Tough Enough: Resilience in Academia


Part of what’s behind the disagreements over freedom and security in academia that we’ve been seeing a lot of lately (over things like political correctness, trigger warnings, safe spaces, etc.) are two different attitudes.

What two attitudes?

Before I tell you, let me state up front that this is opinionated armchair sociology of the profession, informed by a popular press article about some likely controversial findings in psychology, in the form of a blog post. This is me throwing some ideas out there for folks to consider, so relax, get yourself your coffee or tea or (shudder) diet coke or whatever and let’s see if it is too early in the day for me to be making sense.

So what two attitudes? This is bound to be an oversimplification, and there are of course other ways to cut up the terrain, but enough with the disclaimers already.

We can call these two attitudes Tough and Enough.

The slogan for the tough side is “toughen up and shake it off.” We see the tough side in action in complaints about “snowflake students”, those coddled kids who need trigger warnings and safe spaces to protect them from offensive ideas and views they object to, and in more general complaints about political correctness. The letter from Dean John Ellison to incoming students at the University of Chicago exemplifies this attitude.

The slogan for the enough side is “we’ve suffered enough, so don’t put it on us.” In other words, approaches to conflict which ask the already victimized and vulnerable to solve the problem of their victimization and vulnerability—by, say, toughening up—is to misplace responsibility. Better to take proactive steps in advance to avoid the harms, rather than have to take reactive steps to cope with it. An example of the enough side in action, in a somewhat different context, is this widely circulated list of rape prevention tips (most of which pretty much say: “don’t rape”). Or see this comment on a recent post here about online harassment.

The conflict between tough and enough is not necessary, but the loudest voices in recent academic disputes do seem to be attracted to one side or the other.

There are some complications, of course.

There seem to be difficulties in non-arbitrarily identifying and categorizing complaints. Suppose Pat, a white person who doesn’t take herself to be a racist, is criticized by Terry for saying something that is subtly racist; Pat then complains about this criticism. What I’ve observed is that in cases like this, the toughs will target Terry’s charge of racism, and claim that Terry needs to toughen up and shake it off. They will not say that Pat, who is complaining about being accused of saying something racist, needs to toughen up and shake it off.

An example of this difficulty in the philosophy profession recently concerned offensive remarks about gays and lesbians made by a keynote speaker at a conference of the Society for Christian Philosophers (SCP). The apology offered by the SCP president for any hurt these remarks might have caused was loudly condemned by some as kowtowing to oversensitive academics and disrespectful to the speaker and other conservative Christians. Yet this barrage of condemnation (a mild example here) was not itself seen as evidence that those issuing it were also oversensitive and needed to toughen up.

There are times when it is unclear whether a complaint is evidence of the kind of oversensitivity that the toughs complain about, or evidence of the kind of toughness they endorse. This is a point I’ve touched on elsewhere. When I was asked, “I’ve heard philosophers who are concerned with the same issues you are concerned with—such as the diversity problem—who have suggested… that we need to toughen up a bit. Is that a mistake, you think?” I responded as follows:

Where is this lack of toughness? Consider the restaurant diner who sends back his overcooked steak, the person in line who speaks up when another person tries to cut in front, and the neighbor who threatens to call the cops because a party is too noisy. Do these people need to toughen up? We usually do not think so. Rather, these people show they are sufficiently “tough” by complaining out loud about the problem. The diner breaks social norms about congeniality at dinner, the person in line confronts the cutter, the neighbor risks the hostility of the party’s hosts—and we say: good for them. So I find it strange that when people complain out loud about sexism or racism or unprofessionalism or hostility or public mockery or whatever, this is taken as a lack of toughness, rather than evidence of toughness. And further, if we take such complaints as a lack of toughness, why, then, isn’t complaining about this lack of toughness itself evidence of a lack of toughness?

Sometimes what looks like “enoughness” is really “toughness.”

I’m prompted to revisit these thoughts in light of an article by Maria Konnikova, recently brought to my attention, on research aimed at figuring out why some people who experience extremely adverse events not only don’t seem negatively affected by them, but turn out to be relatively competent, confident, caring, and successful.

