Catherine Durkin Robinson: 20 things social justice warriors should know

Just before Halloween, Yale sent out a message to students, asking that they consider other students’ cultural sensitivities when dressing in costume. Asking grown people to not act like jerks is tedious, but this message seemed appropriate to some students who feel marginalized on Yale’s campus.

An email went out afterward from Erika Christakis, a respected faculty member, basically asking whether, as a community, they aren’t being at all sensitive when it comes to others’ rights to be inappropriate, especially at Halloween. Read that email here.

She makes interesting points. Under the best circumstances, her email would open a discussion and quite possibly a healthy debate. She’s wondering: Are we shutting ourselves off from opportunities to grow, when we ask authority members to ban certain types of speech and activities?

Instead of discussion, her thoughtful suggestions led to a few hundred students protesting and demanding her removal from Yale. When her husband, a respected professor, defended free speech, he was shouted down in a video that soon went viral.

An embarrassing scene.

Another video is circulating of students and professors at the University of Missouri,  a respected school for journalism majors, ganging up on a photographer and denying said photographer freedom of press. The same students who want the right to gather freely in a public space feel very comfortable, with the help of faculty, to squash that right when it comes to others.

To Jerelyn Luther and other Yale students who shouted down that professor, Mizzou students and faculty, and anyone else who believes they alone are the arbiters of what the rest of us should see and hear … I say this:

  1. Not every viewpoint is valid and worthy of expression, yet everyone has a right to air that viewpoint.
  2. Yelling and cursing at the opposition, especially those who have decades of proven track records for tolerance and scholarship, is rude.
  3. Not everything that offends us is bad.
  4.  Sometimes, offensive behavior can encourage dialogue, growth and lead to better understanding. Next time, give that a try.
  5. Free speech extends to the profane.
  6. No doubt you were raised in homes and schools with zero tolerance for bullies, discrimination, harassment and even sometimes just unpleasant behavior. This has led you to believe intolerance for the unpleasant is normal. Appropriate. Unfortunately, your schools and homes have failed you. Now you are in the real world, and lack sufficient skills to deal with what bothers you. You want to eliminate the uncomfortable.
  7. Not OK.
  8. School is not a safe space. School is a place to learn, a place to be challenged, and a place to confront what triggers you and learn how to navigate within and around it.
  9. Good luck with that.
  10. Group mentality is dangerous. Look around. If you all agree with each other, no one is thinking for themselves.
  11. Listening is part of a healthy debate. Understanding is even more vital.
  12. You have done yourself and your position a terrible disservice. The best thing now would be to apologize and learn from it. Hope those videos will not follow you the rest of your lives. It would be terrible if you were, now and forever more, subject to the same intolerance you’ve displayed.
  13. We were all young once. Most of us remember when we espoused ridiculous ideas we’d later reconsider. Be thankful no one had a phone camera back then.
  14. All of us must learn how to take “no” for an answer, without having a meltdown. Loudly. In public.
  15. To contemplate a point of view without taking it as fact is the sign of an educated mind. Socrates said that. Stop talking and consider an idea bigger than yourself. There is a way to disagree without being disagreeable. Cultivating that skill is more valuable in your adult life than your GPA, so get on it. Now.
  16. It’s not OK to make an ass out of yourself, just to prove a point.
  17. When you scream, you lose.
  18. Your dorm building has amenities you’d find in a four-star hotel. You attend one of the most prestigious schools in the world. And you believe you’re oppressed because someone asked you to reason before reacting. Congratulations, you are officially entitled and out of touch.
  19. You have become what you are fighting against.
  20. Learn from this and maybe all is not lost. Maybe.

Catherine Durkin Robinson co-parents twin sons, organizes families for advocacy purposes, writes syndicated columns, mentors kids, runs a few races, and maybe someday will tell you about the time she wore an IRA hat and defended terrorists. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Bill Prescott


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