Scroll down to find all the staff notes and reader reactions to the controversies over race and free speech on college campuses. (A similar debate on campus PC and mental health is here, spurred by our Sept ‘15 cover story.) Join the discussion via email.
The student activists have no concept of free debate, intellectual stimulation, or respect for differing perspectives. They, their parents, teachers, and mentors should be ashamed at their behavior. No matter how valid or invalid you think their message is, their tactics are disreputable and childish.
Another reader is more considered in his criticism:
I read “The Coddling of the American Mind” a while back, and the outrage of various microaggressions propping up around American campuses strike me as a pretty straightforward result of general breakdown in civil American discourse. As the students themselves admit, what they are looking for in college is not actually intellectual examination, but identity and community.
That desire for community strikes me as a product of those people’s inability to find comfort in the broader American community. And that inability, in return, seems like product of identity Balkanization in America, in which the notion of “being American” has broken into several different competing tribes of mutually exclusive “American” types, with different values, different notions of reality, and an increasingly existential intolerance for competing “American” identities.
This idea has been readily studied on the right, in conservative terms. The insulating effect of right-wing media, the literal separation of communities, suburbs, and gerrymandered districts into ideological camps, and a widespread literature implying cultural persecution at the hands of liberals—those phenomena have created an intolerant right, the sort that hero-worships Donald Trump or Ben Carson and has difficulty believing “facts” presented by any source they haven’t already legitimated.
I think some people—like myself, unfortunately—think of the “left” as being more progressive, tolerant, and open-minded. But all this news about colleges rightfully challenges those assumptions. What’s happening here is that left-wing ideologies are ossifying into community identities, in opposition to right-wing ones. And now that left-wing ideas such as “tolerance” are becoming less about actual ideas and more about symbols around which a community can gather, tolerance is becoming more sacred, easier to threaten, and more intolerant to perceived threats.
In other words, being liberal in the U.S. right now—like being conservative—is less about ideas and more about identity. The effects of that are showing.
Another reader notes the identity politics animating the far right at the moment:
I am so tired of the perpetual whining by conservative reader at The Atlantic regarding people of color being victims. I mean, I’ve spent the last 48 hours seeing a social media brouhaha regarding the minimalist red cup design at Starbucks being “shots fired in the war on Christmas.” I mean, as your anonymous Hispanic reader put it, “I simply don’t know what precisely will satisfy these perpetually aggrieved people.”
Emma covered the Starbucks cup brouhaha this morning.
It’s too easy, and also rash and risky, to criticize people on the basis of perhaps-out-of-context social media snippets.
So let me compliment someone! You may already have seen the video below, shot this afternoon at the University of Missouri. The drama involves a photographer who wants to take pictures of the student protestors who have wrought such change at the university, and the students and their supporters who want him to go away.
The point the photographer makes is that they’re all standing on public property, and just as they have a First Amendment right to protest, he has a First Amendment right to record what is going on. And, as he points out, to document it for history.
You see the photographer from the back at the start of this video; you’ll figure out which one he is very quickly. What struck me as the encounter intensified was his unflappable, always polite, but unrelenting insistence on his First Amendment rights, as they are insisting on theirs. You can hear the main discussion starting around time 1:20.
I’ve learned that the photographer is named Tim Tai; the site on which he displays his photography is here. He has said this evening on Twitter that he doesn’t want to be the focus of the story, which is proper and gracious. But in real time, under mounting pressure, he shows intellectual and emotional composure anyone in our business would admire. The way the students (and some professors) are dealing with him is the way I’ve seen officials in China deal with reporters, which is not a comparison that reflects well on them.
Sincere congratulations to someone who this morning had no idea he would be in the national eye. But he turned out to be, and behaved in a way that reflects credit on him and the calling of news-gathering. Update Admiration as well to Mark Schierbecker, the video journalist who recorded the entire episode. Update-update And some of Tim Tai’s earlier photographs of the protests, for ESPN, are remarkable.
For the less glorious parts of this encounter, you can start with the account in Gawker. Hint: a Mizzou journalism communications professor is among those shooing him away.