It turns out that the harmfulness of potentially traumatic events can be decreased by framing the events positively, as opportunities to develop or learn. Conversely, the harm can be increased by thinking of the events as negative and damaging. Not all of the badness of the experience is “inherent in the event; it resides in the event’s psychological construal.”

Stoics be pleased (but don’t get carried away).

Resilient people—those less negatively affected by difficulties—construe the events more positively than the non-resilient. They “meet the world on their own terms” and have a “positive social orientation.” Konnikova writes about a study of children who had experienced potentially traumatic events:

Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group…

“We can make ourselves more or less vulnerable by how we think about things,” [Columbia University psychologist George] Bonanno said.

And here’s the good news: we can train people to think about things in different ways, to be more resilient. Positive construal of bad events, the tempering of “hot” emotional responses, and various changes to people’s “explanatory styles”—the ingredients of resilience—can be taught.

But resilience can also be weakened:

“We can become less resilient, or less likely to be resilient,” Bonanno says. “We can create or exaggerate stressors very easily in our own minds. That’s the danger of the human condition.” Human beings are capable of worry and rumination: we can take a minor thing, blow it up in our heads, run through it over and over, and drive ourselves crazy until we feel like that minor thing is the biggest thing that ever happened. In a sense, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Frame adversity as a challenge, and you become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow. Focus on it, frame it as a threat, and a potentially traumatic event becomes an enduring problem; you become more inflexible, and more likely to be negatively affected.

Now I haven’t had a firsthand look at this research, and that I’d be surprised if it was entirely uncontroversial. But suppose there is something to it. What, if anything, does it add to our understanding of tough and enough and the conflicts we’ve been seeing in academia?

I think it helps to provide a more sensible basis for tough. When I see the tough attitude deployed, it usually strikes me as a combination of callousness, cognitive biases (e.g., status quo bias, just world bias), and prejudice—for example, white conservatives don’t see that their complaints about lack of representation are structurally identical to many complaints they dismiss as “PC whining”. But there could be altruism involved: it could be that the toughers think that we’re making things worse for the vulnerable and victimized by making a big deal about the bad things that happen to them. We should pipe down and be less sensitive, and emphasize the silver linings we can find—for the sake of the least well-off. Otherwise, those we’re worried about will become less and less resilient, and more negatively affected by the bad experiences they’re likely to have.

So we should toughen up? Let’s not move too fast here.

Even if we assume that when some bad stuff happens to a person it may be worse for that person if we make a big deal out of it, it doesn’t follow that we ought not to make a big deal out of it. Why not? Because making a big deal out of the bad stuff may be the best way to reduce incidences of it in the future.

Keep in mind that the findings about resilience do not say (nor do they imply) that people become more resilient by undergoing more bad stuff. So even if we think that resilience is wonderful, that provides us with no reason to think we should stop trying to reduce the quantity and harmfulness of the bad stuff. And it is hard to see how we’d get less bad stuff if said stuff is not conspicuously complained about.

To reiterate: the idea that resilience can be taught should not be confused with the idea that we ought to give people more opportunities to display their resilience.

As I’ve said before here, despite what might sell magazines or generate internet traffic or give old men something to feel self-righteous about, I don’t think academia has a major problem with political correctness clamping down on disagreement and debate. Yes there are examples of this happening, but not many in the grand scheme of things, and various distortions lead people to exaggerate them (confirmation bias, frequency illusion, availability heuristic, and the illicit influence of affect on risk perception). That said, it could develop into a problem, and since there are all sorts of reasons to preserve academia as a realm of robust disagreement, it would be good to make sure academia continues to be populated by people who are sufficiently resilient to be happy populating that realm.

With that aim in mind, we can ask whether there is a way to constructively make use of this research on resilience. And I mean ask. I’m certainly not going to tell people they should be more resilient. What do I know from that? As Louis CK says, “I’m a white man. You can’t even hurt my feelings.

