I read a recent article in The New Yorker magazine that discussed liberal arts colleges and how they are tackling the fight for/against safe spaces, trigger warnings, and the fights that females have against misogynistic faculty members. The entire piece was well-written, and gave numerous examples of what was going on at the front lines of Oberlin College, a liberal arts school that is bowing more and more to student demands.
While, the piece was insightful I had two major complaints and one large comment. First, my complaints: there was a massive lack of information on how schools are combating this massive issue and that students see schools as a microcosm of the “real world,” when in all reality college is not the real world. Both topics go hand in hand, yet I will try to separate and tweeze both apart.
Lets tackle the first issue. Students have a right to protest; they have a right to their own “safe space.” In my mind, this is their dorm room, that’s an easy answer, no? Why should there be a separate designated space on campus that serves only one type of student? Isn’t that bigotry? Isn’t that being partial to Caucasian heterosexuals, if there is a safe space devoted ONLY to the LGBT community? Isn’t that argument the exact same argument that Harvard has against fraternities and sororities? Both organizations only take those students who want to be a part of the organization and who choose them; it’s a mutual desire by both parties. According to Harvard, these groups, which provide, in all reality, for their members to have a safe space among their peers, that this is a direct issue with Harvard’s mission statement of inclusiveness. Where do we draw the line? This fact, is one major flaw that I saw with this article. The author did not provide any insight as to how to approach this epidemic; it’s almost as if they painted a picture of this problem being rampant and out of control, never to actually be addressed. I don’t quite know what the answer is, if any, but I would have liked for a little more elaboration on how school’s such as Oberlin, are addressing the issues that rear their ugly head. Or major instead of addressing the issues, they are just bowing to student’s needs to take their tuition money?
My second complaint is on the crux of most students assuming that college is a representation of the real world. I went to a small liberal arts college for undergraduate (5 years), a large yet still small well-known graduate school (4.5 years), and worked in both academia and the private sector. Students: college is NOT the real world. Where can you work M-Th without coming to work before noon and ending by 5pm? That’s, by my calculations, is part-time work (20 hrs/wk). You cannot afford a house, family, or any technology (ahem, Netflix account) on that employment salary. Moreover, when I worked in the private sector, I shared an office with two other ladies. We had to always keeps mindful of our conversations, making sure we did not take personal conversations during work hours and if we did we did not disturb our fellow office-mates. To broaden this, millennials enjoy open office areas, in which no one has a cubicle, but everyone works at table-tops, so there is no hiding what one is doing. By inspection, there are no safe spaces in these areas. College is not the real world, and it was never designed to be the real world. If it was, its structure would not be what it is. College was also not designed to be a consumer-driven service. Yes, you pay an exorbitant fees in college tuition, but it’s not like a cell phone bill with a contract. Take “The Great Courses” if that’s what your aim is for attending college, but don’t attend a liberal arts school thinking that you are the driver and it’s a pay-for service.
Now, onto the next topic which incited me. The author told a story about a female student who waged a complaint against her professor for she thought he was being a misogynist. She went to the department chair, who then called the professor in and made him sign a formal complaint. The Dept. Chair, would not allow the professor to provide evidence in his defense, and said that the girl provided enough evidence for a Title IX complaint of a hostile work environment. My comment is not whether the professor was harassing the student, but how easy it was for her to wage a formal complaint against a professor with “he said, she said”-like proof. This paints a very poor picture of the issues that plague females in academia, for it down-plays the real situations that are VALID Title IX disputes. From personal experience, a stack of written evidence was provided to Deans and a formal Title IX complaint was never offered. In fact, a mediation had to be done, in order to even conclude if a pursuit of Title IX injustice was found. It’s one thing to have a disagreement with a professor, it’s another to be harassed because you are a female. My biochem professor from undergrad hated me; I know he did, I had proof. However, it wasn’t because I was a Caucasian female. It was just me. He loved other Caucasian females and thought the world of them, but was disgusted with me. I got over it, and saw it as what it was: him being a donkey (insert alternative simile here). I wasn’t about to file a complaint against him. It would downplay the real situations that entitle those students to the assistance they deserve. In other words, slight complaints should not be awarded with formal recognition by a university. The real world IS where your boss doesn’t see eye to eye with you, but it’s not because you’re a female, but because they have a different outlook.
Anyway, the article is definitely a worthwhile read. I have left out the title until now: “The New Activism of Campus Life” by Nathan Heller. It’s very interesting, but it’s also a little disturbing that this is what a liberal arts education will get you. Don’t even get me started on the career prospects of those with a “Gender and Women’s Studies” major. That’s a topic for another day.