My response back then wasn’t quite that college shouldn’t be like home––defined here as a place of respite from ideas that one finds uncomfortable––but that it cannot be:
Alan Jacobs of Baylor University published one of the more insightful posts on this aspect of the controversy, observing that any Yale student seeking an environment akin to a home is bound to be disappointed, because their residential colleges are, by design, places where “people from all over the world, from a wide range of social backgrounds, and with a wide range of interests and abilities, come to live together temporarily, for about 30 weeks a year, before moving on to their careers. It is an essentially public space,” he added, “though with controls on ingress and egress to prevent chaos and foster friendship and fellowship.”
Most homes, I added, are places where parents try to instill their own values in children whose formative experiences they shape. Insofar as Yale includes students from many diverse homes, it will be unlike an actual home. Learning to live away from home by tolerating difference, like ideas one disagrees with, is part of campus life.
My correspondent felt that my argument betrayed a failure to understand his generation. “I'm a regular social media and in-class arguer against people who are being racist, queer-phobic, etc,” O’Donnell wrote. “I like explaining why it's bad and trying to change their minds. But it's exhausting. Sometimes I want to go home and not have to deal with that. When asking for a home, they're not asking that their every whim be catered to, but that they have one place they don't have to constantly be on guard. One where they can take a break from the exhausting work of speaking out for what you believe in. Obviously, Yale students and others have overreached, but you should acknowledge the genuine concerns behind what these students are saying.”
He added that “condescending or reductionist discourse about millennials by older generations can feed into perceptions many of us already have about older generations.”
But the belief that college dorms cannot be “like home” for most students is not rooted in a reductionist notion of who millennials are––it is rooted in an expansive one. It flows from the belief that today’s college students are a hugely diverse population, perhaps more so than at any other time in the history of higher education.
For my correspondent, home is a place free from language that he regards as racist or queer-phobic—and it is a respite from related debates that he finds exhausting.
I have no objection to that conception of home.
But surely college dorms must include classmates who agree that bigotry is wrong yet inevitably reach different judgments about what specifically is problematic. Surely it must include students as eager to engage their classmates in residence-hall debates as O’Donnell is to debate classmates on social media or in the classroom (where some would surely prefer a stress-free environment sans call-outs).