It may be that there is nothing to learn here except not to take the value of resilience as an excuse to keep treating people like crap. But if there is a way to enhance people’s resilience in a way that doesn’t involve a failure to recognize the seriousness of the harms they’re undergoing, it would be good to hear about.

superballs

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Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
4 years ago

I suspect that there may also be different models of toughness in the background here. Some equate toughness with an individualistic, masculine ideal: “the strong, silent type.” If one has problems in this model, one deals with them alone. Those who “cry” (complain, weep, etc.) are not tough, but weak, since they are not dealing with their issues alone. Others find strength through social bonds, sharing both the good and bad in their lives, relying on and supporting others. For them, complaining is not necessarily a sign of weakness. It is asking for help from a social group, but with the recognition that they will be asked in turn. Toughness in this model depends on social support. It is no accident, I think, that the physically smaller of the sexes is more likely to abide by this model. After all, anthropologists have found that harsh environmental conditions lead to increased cooperation and altruism in a cultural group. Of course, both models have elements of truth: we are “stronger together” and we should also aim to find our own inner strength. But I suspect much of the worry about those who discuss harms in the open is that they are violating the masculine ideal, without realizing that those who do so may have a more socially dependent model of goodness and toughness, and that this indicates a social connectedness that has independent value and importance. In fact, I would argue that social connectedness and engagement is one of the qualities academics, and especially philosophers, would do well to promote. Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

I haven’t read the original research, but from the way it’s described in the linked piece, I worry about drawing general conclusions regarding resilience from looking at how people respond to adversity generally rather than particular kinds of adversity. Certain pro-social attitudes, for example, are strongly correlated with mitigating certain kinds of trauma yet can severely exacerbate others (e.g., the social attitudes that promote bonding and teamwork on the battlefield or in the wake of a natural disaster are not the same ones that promote wellbeing as a prisoner of war, a kidnapping victim, or a sexual assault survivor).

That’s not to take away from the general point of the post though, and if any one has read the study, please do tell me if it’s more nuanced than it sounds or if the findings overturned earlier work on this. Report

Lucy
Lucy
4 years ago

Really interesting post. I think this is really well put and I haven’t thought about it like this before: “Where is this lack of toughness? Consider the restaurant diner who sends back his overcooked steak, the person in line who speaks up when another person tries to cut in front, and the neighbor who threatens to call the cops because a party is too noisy. Do these people need to toughen up? We usually do not think so. Rather, these people show they are sufficiently “tough” by complaining out loud about the problem. The diner breaks social norms about congeniality at dinner, the person in line confronts the cutter, the neighbor risks the hostility of the party’s hosts—and we say: good for them. So I find it strange that when people complain out loud about sexism or racism or unprofessionalism or hostility or public mockery or whatever, this is taken as a lack of toughness, rather than evidence of toughness. And further, if we take such complaints as a lack of toughness, why, then, isn’t complaining about this lack of toughness itself evidence of a lack of toughness?”Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
4 years ago

Your post highlights how difficult it is to draw the boundaries. It seems part of the issue surrounds the significance of the harm complained about, the ferocity of the complaint, and the reasonableness of the right to expect otherwise. In the “steak” case, if I’m at a barbecue at a friend’s house, and my wife interrupts my complaint about my overdone steak with a whispered, “Shut up and eat it” – perhaps she has a point. It’s one thing to publicly point out the line-cutter. It’s quite another to demand that the proprietor throw the offender off the premises, or face a boycott.

A difficulty with ferocious complaints about microagressions is that the aggressions are micro. One can find it very reasonable for some students to be put off by studying Hume, given Hume’s obvious racism. But if such students are unable to participate in the class at all as a result . . . Or, if a residence hall master claims that their college shouldn’t weigh in on student Halloween costumes, and students respond by claiming that that person should be fired. Or, if the very existence of a youtube video of a feminist philosopher claiming that transwomen aren’t real women causes a firestorm. . . I can understand that George Yancy feels angst at being in the presence of so many white bodies at conferences. But what is to be done about this? Conference attendee racial quotas?

The point is that there is middle ground to be navigated here – where offences can be given a proper airing and their due consideration. The harm and the outrage should be in proportion. Small harms deserve small complaints. Great harms ferocious ones. Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  ajkreider
4 years ago

“Or, if a residence hall master claims that their college shouldn’t weigh in on student Halloween costumes, and students respond by claiming that that person should be fired.”

