What a mess it has become, the latest college brouhaha over race and free speech. One thing is clear: something is wrong on America’s college campuses.
Yesterday, I suggested that some of the difficulties have resulted from policies that admitted students on the basis of racial preferences. I also suggested that the Obama administration, with its capacity to gin up racial animosity also bore some responsibility.
I only mention these again because so few people seem to think they matter. Among the exceptions is Heather MacDonald, who wrote this:
But Missouri’s political class has embraced the patent delusion that the university is rife with racism. Governor Jay Nixon called on college officials to “ensure the University of Missouri is a place where all students can pursue their dreams in an environment of respect, tolerance and inclusion.” In truth, the only barrier to such pursuit is a student’s own lack of academic preparedness, should he have been admitted under a racial preference.
More typical is this column by Andre Perry, in the Washington Post:
In hostile environments, students of color graduate at lower rates, jeopardizing not only their academic careers but also future success.
We know that students of color are more likely to drop out of schools to which they have been mismatched by affirmative action policies. Perry ought to have taken that into account. And he should have understood that diversity policies and racial preferences cannot dictate who students have as friends and whether or not they get along with each other. To dictate human interaction at that level would require a vast left wing tyranny.
Yale graduate Annie Murphy Paul correctly remarks that minority students, students from America’s inner cities, are not really accepted by other students. They are seen as different from students like her, students who went to prep school and were brought up in affluence.
Paul is correct to say that it’s about a sense of belonging—a sense that many Yale students of color emphatically do not feel.
As an intimate liberal arts college within a large research university, Yale makes an implicit promise to its undergraduates: When you enroll here, you are joining a community. You belong. For many, including me, this promise is amply fulfilled. From the moment I arrived on campus, Yale felt like home. I loved everything about the place—the cracked green leather of the armchair in my gloriously shabby dorm room, the smell of coffee and bacon in Commons at breakfast—and I felt like the place loved me back.
Paul notes how important it is for a social being to belong to a social group:
Research shows that a sense of belonging is essential for learning. We humans are social beings, wired for membership in a group. Mental resources devoted to monitoring one’s environment for cues of rejection, to fending off suspicions that one doesn’t belong, are mental resources that can’t be allocated to understanding and remembering academic content. The critics who have called Yale’s minority students “crybabies” have likely never had to worry about the security of their own group membership, have never had to operate under the cognitive load that a lack of belonging imposes.
Unfortunately, Paul does not seem to understand what it takes to belong to a community. Her Yale education did not teach her that when people socialize they obey a large number of social codes, of customs and mores. They do it unconsciously and involuntarily.
Even before we had diversity officers, students who went to schools like Yale tended to associate more freely with other students who had come from the same or a similar background. It was not a secret. It was simply a normal part of social interaction. Being friends with someone, belonging to their social circle is not a right.
Schools, like all human communities, have social circles. Some you are born into. Some you join. When you belong to a community you follow the same rules and practice the same customs and mores. You have similar speech patterns and verbal inflections. You dress similarly and have had a similar background and experiences.
Human beings are programmed to get along with others who are like them. Is it really a surprise that on many college campuses Asian students get along best with other Asian students? And is it a surprise that there are fewer microaggressions against students who had a higher barrier of entry, who had to have higher SAT scores than anyone else?
When Paul went to Yale, she felt like she was at home. When many students of color go to Yale they feel like they are in a foreign culture. They do not know the rules, do not know the game, and do not know what they should or should not do to belong to the group. They might believe that the gods of multiculturalism will make them accepted into groups that are dissimilar to those they grew up in. They are decidedly unhappy when they discover that this is not the case.
Those who come from backgrounds like Paul’s have no real reason to open their arms to people who do not accept their culture.
Students of color do not seem to understand that you cannot force people to accept you as a member of their community. You might force them to tolerate your presence, but if you want truly to belong, you must learn how to conform. Regrettably, as Paul says, some students of color simply lack the social skills that would signify membership in her community. Even more regrettable is the fact, as I mentioned yesterday, that the stigma imposed by racial preferences is imposed on all students of color, regardless of their background and their SAT scores.
As for white students, some of them might suspect that a student of color has been admitted with hundreds fewer SAT points than a best friend from the old neighborhood. They might feel some resentment, out of loyalty to their friend. This does not justify acting it out by making hostile gestures, but if we are so concerned with the emotions of students of color shouldn’t we also say a word about the feelings of the other students?
Speaking of deficient social skills, a Yale student wrote an op-ed in the Yale Daily News in which she said:
I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.
In response to which Rachel Larrimore tweeted:
Is Yale letting in 8-year-olds?
That is precisely the point. This student rejects the marketplace of ideas. She rejects discussion and debate. She wants to rail against white people. And then she cannot understand why she does not belong.
You can fail to note that many Asian students do not fit in to the more white culture, but do not care. But, you should understand that Asian students have often been raised according to the Confucian principle of propriety. They will not be out there throwing tantrums in the quad.
In Paul’s fictional world people are all the same and should all be accepted equally. But this is patent absurdity. Social groups have rules of behavior; they have codes. These are not the same throughout society.
Students who want to talk about their pain are not going to be very high up on anyone’s desirable friend list. Students who rage against their professors are not going to be on the list either. If they take class time to rant about social injustice other students will think that they have not done the reading and are covering it up by being disruptive.
Social circles run harmoniously or they do not run at all. If you do not play by the rules and if your presence draws everyone’s attention to you then you are not going to become part of the group.
When students go off to college they tend to gravitate toward other students who are just like them. It is human nature to do so. They can more easily read each other’s gestures and will feel more comfortable and connected for having had common experiences. Such is life.
As for safety, it’s a two edged sword. Undoubtedly, the racial slights are real. Students of color-- with the exception of Asian students who apparently do not count as being of color-- seem often to be subjected to derogatory and insulting remarks. This has caused them to feel unsafe. Now they are seeking out safe zones where they can feel protected.
One cannot argue with their experience, but one notes that some of them at the University of Missouri hail from minority communities in St. Louis and Chicago. Question: do they feel safe in those communities? Would you feel safe in those communities?
And then there was Yale undergraduate who let loose with a rant about safe spaces and the like. She got seriously in the face of her college master, Prof. Christakis. She was insolent, arrogant and thoroughly obnoxious. Would you invite her to your next dinner party? Doesn’t her behavior tell you why she is not one of the group?
Reason summarizes her mindless tantrum. She began:
“As your position as master, it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman. You have not done that. By sending out that email, that goes against your position as master. Do you understand that?”
When Christakis replied that he didn’t agree, the student thundered back, “Then why the fuck did you accept the position! Who the fuck hired you?”
Christakis began to say that he had a different view of his role at the college, but the student cut him off, saying:
“Then step down! If that is what you think about being a [inaudible] master, then you should step down. It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here! You are not doing that. You’re going against that.”
If you want to present yourself in a state of fulminating rage you are not going to be accepted into social groups. You will not belong. Admittedly, minority students have more difficulty fitting in. They were not to the manner born. And yet, if they do not make the effort to behave like upstanding members of the community, if they do not try to learn the local customs, if they believe that their role is to disrupt the university, then clearly they will, by their own behavior, be excluding themselves.
But perhaps this student had always in the past behaved with perfect decorum. Her behavior at that moment might have been the exception, not the rule.
I would respond that if she was brimming with rage, the chances are infinitesimally small that she kept it hidden from everyone at all times and in all places. In truth, social cues are very subtle and extremely difficult to control voluntarily. Human organisms are instinctively primed to distinguish friend from foe, often on the basis of seemingly minor cues. If you think that this raging student had kept it all hidden, I would respectfully disagree.