The largest point that many opposing Tim Wolfe’s resignation are missing isn’t that he is responsible for the racism on campus, but that he failed to address the racism continuing on his campus. He should have known better, especially as president of the state university of possibly the most divisive state in race relations, historically and currently.
Another reader is on the same page:
The left has been “coaching” people to see themselves as victims with no power since the 1960s and probably longer than that. This man was fired or resigned because he demonstrated that he does not have the political skills or common sense it takes to lead a public university. As president of the school, he has to represent the whole school, and if that was the best answer he could provide to these kids, no matter how irrational they were/are, then he failed to do his duties.
This reader likewise has little sympathy for Wolfe:
This is the Ferguson Effect. However, contrary to your reader, minority students have in fact been “coached up and primed” to believe that their daily victimhood is not worth protest.
They have been “coached up and primed” that when presented with the opportunity to become educated, one should simply be happy to be in school, getting an education to better self and community. To me, these students and professors at the University of Missouri have rejected this complicity in an oppressive system and are now demonstrating a new active mentality growing in the public consciousness. This is a loud signal that a climate of quiet racism will no longer be ignored as accepted background noise only heard by the few. Now it will be confronted like the issue it is—loud, frustrating, complicated, and tragic.
So this is not the story of a poor administrator being unfairly persecuted; this is a story of a pained population finally being fairly heard.
Here’s a very different view from an Asian American female reader:
Did you hear about the feminist activist going on a hunger strike until her university head resigned because he failed to stop sexual violence on campus? Of course not, because that didn’t happen. Even though violence against women by men dwarfs racial violence both on campus and in society at large, one would be hard pressed to find a feminist who thinks a university administration can take any viable action to utterly banish sexual assault, let alone misogyny in general, especially misconduct neither on campus, nor by students. Yet women continue to go to class despite an appreciable chance of sexual assault, let alone derogatory comments.
This current crop of race activists seems to think a utopian world free of all racial prejudice is in our grasp and it is some conspiracy of “white supremacy” to prevent it from becoming reality. The first thing a rational person grasps is that there are outliers in life, and it would take a dystopian authoritarianism to stop them in most cases.
I’m all for on-going fostering of a climate of kindness and pluralism on campus, but you can’t stifle free expression at a university. What I see in these activists is a combination of immature expectations coupled with authoritarian leanings. They think they can outrage their way to utopia, and it is a damning statement on our prevailing educational philosophies that they have been allowed to reach this point in life with that mentality intact.
An outsider’s view:
I am reading this from afar, being a foreign reader who has never experienced the U.S. college system first hand. Many aspects of American culture eventually filter through to us here in the UK, however, so I observe these events with no small amount of interest.
I am not sure of the causes of this strange new ultra-illiberalism amongst students, nor do I know how widespread it really is. But what I do know is that where it is encountered, it must be met with resistance rather than compromise. Appeasement has no positive effect and will only drive ever more extreme demands. Colleges find themselves on the front line in confronting this peculiar new threat to free society, and I hope they are prepared to live up to the principles of free speech, free inquiry, and personal liberty that underpin the academic tradition.
That comes from a reader slack-jawed over the escalating situation at the University of Missouri and the calls for its president to resign:
Maybe this is the real Ferguson effect: People who have been coached up and primed to believe that they are victims, who want to be a part of some kind of important historical movement, to the point that they’re seeking confrontation over essentially nothing.
A couple of people supposedly said mean things, one of them on campus and one of them not on campus, none of them backed with any kind of evidence. A group of students confront the university president, obviously looking for offense, and find it by simply misrepresenting what he says to them—something that he pretty clearly anticipated with his answer.
For this, he MUST be fired, a cause so important that one student has vowed to literally DIE before he accepts the president’s non termination, and others have pledged to take a month off from the activity that defines their actual reason for even being present on this campus. Of course, no one can really say why he is responsible for any of these incidents, why they would not occur with a different president, or for that matter, whether they even actually occurred. But he MUST go because reasons.