I think that’s a caricature of what happened. Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

it’s really notReport

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

Yeah, it’s hard to see how that’s a caricature. The students represented themselves very poorly in their exchange . Just look at the way things devolve:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tsgc0k594Js

These people are frank about how they are thinking. The first woman’s ‘feeling’ about not having a ‘safe space’ she can call home and be proud of, and the fact that she hasn’t had her feelings validated, is used by the crowd to demand an apology from Christakis. When he explains to them that the request for an apology does not of itself entitle one to an apology, he’s met with derision and threats to leave. As the crowd turns their backs on him, under the pretense that he ‘doesn’t deserve to be listened to’, outrage becomes weaponized. And so when Christakis flat out states that he has a different vision concerning the role of the college master (trigger warning!!1!), he’s yelled at by a woman who demands his resignation, her outburst tinged with the emotional ebulation that signals the ‘trauma’ of the poor student and her finger-snapping cohort. It’s shameful.

But that’s what happens when the loudest voices are given a ‘safe space’ to vent their immaturity under the guise of social justice, all while condemning anyone who disagrees with them. Thankfully, it looks like the tide is turning. So the “I think that’s a caricature” responses aren’t going to be able to hold their ground any longer.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

I said it was a caricature, i.e., that description leaves out a multitude of details and background information (for instance, that the students did not demand that any faculty member be fired, but rather asked for their resignations from a specific role in the university that was separate from their roles as faculty members) — I did not say that nothing in the comment reflected any actual events. Your comment seems to caricature what happened even further (e.g., by claiming that these student protests came about because they were being given a safe space rather than that these students were exercising their speech rights despite the hostility to their views on campus).

For example, “Unfortunately, the short YouTube clips and articles I’ve seen don’t even come close to painting an accurate picture of what’s happening at Yale. I’m a senior here, and I’ve experienced the controversy firsthand over the past week (and years). I want to tell a more complete story and set a few facts straight.

For starters: the protests are not really about Halloween costumes or a frat party. They’re about a mismatch between the Yale we find in admissions brochures and the Yale we experience every day. They’re about real experiences with racism on this campus that have gone unacknowledged for far too long. The university sells itself as a welcoming and inclusive place for people of all backgrounds. Unfortunately, it often isn’t.

On Friday, November 6th, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education published an article that made it seem like Yale students are only rallying because of an email sent by Professor Erika Christakis, which suggested that people should feel free to wear culturally insensitive costumes on Halloween. The reality is that students at Yale have been speaking up about serious racial issues on campus for many, many years — long before Erika Christakis even set foot here. But chronic racism isn’t newsworthy. It quietly whittles away at the hearts and minds of people who feel like they’re not being heard.

I sat in the Afro-American Cultural Center last week with several hundred students and listened to people of color share their stories. For three hours, my friends spoke out about the racial discrimination they’ve experienced at Yale — in and out of the classroom. Many people (especially women of color) said they feel physically and psychologically unsafe here.” (From: https://medium.com/@aaronzlewis/what-s-really-going-on-at-yale-6bdbbeeb57a6#.txa9dhvni )

Or, “All that said, what’s happening at Yale isn’t only a debate about sensitivity versus free speech. The Halloween email — and other Halloween weekend events that have fed student protests — are tapping into deep and troubling issues of race at Yale.

“To be a student of color on Yale’s campus is to exist in a space that was not created for you,” concludes the student open letter responding to Christakis. “From the Eurocentric courses, to the lack of diversity in the faculty, to the names of slave owners and traders that adorn most of the buildings on campus — all are reminders that Yale’s history is one of exclusion.”

One of Yale’s 12 residential colleges is still named after John C. Calhoun, the virulent racist and secessionist who once defended slavery as a “positive good”; it was given that name in 1933, and only this summer, after the Charleston shootings, did the university seriously begin to consider changing it.

