By: David Y. (’17)
As Crystal constantly works to improve itself, it has begun to cultivate an environment of political correctness. From the growing presence of the Multicultural Leadership Team to the creation of the VP of Communications in Student Government, our school is rapidly setting the standard for similar schools in the area. I wholeheartedly believe that this trend has been more beneficial than detrimental for our community, but I think it is also necessary to take a step back and acknowledge both sides of the situation, for within every yin there is yang.
Let me be clear that these alone are my opinions and are not intended to offend anyone. I know that I am not as politically correct as I should be and that creates some of the bias within this article––I understand the harm words can do to other people. Admittedly, I don’t align with any of the two major political parties. In fact, I am a radical leftist, cis gendered, straight, white, upper middle class male, so of course my opinion is biased. I believe being able to see the bigger picture and put yourself in another’s shoes is an important skill. The point I want you as the reader to focus on, however, is to not immediately denounce this article without considering my perspective. Read it. Discuss it. Truly think about these issues. That being said, here are my ideas that I have about our school’s cultural shift towards being more PC.
To begin, what does it mean to be politically correct? Merriam-Webster defines being politically correct as, “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.” Dissecting the aforementioned definition, one phrase particularly stands out: “language…which could offend political sensibilities should be eliminated.” This phrase illustrates a toxic way of thinking, demanding that we must limit our vocabulary to certain words that benefit the masses. The limitations imposed by any political correctness inhibit any creative, free flowing ideas we wish to express simply because they are considered offensive. We are not going to improve as community if we don’t address those words head on and accept them.
The University of Chicago, a renowned institution, released a letter to its incoming 2020 freshman earlier this month bluntly saying, “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” (Read the NY Times article here.) I wholeheartedly agree with this stance. I think we should definitely support everyone with different views, but simply being uncomfortable with the ideas someone presents doesn’t give one the right to drown other voices from being heard.
“I feel if you came out as gay in the Crystal community you would be supported more than if you came out as republican.”
Now I think Crystal does a good job of this, but there are very few students with diametrically opposed views at Crystal. Rarely do I talk to students with core conservative values or those who are open about those values in public. I was once walking through the commons and heard someone make an interesting claim (disclaimer: I have no idea who it was). They said, “I feel if you came out as gay in the Crystal community you would be supported more than if you came out as republican.” To be clear, I understand this example has its flaws: being gay isn’t a choice like being republican, and coming out as gay inside and outside of the Crystal community is one of the bravest things a person can do. Regardless, this epitomizes how in actuality, the Crystal community is not as accepting as it claims to be. If Crystal wants to be known as an accepting community, I believe that everyone needs to accept––or at least consider––the alternative viewpoints as well. I find it odd that we’re only truly accepting of certain groups of people. Of course, this might not necessarily be an administrative agenda, because it might just be a culture fostered by the students; but I think it needs to changed. I can live with the fact that we can’t always agree on intellectual issues like paying taxes, fighting ISIS, or Obamacare because these are not always black and white. Quite simply, discussions are commonly mixed up with arguments. Discussions are meant for people with opposing viewpoints to come together and create a better understanding of a core idea. Opposing viewpoints are necessary to have a productive discussion;if everyone has similar viewpoints, progress will be limited because the other point of view is negated. Arguments are where you try and convince the other party to realize your point is the right point. To really understand a subject, discussion must be held, and I don’t believe Crystal has done enough to portray other alternative angles.
Unlike UChicago, I think that Crystal has began to foster the mentality that kids can retreat to school and be safe from the outside world. Crystal has done a poor job of addressing the other viewpoints that exist. Once people leave Crystal and continue their education elsewhere, they are exposed to a plethora of contrasting opinions and don’t always know how to deal with them. This is phenomenon is commonly dubbed as ‘the Crystal Bubble’. Although students often joke about it, the so called “bubble” is quite simply the byproduct of Crystal’s support of a hyper-inclusive, safe community. I often hear stories of my older friends going off to college and how their Crystal community experience was starkly different. In college, people hold radically different views than them and often they’re not used to that. To them, it’s surprising, because they grew up in an environment where everyone was similar and they never experienced people who held values they considered ‘wrong’ and ‘ignorant.’ If I were to say anything remotely supporting Trump, I would immediately be the topic of three different rumors, two new arguments, and at least one person would come up to me and ask me if I truly supported Trump. Or if I said Hillary was crooked, I would receive immediate backlash on how she’s the most qualified politician and the email scandal was profusely overblown and people would immediately consider me a Trump supporter. I admit that I exaggerated that last point but you guys get the gist. I think Crystal should take a play out of University of Chicago’s book and offer more knowledge of other prevalent viewpoints. If you only see one side of the story, do you truly know the full story?
“There was no attempt at constructive dialogue… debate isn’t about promoting an environment of inclusivity and diversity, but about punishing transgressors.”
