Death by 1,000 Microaggressions
As reported last week by Michael McGrady on The College Fix, “At Pennsylvania State University, no hurt feeling is too small, no slight too inconsequential, no unintentionally biased statement too unimportant.”
McGrady was commenting on a statement made last month to the Penn State community by the university’s president, Eric Barron, titled “No place for hate at Penn State.” The title even rhymed!
Responding to input provided by 14,600 students, Barron noted that “you have spoken clearly about the high value you place on community, respect, integrity and responsibility, as well as excellence and discovery. At the center of all of these is mutual respect for one another.”
These are praiseworthy goals and commendable standards, especially in an age in which demonstrating civility and respect in the midst of our differences seems to be a relic of a mythical past.
So far, so good.
But, as the case often is, the devil is in the details.
President Barron is calling for aggressive action, asking students to report crime (to the police) and to report “an act of hate or intolerance” to the university, with the option of doing so anonymously.
What exactly does this mean?
Lisa Powers, director of Penn State’s strategic communications office, told The College Fix that, “An act of intolerance can be identified as any forms of microaggressions, verbal assaults, and/or racial subjugation.”
This is now an actual category?
What does it include, and how far does it go?
Writing for the National Review, Katherine Timpf explains, “According to a new report released by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, just ‘walking into or sitting in’ a classroom full of white people is a microaggression in itself.”
Writing for Townhall, John Hawkins provides 15 examples “That Show How Radical, Weird And Out of Touch College Campuses Have Become,” including: “College Students Say Remembering 9/11 Is Offensive to Muslims” and “Educators in the Volunteer State are very concerned that students might be offended by the usage of traditional pronouns like she, he, him and hers, according to a document from the University of Tennessee.”
To be sure, Powers also stated that, “Penn State stands firmly behind free speech and free expression, even in those instances when the views being expressed are disturbing or insulting, or the actions hurtful. The First Amendment doesn’t just apply to those who express ideas with which we agree. It also applies to those whose ideas we may find challenging, repugnant or even appalling. By providing an outlet for individuals to report bias they have seen or experienced, we are giving them an equal right to express their thoughts and feelings on the matter.”
But surely this is not just a matter of giving students the opportunity to vent (as described by Powers, it is a catharsis of sorts).
Would Penn State students take the time to fill out a form or send an email or make a phone call if they knew that nothing would be done? Would they find that notion cathartic? And if the president of the university states plainly that there is “no place for hate” at his school, you better believe this is meant to have some teeth.
Perhaps advocating biblical standards of living will be branded “hate speech,” as has already happened in countless settings across the country?
Perhaps expressing disagreement with same-sex “marriage” will be branded an “act of intolerance”?
And what happens to those against whom a complaint has been lodged, especially anonymously? How do you defend yourself if the aggrieved party perceived your comments (or your attitude, or your actions, or your facial expression or your body language) to be hurtful?
The president’s statement advised those who “feel they are threatened” to“contact Penn State’s LGBTQA Student Resource Center; the Office of Student Conduct; the Multicultural Resource Center or the Affirmative Action Office.”
This suggests, then, that special attention will be given to those who identify as LGBTQA (for those who are only familiar with LGBT, Q stands for Queer, although in some cases it stands for Questioning, while A stands for Asexual, as in having no sexual identification, although it can also stand for Ally).
Judging by what we have seen in countries like England, where street preachers have been arrested because a gay person felt threatened or uncomfortable by their message — although no laws were broken and nothing hateful or attacking was uttered by the preacher — things do not look good for free speech and tolerance at Penn State.
The same can be said for many other universities, including the Naval Academy, where a Navy secretary has called for the removal of “man” or “men” from “midshipman” (or, “midshipmen”) in order “to demonstrate through this language that women are included in these positions.”
While some might call this progress — after all, yelling, “Go Midshippeople” at a football game has a certain ring to it — I call it death by 1,000 microagressions. And it will be a slow and painful death unless we regain our sanity in a hurry.
America’s future cannot be much brighter than her campuses.