At Yale, just 7 percent of students are black. Black faculty are even scarcer, and their share of total faculty positions has been virtually unchanged since the 1970s.” (From: http://www.vox.com/2015/11/7/9689330/yale-halloween-email )

And: ” The role of the Christakises spanned their academic appointments as Yale faculty members as well as their status as what were then called master and associate master of Silliman College (the role of master was subsequently renamed head of college in response to student concerns about the associations of “master” with slavery). The role of college heads is described as follows on the Yale website and itself encompasses both academic and psychosocial duties:
‘The head is the chief administrative officer and the presiding faculty presence in each residential college. He or she is responsible for the physical well-being and safety of students in the residential college, as well as for fostering and shaping the social, cultural, and educational life and character of the college.’ . . . Students interviewed by PEN said that, from their perspective, the impetus for the Intercultural Committee email was concern about several developments, including a proposal that would have merged four separate student cultural centers (Afro American, Latino, Native American, and Asian-American), into a single center and a January 2015 incident in which campus police held an African-American junior at gunpoint, mistakenly identifying him as a suspect in a burglary. In prior years the Intercultural Committee had distributed flyers with less formal guidance on Halloween costumes, suggesting a range of questions to consider, including “Is it racist? Is it offensive? Will people get it?” The 2015 email was more specific, more directive, and more formal. In the summer of 2015, inspired by successful efforts to decommission the Confederate flag after a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, activists launched a campaign demanding the renaming of Yale’s Calhoun College, which honors John C. Calhoun, a prominent proponent of slavery during the years before the Civil War. The more pointed Intercultural Affairs Halloween email grew out of a months-long campaign to shift the onus of addressing potentially offensive costumes away from students of color. Activists maintained that they were faced with having to either silently tolerate costumes they considered insensitive or raise their objections directly with other students and engage in awkward, often draining dialogue on fraught questions of race, culture, and ethnicity. . . Asked whether requesting that the Christakises be removed as master and associate master constituted censorship or punishment for speech, the students pointed out that they had not called for the couple to be removed from their faculty positions, in which academic freedom was paramount. Rather, they said, they wanted them ousted as house masters because they had failed to demonstrate empathy for students of color, a prerequisite for effective service in those positions. Alejandra Padin–Dujon said: ‘It is not a teaching position. It is a head-of-student-life position…. With Erika Christakis, it doesn’t matter how brilliant she is. It doesn’t matter how great her class is. If she is unable to make students of color feel at home in her college … then she is not suited to being an assistant master even though she may be suited to being a professor or lecturer.’” (From: https://pen.org/sites/default/files/PEN_campus_report_final_online_2.pdf )

And if you want to talk about weaponized outrage, from what I understand, at least one of the Yale protesters had to go into hiding and her family was forced to move because of the amount of harassment and the number of violent threats she received in the wake of the backlash against the Yale students. Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

“for instance, that the students did not demand that any faculty member be fired, but rather asked for their resignations from a specific role in the university that was separate from their roles as faculty members”

I see, they did not “demand” the offending faculty to be “fired,” they simply “asked for their resignations.”

And they say sophistry died with Protagoras.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Are you seriously going to say there is no substantive difference between being fired simpliciter with losing particular job responsibilities at an institution where you remain otherwise employed? Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Given that Erika Christakis wound up resigning ALL her teaching responsibilities at Yale in the aftermath of the Great Halloween Costume Kerfuffle of 2015, yes, I am “seriously going to say” that.

I suggesting checking the facts, as well as your SJW privilege.

#SJWsAlwaysLieReport

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Thank you. I mean, I think it’s ridiculous to accuse me of lying for saying the Yale students were caricatured when I’ve given you links to just a few (of many) extensive sources of further information regarding details that description left out, and now you’re going to blame the students as if Christakis were fired because they asked that she resign from a particular role when she could have remained on faculty even if she or Yale had done as the students asked. But, telling me to check my SJW privilege was funny — I will give you that. I actually laughed out loud. Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

[Onion Man’s comment has been deleted for noncompliance with the comments policy. Subsequent comments which do not comply with the comments policy will not appear nor be noted.]Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

“Are you seriously going to say there is no substantive difference between being fired simpliciter with losing particular job responsibilities at an institution where you remain otherwise employed? ”

