President Obama on Political Correctness

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

Trigger warnings, “P.C. culture,” and their impact on American higher education have received considerable attention in recent months. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt explored the topic in their September cover story, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” My colleague Conor Friedersdorf also grappled with the concepts of microaggressions and “victimhood culture” last week.

Now President Obama has weighed in on the “new political correctness” during a Iowa town hall on college affordability:

It’s not just sometimes folks who are mad that colleges are too liberal that have a problem. Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal, and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues, who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side, and that’s a problem too. I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, "You can’t come because I'm too sensitive to hear what you have to say." That’s not the way we learn either.

Both articles produced a deluge of reader responses and discussion, which I invite you to read here (for the Lukianoff and Haidt article) and here (for Conor’s article). Obama's response will likely re-energize the debate.