From a Hispanic reader:
I simply don’t know what precisely will satisfy these perpetually aggrieved people. Maybe if we put white people in cages. I don’t know. And this is coming from a person of color who is not seeing the grievous racism these professional offendees are perpetually griping about. And another career is going to be destroyed because the offender didn’t provide “the right answer.”
There’s a reason you miss the people you didn’t even know that well.
A few months ago, when millions of Americans were watching the Netflix series Emily in Paris because it was what we had been given that week, I cued up the first episode and was beset almost immediately by an intense longing. Not for travel, or for opportunities to wear beautiful clothes—two commonly cited high points in an otherwise charmless show—but for sports. Specifically, watching sports in a packed bar, which is what the titular character’s boyfriend is doing when the viewer meets him.
The scene is fleeting, and it’s also pretty bad. It doesn’t come close to capturing the sweaty intensity of a horde of nervous fans, poised to embrace each other in collective joy or drink through despair. I know this because I am, sometimes unfortunately, a person who has spent a good chunk of her adult social life watching sports in bars, both with my actual close friends and with 500 or so fellow travelers at the New York City bar that hosts expatriated University of Georgia alumni during college-football season.
The vaccines are phenomenal. Belaboring their imperfections—and telling people who receive them never to let down their guard—carries its own risks.
When Americans began receiving coronavirus vaccines last month, people started fantasizing about the first thing they’d do when the pandemic ends: go back to work, visit family, hug friends. But the public discussion soon shifted. One news article after another warned about everything that could go wrong: Protection isn’t immediate; vaccinated people can still transmit the virus; vaccinated people might get mild infections that could become chronic; vaccines might not work as well against new coronavirus variants. “COVID-19 Vaccine Doesn’t Mean You Can Party Like It’s 1999,” one headline admonished. Can vaccinated people at least hang out with one another? Nope, masks and distancing are still required. “Bottom line,” another article concluded ominously: “You will need to wear a face mask after you’re vaccinated until COVID-19 cases become nearly nonexistent.”
They’re just as good at recognizing messes as women—they just don’t feel the same pressure to clean them up.
When you think of messiness, you might think of the unsavory ways it manifests: sweaty socks left on the floor, food-encrusted dishes piled in the sink, crumbs on the counter. Messes themselves are easy to identify, but the patterns of behavior that produce them are a bit more nuanced. Really, messiness has two ingredients: making messes, and then not cleaning them up.
There is a widely held belief that boys—and later on, men—are particularly messy. At least some grounds for this stereotype exist, but sex has little to do with it. “There’s no evidence of inherent, biologically based sex differences in cleanliness or messiness,” Susan McHale, a professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, told me. She said innate preferences for orderliness might vary from child to child, but cultural factorshave a significant influence, and it’s worth investigating which half of the messiness recipe is driving the gender disparity.
The new White House chief medical adviser explains what it was really like to work for an administration that tried constantly to undermine him.
You couldn’t have blamed Anthony Fauci if at any point over the past year he’d told Donald Trump he’d had enough, thank you, and quit. Everyone has a breaking point. There was the time the former president called him “a disaster” on a call with Trump-campaign staff. Or the day a White House official gave reporters an oppo-research-style memo claiming that Fauci had been “wrong on things” related to COVID-19. And Trump’s retweet of “Time to #FireFauci” would have been one humiliation too many for most.
But in the end, Trump got fired, and Fauci got promoted—he’s now the chief medical adviser to the Biden White House. “The thing that got me through it was, I did not let that bother me,” Fauci told me in an interview this week. “People cannot believe that. But it’s true. The problem is so enormous. People’s lives are at stake. I’m a physician. I’m a scientist. I’m a public-health expert. I know what I need to do. All that other stuff is just a distraction. Quite frankly, it’s bullshit.”
Lupin, the French-language series about a charismatic thief, embraces its source material—and then transcends it.