Right, it’s not a caricature because the students demanded people resign from their positions, rather than be fired from them. And this is all gussied up in a narrative about how hard it is to be a student at Yale when a master of one’s college (trigger [email protected]@[email protected]!!) says that students should be able to exercise their own judgment about what to wear on Halloween without having the University set the rules. This is the “liberalism” we are told is working in the interest of social justice in America today. It’s nuts.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

No, it’s a caricature in this respect because they did not ask them to resign from their positions as faculty and so the outcome of their request, if granted, would not be tantamount to the outcome of having been fired. If you want to describe a background of years of substantive complaints about discrimination, inequitable access, and inequitable support as being “gussied up in a narrative about how hard it is to be a student at Yale” you’re free to do so, but again, I think that’s an illustration of my earlier point.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Right, it’s not a caricature because the students demanded people resign rather than demand they be fired. You are describing a distinction without a difference when the question is whether the characterization was a caricature. And you’ve established my point–the tide has turned, and one-line rejoinders aren’t going to hold their ground any longer. As it happens, the attempt to back up your retort with block-quoted complaints does nothing to vindicate the behavior of those students.

So yes, I’m quite happy to call out the gussied up narrative used to support their shameful behavior. Their behavior was reprehensible by any measure of rational debate or civil discourse, and the victimhood posture of “years of substantive complaints” rings hollow when one looks at the way they behaved. It was shameful of them to act that way, and it is shameful of others to support it with narratives of the sort you describe.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Ok, so to be clear, you think that if e.g., someone were to say that their department chair ought to resign from their role as chair that is tantamount to saying that they ought to be fired, and pointing out that their role as faculty is separable from their role as chair is to point out a distinction without a difference? Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

No, I’m saying that it is not a caricature to report what happened as a case of claiming that the professor should be fired. You can jimmy up some other context where that distinction matters, and where ‘caricature’ would be apt. Here it doesn’t, and it isn’t. I believe I’ve made this clear by sufficiently circumscribing what I’ve said so as to restrict it to the situation under discussion.

And the petulant outburst culminating from the exchange beginning here:

https://youtu.be/Tsgc0k594Js?t=225

complete with the duplicitous shift from the trembling voice of the victim to outrage at his disagreement with her, gives the lie to the narrative about “years of substantive complaints about discrimination”. It was the email they were complaining about, and no amount of post-hoc rationalization will change the facts concerning what they said and how they said it. Meanwhile, this is the ‘liberalism’ we meet with in some academic circles, enabled by individuals whose sense of civil propriety and “physical well-being and safety” is so distorted as to be laughable were it not for the fact that they have weaponized disagreement with them. And people’s professional livelihoods are on the line because of it.
Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Wait, you think you can tell from the fact that a woman’s voice trembled before shifting to outrage that she’s duplicitous and what complaint, precisely, and solely, caused her to lose her cool? Preston, I’m sorry but I am having a really difficult time believing you’re being serious. And I’m not jimmying up another context. I’m describing literally what the students asked for. Both in that video and in the days of discussion which followed. Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Sorry, this was meant to go here:

Yes Kathryn, I think the behavior is duplicitous–the victimhood is being used as a shield to pursue a political agenda, and the claim to be a victim has no merit. It was an email telling them that in the Christakis’ opinion it wasn’t the University’s place to tell the students how to dress on Halloween. Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

I never said it had nothing to do with the email. I said it was a caricature not a portrait of the wrong subject. Before you assume there’s no merit in any of the many, many, students claims to have experienced discrimination or inequitable treatment, and that their supposed duplicitousness is putting folks jobs on the line, you should know the faculty senate at Yale commissioned a committee to examine diversity issues, and what they found corroborates those students claims.

http://fassenate.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Reports/A%20‘Devastating%20Account’%20of%20Diversity%20at%20Yale%20-%20The%20Chronicle%20of%20Higher%20Education%20copy.pdfReport

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

We’re just going to have to disagree about the aptness of ‘caricature’ here, I guess. At any rate, I’m glad it brought out more of the issue. And the video speaks for itself when it comes to what the students were complaining about. Calling for Christakis’ resignation over that email, as the woman in the video clearly does, was deplorable. There is no sense in which “the physical well-being and safety of students” was under threat.

