One of the most chilling images in Orwell’s dystopian Oceania was the army of young ‘Spies’; the children who struck terror into adult hearts by threatening to expose any deviation from approved behaviour.
‘You’re a traitor!’ yelled the boy. ‘You’re a thought-criminal! You’re a Eurasian spy! I’ll shoot you, I’ll vaporise you, I’ll send you to the salt mines!’
George Orwell. ‘1984’
“It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children” wrote Orwell. There must be many in academia who have learnt to fear other people’s children and ruefully reflect on a time when they read those fantastical words long before 1984.
A video of ‘children’ yelling at Professor Nicholas Christakis of Yale University went viral a few days ago. His crime was to have failed to denounce his wife. His wife had sent an email to students suggesting that a mild sense of humour might be applied to the wearing of Halloween costumes this year, rather than the annual po-faced handwringing about cultural insensitivity to anyone wearing fancy dress that the social justice warriors could possibly be outraged about. The response to Christakis defending his wife was illuminating.
‘Who the fuck hired you?’
In fact that question has been answered. The student who posed it was Jerelyn Luther. She was part of the committee involved in searching out and approving the hiring of Christakis as house master, along with his wife Erika, to the Silliman college at Yale University….
“Salovey and Holloway expressed their thanks to the members of the Silliman search committee — chair Dan Harrison, Kevin Boehm ’15, Jessica Brantley, Christine Hayes, Jerelyn Luther ’16, David Skelly, Samone Wheeler ’15, and Maxwell Wilkinson ’16 — for their work”.
Eating chocolate chips; Yoga; lounging in the courtyard; no mention of “the disinterested and relentless search for truth” as the Archbishop of York once said was the purpose of a university. Ms Luther accused Christakis of creating an unsafe space at Yale. When he protested, she yelled, “Be quiet!” She then said that in his position, it was his job to create a place of comfort and a home for students. He protested that job description and she began yelling. “Then why the **** did you accept the position?” She continued, telling him that he should step down because his job wasn’t just about creating an intellectual space…
Safe space; Trigger warnings; Micro aggression; these labels are all invasive in any conversation about universities now. Two years ago, they were almost unknown in Britain. How we laughed when Kathryn Byron created a ‘safe space’ for students who might be distraught upon hearing opposing views on the existence ‘rape culture’.
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, colouring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.
Even Tumblr, the micro-blogging site has fallen victim to the craze for censorship of anything that offends anyone, anywhere. Although you can chose which blogs to follow on Tumblr, and restrict your own readership to just your chosen followers, that is not enough in the drive for ‘safe spaces’; Tumblr has now formed a sub-section called ‘Pillowfort’. (Geddit it? Pillow, soft, downy, safe pillow surrounded by the impenetrable wall of a fort?!!!) (Probably with added Playdoh).
Pillowfort will not take harassment and cruelty lightly. While the specifics of what constitutes a bannable offense will be defined once we get closer to launch, we can at least say that threatening another user, encouraging suicide, etc. will be grounds for account termination, as will promoting the ideologies of violent hate groups such as Nazism.
The University of Missouri admitted its first black student in 1950, quite a result in the segregated America of those days; that doesn’t stop the ‘Legion of Black Collegians’ from feeling oppressed. They issued an 8 point list of demands to their Dean, including his resignation along with a ‘handwritten letter of apology’ for, amongst other misdemeanours, allowing ‘his driver to hit one of the demonstrators’ when ‘eleven Black student leaders on campus interjected themselves’ into a homecoming parade’. Mein Gott Im Himmel! They run into the road in front of a cavalcade of cars and he has to resign for ‘allowing’ his driver to fail to avoid one of them?
Yes, he does. He did. He tried to ‘create the safe space for a meaningful conversation’ on the subject, but they were having none of it; the entire football team came out on strike in support of a student who went on hunger strike for all of 8 days…until he resigned. Now students are demanding that the media are prevented from reporting events – they want a ‘Media safe space‘. Er, that would be Student reporters, not main stream media. One Campus professional tried to exclude the student reporters from entering the area where the student activists (are you following this?) were trying to establish their micro-aggression free space – and guess what happens? Yep, they want her fired as well!
And now the Professor of communications is prostrating herself in front of said students! Wonder if she will hang onto her job?