Before Arsène Lupin was the inspiration for an out-of-nowhere Netflix smash hit, projected to be watched by 70 million subscribers, the character was a French literary legend, a gentleman thief with the moral code of Robin Hood, the wits of Sherlock Holmes, and the anti-aristocratic instincts of Robespierre. In the 1906 story “The Queen’s Necklace,” one of Maurice Leblanc’s first outings for the character, his origins are explained: Lupin’s first robbery was staged when he was 6 years old, after witnessing his mother, an impoverished gentlewoman, being ill-treated by her monied employer. The necklace the child managed to pinch also features in the first episode of Lupin, in which a janitor working at the Louvre stages a dazzling heist inspired by his fictional hero. Both crimes are audacious, seemingly impossible, and conducted with a strong amount of swagger: Lupin might be a master of disguise, but he’s also a peacock who learns to play on his notoriety as often as he makes himself invisible.
Images from around the world, showing canine COVID-19–detection programs under development
Promising early results from several studies have encouraged researchers around the world to develop and expand canine programs that may screen people for COVID-19 infection at places like airports, hospitals, or sports venues. While these early experiments appear to demonstrate high levels of accuracy by the sniffer dogs, researchers also caution that peer-review processes and larger-scale studies are still needed. Gathered here are images from Russia, England, Chile, Australia, Iran, Finland, and more countries, where these canine COVID-19–detection programs are being developed.
Republicans appear poised to flinch from reality, protect Trump, and betray the country.
Forty-five senators voted yesterday not to proceed with a second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. That should come as some relief for the ex-president: Twice impeached, he will likely be twice acquitted. But how much relief?
The Senate will still hold a trial. The whole country will again view the video of Trump inciting a crowd to attack Congress as he aimed to coerce his own vice president into somehow overturning the 2020 election. They will see the scenes of violence and death wrought by Trump supporters—supporters who plastered their crimes all over social media because they trusted Trump to protect and pardon them.
Trump wants Senate Republicans to defend him; most Senate Republicans want Trump to go away.
Liberals once believed that private corporations have far too much power over the flow of ideas and information in today’s society. Now it’s conservatives who are worried.
Updated at 9:33 a.m. ET on January 27, 2021.
There is a rich historical irony to the fact that today, conservatives are the ones who argue most forcefully that the decisions by private companies to “deplatform” certain speakers threaten what President Donald Trump described in 2020 as the “bedrock” American right to freedom of speech. Until very recently, this was an argument made almost exclusively by those on the left.
The decision by Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other social-media outlets to ban Trump from their platforms after the January 6 attack on the Capitol intensified conservatives’ long-standing concerns that the powerful tech industry is violating their free-speech rights. Trump encouraged and amplified these arguments when he issued a (largely symbolic) executive order in May 2020 declaring that “free speech is the bedrock of American democracy,” and insisted that “in a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech that Americans may access and convey.”*
I know I sound naive, but this wasn’t like a “normal” affair.
This is the age-old story of a younger woman meeting an older, married man at work.
I was aware that he was married with kids. He was always very active on social media, and often I thought, What a cute family! I never had any intention of getting involved with him, especially because I had been cheated on before. At the same time, I can remember the exact moment I met him, before anything had happened. It was like I had met him before, but I knew I hadn’t.
One night, at a work event, he and I really connected. A few days and a few hundred text messages later, I was hooked. He expressed to me his grievances about his wife. He praised her for being a good person and mother, but not a good partner. He was unhappy, but he couldn’t stand the thought of leaving his children and not tucking them into bed every night. He claimed to have never been fully happy in his marriage, saying that on his wedding day, he almost didn’t follow through.
YouTube vigilantes are taking consumer advocacy into their own hands.
For decades, multilevel-marketing companies had it easy. Cutco knives, Tupperware containers, and Pampered Chef bread mixes were inoffensive products sold at weeknight wine parties and, later, in themed Facebook groups. For the most part, they were an unremarkable part of women’s lives.
Multilevel marketing—a form of direct selling in which a major chunk of a person’s income comes not from the sales they make themselves but from the sales made by people they recruit into the company—was often regarded as exploitative by consumer advocates, but it rarely encountered a serious threat. During the pandemic, distributors for many MLM companies have used this lack of pushback to their advantage: On Instagram and Facebook, women have tried to persuade their followers to use their stimuluschecks to join a company that sells shampoo or weight-loss products. They have used economic collapse as a recruitment tool, offering MLMs as the solution to lost income and increased precarity.