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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
Burn those books! (05/21/2014)
By Frances Edstrom
Several recent occurrences on college campuses can not go unaddressed.

The mainstream news media has been full of accounts of prospective graduation speakers at several high profile universities backing out of their engagements after student and faculty protests. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, University of California Berkeley Chancellor Robert Bergeneau — important, powerful, high-profile people in our modern world — all bowed out of graduation speeches recently because of student/faculty objections.

Not broadcast as extensively as the drop-out graduation speakers, but troubling as well, is the move among college students to demand that they be warned if there will be something troubling to them in the texts they must read for classes. They call them “trigger warnings,” a little hint that the text could trigger bad feelings. A sophomore at Rutgers wrote in the student newspaper that “…literature courses often examine works with grotesque, disturbing and gruesome imagery within their narratives.… ‘The Great Gatsby,’ possesses a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence. Virginia Woolf’s famous cerebral narrative, ‘Mrs. Dalloway,’ paints a disturbing narrative that examines the suicidal inclinations and post-traumatic experiences of an English war veteran.”

Why yes! Literature can be disturbing! Literature delves into the human condition. Had these students had the chance to study literature in high school with a good teacher, perhaps they would know that before they enrolled in college (at between $20,000 and $100,000 a year) that they are too weak of mind and insubstantial of intellect to study literature. Unfortunately, the number of novels a typical high schooler is assigned to read is one. Many students graduate without reading an entire text, just excerpts. Next they’ll want trigger warnings for introductory biology — those amoeba splitting will remind them of divorce.

And the last event that I read about that leaves me gasping is the “Hump Day” protest at St. Thomas in Minneapolis. According to City Pages online, residence hall students organized what was to be a fun evening celebrating Hump Day (Wednesday for the uninitiated) with a “real camel” that students could get up close to and photograph.

Wait! cried the campus thought police, there must be something wrong with that. City Pages’ Aaron Rupar reported that the instigator of the protest said this by way of explanation of the protest: “’Camels on campus, livestock on campus — it doesn’t seem like the priorities are in line with the mission of our campus’ …a justice and peace studies major, says. ‘That sparked me to be critical of it.’

“‘A group of us got together to point out there were issues with having a camel on a predominately white campus,’ he continues. ‘It’s a case study here — [St. Thomas] is 86 percent white, a majority of students are from the upper-class suburbs, and it feels like you’re going to school with Michele Bachmann over and over and over again. In a predominantly white campus, having an exotic animal on campus that people can take selfies with, we decided to speak out and it got canceled.’” So what is it? Michelle Bachmann or livestock or those darn white people who don’t understand that they can’t have a photo taken with a camel because camels belong to some other culture (or color)?

It’s troubling to me that our college students, using the First Amendment rights afforded by the Constitution of our country, work so hard to deny freedom of speech (and freedom of thought) to others. I find it despicable that a few faculty members at these colleges and universities are so lacking in a world view and so enamored of their own egos that they are quick to urge students to protest the most frivolous causes when there is so much trouble in the world that could benefit from intelligent, educated young people with new solutions and a real understanding of human nature and society.

Instead, we are using precious resources to turn out prissy little pissants with a troubling predilection toward bringing Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-four” into their own century — without even having read it. 


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