievance and social science fields treat everything subjectively. They make something up and then cherry pick data to support it. They are strictly agenda driven and produce graduates unable to find productive, lucrative careers. But a day of reckoning is coming. This virus has changed college forever. Enrolments are down. Excessive student loan debt has deterred many from wanting to attend colleges. Federal debt is going to decrease federal funding. The gravy days are coming to an end. And the first to go will be departments that produce those worthless degrees.

  2. The commie democrats and the teachers union have destroyed the education system in America ! Its all propaganda to promote communism in America. Kill or imprison all communists in America !

  3. ” … learned to be anti-Western, because that is what they have been taught by their Marxist, critical-theory-steeped, postcolonial professors.” Who majors in this junk is not qualified for a real job in the market place. These are destroyers, savages, not makers or contributors.

  4. Respectfully, this is nothing new. They’ve been ideological monsters, licensed to do anything they damn near please, for the last thirty years — if not longer. (Arguably the lawlessness started when the guns went into Cornell.)

    Back in 1993, the woke mob at the University of New Hampshire got a professor (and part time minister) fired — see: https://www.cir-usa.org/cases/silva-v-university-of-new-hampshire-et-al/ Three years later the ideological monsters at UMass perpetrated the week long Goodell Trespass, in the process destroying every piece of furniture in the building — in a manner too disgusting to mention. They not only got away with this but the UMass administration treated them as campus heroes for their actions.

    What particularly irked me was UMass using my student fee money to buy pizza for these little monsters when I couldn’t even afford to buy all my textbooks, let lone pizza for myself.

    Three years after this, the university would essentially be shut down by a series of fabricated rape hoaxes — a manufactured hysteria over a “Campus Pond Rapist” who had never existed. The only person punished for this was a police lieutenant who had figured out that these were all hoaxes and went to tell that to his Chief.

    And then there was the Jason Vassell matter. In the predawn hours of February 3, 2008, there was an altercation between Vassel, a Black male student, and two White male non-students who were there to visit a female student who was living in the dorm. All three men were from the same “Blue Hill Avenue” neighborhood in the Boston/Milton area — and all three were highly intoxicated.

    As often happens at such an hour with intoxicated young men, disagreements escalate and at one point Vassell leaves the security of his dorm room, armed with a clothes iron and wearing a ski mask, exiting through three locked doors to confront the other two men. Vassell then returns to his dorm room to get a knife — returning to repeatedly stab the two men, nearly killing both. All of this was recorded by campus security cameras, from two different angles. I’ve personally seen the pictures — Vassel lunges across the lobby and stabs the two men standing on the far side of it, there’s no question of his guilt.

    Not surprisingly, the state charges him with attempted murder and the woke monsters essentially threaten to burn the county seat flat if the Commonwealth dares to bring the case to trial — so charges are dropped.

    And that was a dozen years ago, and all of these examples are publicly documented — I know of a *lot* more which weren’t. People’s lives were destroyed — lots of people’s lives — and some people died. Academia has been like this for at least the past thirty years, it’s just that it has become more visible now.

  5. What’s not said about the Oberlin College incident is that the shoplifter was a minor and had stolen alcoholic beverages. This put Gibson’s liquor license in imminent jeopardy because they had thus provided alcohol to an underaged person and states tend to enforce these laws quite stringently in college towns.

    What’s also not widely known is that alcohol is a high-markup and hence high profit item. Most restaurants make most of their money on selling alcohol — so much so that when the liquor license is lost, a restaurant will almost inevitably close. And in addition to loss of license, there are also not-insignificant fines.

    If Gibson’s cashier had merely smashed the bottles of wine in the street, Gibsons would have been OK — it wasn’t the value of the stolen items as much as the consequences of permitting an underaged person to possess alcohol which they had “provided” to him.

    What I find truly amazing is that no one in the Oberlin Administration understood that this wasn’t just a case of shoplifting — or that they were so ideological that the anti-drinking zealots that every college now has were silenced. (My guess is the latter.)

  6. At the core of this aspect of our problem is the belief that all of the “ills” of the world are the result of culture, not human nature, and that humanity, set free of the contamination of western civ, would prosper. This is not to argue that the contrary view popular among the religious right is correct, that there is some set of cultural values that would provide happiness and harmony.

    There will be no peace found in the “victory” of either side.

    The truth is that the tension between chaos and order is permanent in civilization. It provides the energy that drives cultural evolution, but population levels and limits to growth are driving us to a genuine crisis (in the literal “dictionary” sense). There is no way around the crisis and no way back. We can only go through. There will be no shortage of casualties.

    1. I like your statements. To add, yes, it’s often the ongoing balancing act between opposing sides that not only perpetually exists, but that often leads us to the best possible outcome that we can even hope for humanity; balance and open dialogue between differing views. Everyone is unique so no ideology or way of living will make everyone happy. However, in episodes where one ideology predominantly triumphs, or the fighting sides grow too violent against one another, we get into downfalls of relative-utopias like Venezuela, or become ‘peaceful protest-cultures’ (used ironically here to insinuate tribalism). I’m sad to say that America had a great run on the high wire, but it will fall like every empire (likely leaning left as is the dominant trend), and recovery will be slower than ever given our growing population and horse-blinder technology/communication problems. But who knows, maybe in 300 years we’ll see similar arguments condemning reparations to whites because their ancestors had been systemically barred from universities in preference to their minority superiors (we can only laugh these things off with irony when life’s too short to fix the real problem; people being people). Also a thank you to the author of this piece for giving us great thought material.

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