To give you another example, NYU has an interesting situation. (Read the Washington Post article here.) To sum it up, a professor decided to make an extremely conservative Twitter account to examine the arguments that manifested due to his radical points in an overwhelmingly liberal university. The results are astounding: “There was no attempt at constructive dialogue, offering of rational counter argument or even acknowledgment of the possibility of the existence of a legitimate point of view outside of progressive orthodoxy. It showed that this debate isn’t about promoting an environment of inclusivity and diversity, but about punishing transgressors” (The Washington Post). The professor had an “issue with the implication that [he] personally harmed or betrayed anyone simply by posting a controversial news item.” Interestingly, this story seems to parallel our current situation at Crystal. One cannot voice a controversial point of view in fear of the backlash from other students. Those who were previously oppressed now see it as their divine duty to oppress and suppress those who hold values that contradict theirs. In this sense, the NYU professor and I share a similar opinion: we agree with Donald Trump when he says that political correctness “has transformed our institutions of higher education from ones that fostered spirited debate to a place of extreme censorship.”
Now I thought to myself that this was my own interpretation. Maybe this was my own bias. The words “Maybe you’re making all this up David” came to mind. Thus, I decided to test my thesis and surprise poll two different teachers at this fine institution. I decided I wanted to choose teachers who had been here for a long time––two teachers that can provide outside perspectives. I’ll leave them anonymous.
First, I talked to Teacher A and told them about my article and the stance I was taking. We discussed the topics I had covered (everything previously mentioned in this article). After reading the article and hearing what I had in mind, Teacher A told me of the Senior Slave Sale (which I later discussed with Teacher B), an old tradition that was phased out in the mid 80s. The Senior Slave Sale served the same purpose as the Prom Bucks program: raising money for prom. The “slave” would be sold to the highest bidder and would, as Teacher A put it, “ wait on [their master] and the master could dress them up in silly clothes.” Probably wouldn’t fly in 2016 Crystal. We also talked about the NYU situation and they commented, “Particularly on college campuses the willingness to shut down legitimate representatives of conservative politics is a failing on a part of the academy. Not because I share conservative viewpoints, but because I respect diverse opinions.”
I continued my efforts through the interview of Teacher B. They first asked me from what viewpoint I was going to write the article on, wondering about my bias. Teacher B then gave me an interesting metaphor for his experience teaching in this hypersensitive culture. Teacher B thinks our culture has become one where it is a cardinal sin to make a student uncomfortable. Coming to my own conclusions, I think that teachers themselves are very aware of the Crystal Bubble. I personally believe that in teaching works of literature or history, teachers must be more consciously aware about the language they use in their curriculum compared to Science and Math. Currently, I think the potential of our current curriculum is not being reached because of the social norms and limitations that are put on language.
“Many groups eat together in the cafeteria, but people seem to notice only when the students are black.”
Now I addressed why the Crystal bubble is harmful to our learning as a whole, but I don’t think safe spaces are necessarily bad. I believe that safe spaces that reside over the whole campus are harmful to fostering a protected mindset. I read an article in The Washington Post written by the President of Northwestern and he defended safe spaces. (You can read the article here.) He discussed a few important situations in which safe spaces are necessary. The first example consisted of a few black students sitting together at a table in the cafeteria. A little later, a few white students asked if they could sit next to the black students. Keep in mind, the cafeteria was not at all crowded, and space was readily available. The black students asked why. The white students replied with the reasoning “that [they] wanted to stretch themselves by engaging in the kind of uncomfortable learning the college encourages.” The blacks said no. Now is that really that bad? No. The author, Morton Schapiro, said that “Many groups eat together in the cafeteria, but people seem to notice only when the students are black.” He later goes on to list of the many different groups of people who sit together: “Athletes with athletes, fraternity and sorority members, and accapella groups are just a few groups that tend to sit together.” Why not the black students? The white students didn’t have the right to “unilaterally decide when uncomfortable learning would take place.” Towards the end of his article, Schapiro addresses my final point: “students don’t fully embrace uncomfortable learning unless they are themselves comfortable.” This relates to the Crystal Bubble is because the social culture of Crystal is largely centered around making everyone comfortable all over campus. We are making the whole campus a safe space and when kids hit the real world, they are not prepared to face its difficulties. This is a simply a byproduct of Crystal’s small campus. We do not have the space to have a ‘Hillel house’ or a ‘Catholic House’ or a ‘Black House’ as Schapiro depicts in his article. What are some options to fix this problem? I admit that I don’t have a specific step-by-step plan, but I know that it’s possible.
Anyways, after reading this mammoth of an article, you probably have a lot of things to say. I would love to foster debate in the comment section and raise awareness of this current issue. Hopefully you’ll stay tuned for my next installment in the Hot Take Dave series.