Dear Outraged College Student

Dear Outraged College Student:

I just read your op-ed in the student newspaper. I can see from it that you are distressed. A speaker with whom you disagree has been invited to come give a talk at the school you attend. You feel it is an outrage against decency, justice, and diversity that this speaker was invited, and you are angry. Angry with the speaker, for espousing ideas you dislike, but also angry with the people who invited him, because they just might share some of those ideas—at the very least, by inviting him they show that they are insufficiently aware of just how offensive his views are. And you are angry with the people who do not share those awful ideas but who nonetheless are doing nothing to prevent the speaker from coming and speaking. Your college president and the rest of the administration have abandoned you to face ideas with which you disagree, and you feel alone and fearful.

The fact that you’re so angry right now means that my communication probably has little chance of convincing you that what you are doing is the antithesis of what an educated and mature young adult should be doing—or at least trying to do—in a situation like this. You should welcome the opportunity to be exposed to ideas with which you disagree. In interacting with them, you might change your mind, or you might strengthen your own convictions by defending them against others. Instead, you want to safeguard yourself from ever being exposed to such ideas.

There are a number of glaring contradictions in your position.

You claim to want a tolerant world, but you aim to go about creating it through the most rigorous intolerance of much with which you disagree. That’s a considerable logical problem. How do we get to the end of tolerance through the means of intolerance?

You say you believe everyone should endeavor to see things from the perspectives of others—this is the great benefit of diversity—and we should all work to get outside of our own heads in order to see that others have different views that might be just as good as or even better than our own. Yet you denigrate entire groups of people who are not like you—poor whites without college education are a particularly favored target for attack—and you uncritically elevate those who share your specific demographic profile, which is that of an upper-middle class student in an elite institution of higher education. You like to talk about unrecognized privilege, but you are much less adept at using that tool on yourself.

You are certain that the speaker with whom you disagree has written many terrible things. But you are unable to accurately quote him, and you instead rip things he’s written or said out of meaningful context, or you simply take the decontextualized quotes from some secondary source without even troubling to read the person you don’t like. You misconstrue and sometimes completely invert the meaning of his ideas to paint him as a dreadful human being.

You have sat in college classrooms for several years, apparently without having learned that a preliminary and essential requirement for criticism is understanding. This can only be judged a failure, on your part and on the part of those who claim to be your educators. For it is impossible to analyze the merits and demerits of a writer or thinker that one has not even bothered to read or listen to attentively. Your outrage is no substitute for knowing what you’re talking about.

I am well aware that the blame for this failure to have learned these skills is not yours alone. We now have droves of professors who refuse to teach such skills, either because they are themselves unacquainted with them or because they have decided that real education is not about this, but is rather about just the emotional moralizing that you have done in your op-ed. You have, to your own detriment, turned out just as some of your teachers wanted you to turn out.

It is not my intention to hurt your feelings or to ridicule you. I know though that this will be the easiest way for you to understand what’s going on here, especially given that you have been rewarded by negligent professors for choosing emotional reactions and exaggerated claims of psychological harm. You somehow suffer this harm when you are told things you do not want to believe, and you are therefore justified in rejecting reasoned and careful analysis and argument. But it is not so. I’m trying to help you. I’m trying to contribute to the job that those with whom you have taken classes failed so miserably to do. And I’m trying to help you become the kind of person capable of living in an open and politically diverse society, where you will constantly run into ideas you don’t like once you are out of the sheltered world of college.

I bring up these unpleasant truths about your current position for your own good, but also for the good of the rest of us. We need you to become capable of emotionally and intellectually dealing with substantive disagreements about serious matters. Too many people incapable of this will doom our national project. The political experiment that is this country is only sustainable if people can behave themselves in a mature way in the face of disagreement and conflict. You must learn to accept that not everyone is going to agree with you about everything, and that in the face of such disagreement, we have to figure out a way to get along and proceed anyway.

Learn from this. You still have time. We are counting on you.


A Concerned Professor

Image: Yogendra Singh, Public Domain


  • Alexander Riley

    Alexander Riley is professor of sociology at Bucknell University and a senior fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. His writing can be found at All views expressed are his and do not represent the views of his employer.

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7 thoughts on “Dear Outraged College Student

  1. All college students should be treated as adults with the attendant responsibilities, commitments, and community expectations. The following should be part of the admission documents, emphasized at orientation and attached to every course description:

    TRIGGER WARNING: Taking any of our courses and/or reading the following sentences may make you uncomfortable and cause you to think about things in ways that you have previously not considered. One of things this institution will reinforce is that thinking is good and being exposed to different situations, concepts, ideas, cultures, and people is also good. All of this gets less painful with practice and assists in developing you into a well-rounded, educated individual. OOPS: TRIGGER ASSUAGEMENT: “well-rounded” does not refer to physical appearance, it is used with the meaning of “comprehensively developed and well-balanced in a range or variety of aspects”.

  2. Q: “How did this student get to be a co-editor when she/he can’t stomach a discussion?”

    A: Because no one else wanted the job.

    We reap what we sow.

  3. This all started with the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and the Behavioral Intervention Teams created in response to it. The asinine theory of Cognative Aggression.

    Cognative Aggression holds that heretics are inherently dangerous because if permitted to defend their unpopular views, they will inevitably proceede to mass murder.

    It’s a truly asinine belief — but most of the people running higher ed today believe it.

    So should we really be surprised when students do as well — or after 13-16 years of seeing herdtics excluded from their presence, they freak out when one isn’t.

    Heretics are viewed as a threat to public safety — much like in Damvers, not Salem, back in 1692.

  4. How did this student get to be a co-editor when she/he can’t stomach a discussion? Here is a clue, when someone mentions a “potentially harmful speaker” you know they are a fascist, authoritarian in training and they want power to shut other people up because they can’t counter the arguments presented.

    This attitude is the antithesis of a liberal education and Bucknell should be ashamed that anyone there more than a semester has such a totalitarian mindset. When you can’t have a free discussion, liberty won’t last long which seems to be the goal.

    1. No, I think the kid genuinely believes the ‘potentially harmful’ stuff.

      Abandon all concepts of reality and read some of the NABITA stuff — not all of which is public — and remember that student affairs actually believes that stuff.

    2. The objective in becoming a co-editor is not to enhance (or even participate in) discussions. The objective is to get your ticket punched so you will be more appealing to left-wing NGOs. Those internships are not easy to get. Lots of competition.

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