A Student Newspaper Fights 'The Coddling of the Middlebury Mind'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

In the midst of the controversy at Wesleyan, the student newspaper at Middlebury College has published a heartening editorial inspired by last month’s cover story on college students seeking protection from words and ideas they don’t like.

The newspaper asserts the importance of preparing students to be resilient. “This requires the ability to engage with points of view that we disagree with, especially those that offend us or make us uncomfortable,” it declares. “The world-at-large is not Middlebury, and we fear we are leaving here unprepared for the ‘unsafe spaces’ that await us.”

Some of the context for that fear:

[I]n 2012, Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science Murray Dry was vilified for taking a legalistic view of affirmative action at a panel designed to showcase a diversity of opinions. A year later, the campus was in uproar over a lecture by University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Amy Wax, some students even opting to hold up signs reading “racist.” Similarly, some felt that Middlebury’s invitation to Harvey Mansfield last year was an implicit endorsement of his social views, even claiming he invoked feelings of fear. And when Chance the Rapper came to perform, we asked him to censor his most controversial lyrics, and then demanded a forum to debrief how the whole ordeal made us feel.

The editorial goes on to insist, “It is only by engaging with ideas that offend us that we can learn and ultimately motivate change.” I hope that, along with the faculty resolution recently passed at American University, this is a portent of a movement to reassert liberal speech values on campus.