As to the use of victimhood as a shield for the pursuit of political ends, consider what happened to Laura Kipnis as another instance where victimhood status is used as a weapon to punish the critics of a political agenda.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/05/29/laura_kipnis_title_ix_investigation_feminism_political_correctness_controversy.html

Kipnis wrote a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education that was critical of the way Universities are handling what she called ‘sexual paranoia’. As a result, she was subject to a Title IX investigation. If you don’t agree with the politics, you’re subject to professional and social condemnation by people who portray themselves as victims. That kind of a situation makes it impossible to question the status of these people as victims without having one’s professional and social well-being attacked. It’s pathological.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

And just to be clear, I’ve never said anything that supports your implication that I am assuming “there’s no merit in any of the many, many, students claims to have experienced discrimination or inequitable treatment”. I have tried to be careful about what I’m saying, so please try not to impute things to me that there is no basis for. The point is, as the students themselves make clear in that video, it was an email encouraging them to decide for themselves what to wear on Halloween that was at issue. Whatever merit there may be in complaints about the “many, many” other things that have happened, there is no merit in calling for the professional censure of the Christakises over that email. I’d like to think we could at least agree on that, no?Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Again, yes, she said he should resign — but *from his position as college master, not from his position on faculty.*

As for this, “That kind of a situation makes it impossible to question the status of these people as victims without having one’s professional and social well-being attacked. It’s pathological.” Well, you’re doing exactly that in this thread do it’s hardly impossible. And given that both the Yale protests and the complaints against Kipnis are widely reviled within academia and without, I hardly think you’re fighting against the status quo.

As for dismissing the many students complaints of being subject to discrimination, when you tell me that claims to victimhood have no merit, or that the concept of victim is being used as a shield to advance a political agenda, or say that I’m jimmying up irrelevant context when I refer to those complaints, you are dismissing them. I’m not imputing things to you without basis. I’m reading the words you are writing here. Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Okay, so we can quibble over what ‘fired’ comes to as well. Still not a caricature, particularly given the ramifications of the behavior these students were displaying.

As to my doing what I say is impossible–don’t think for a moment I’m not aware of the professional danger I’m putting myself in by disagreeing so stridently with you about this. I don’t know what the status quo is, and I suspect it varies from context to context, but there’s certainly a contingent of people (e.g., Kipnis’ accusers and the students in Yale’s quad) who are willing to weaponize victimhood in the pursuit of political ends.

Finally, this is what you wrote:

“Before you assume there’s no merit in any of the many, many, students claims to have experienced discrimination or inequitable treatment”

But I’ve made no assumptions about what merit any of the other “many, many” student claims might have. The point is, the claims made about the email have no merit at all. And those are the claims the students themselves were making. Post hoc rationalizations don’t change the fact that what they said and how they said it was shameful, and it is shameful to portray what they were doing as striking a blow for social justice. It was the petulant outrage of the coddled elite frustrated at Christakis’ disagreement with them over what amounts to a “safe space” and the rights of individuals to decide for themselves how to dress on Halloween.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

And can we agree on this:

Whatever merit there may be in complaints about the “many, many” other things that have happened, there is no merit in calling for the professional censure of the Christakises over that email. Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

If you step on someone’s toes, and they say, hey — that really hurt, and you reply, I only stepped on your toes, calm down, and they reply again, my foot is broken, so you didn’t merely step on my toes, you stepped on the toes of a broken foot — that context matters, right? It impacts the extent to which their claim to having been harmed by your stepping on them is legitimate, no? So, when I say, these students have tried to make clear repeatedly that their frustration with the email and the Christakises response to that frustration is coming out of a context in which a plethora of concerns about racism on campus were raised, and you say that’s just me trying to gussy this up in a narrative about how hard it is to be a student at Yale, or that their claims to being hurt are weaponizing the status of victim — that only gets off the ground if those other complaints are without merit, just as the response “You weren’t really harmed; I only stepped on your toes” in the hypothetical I just described would only get off the ground if you assume that the person’s foot isn’t really broken.

As for professional censure, I agree they should not be censured in their capacity as faculty — but again, that’s not what the students asked for. If you want me to agree that it was wrong of the students to ask for them to resign from their positions as college masters, no, I don’t think that’s clear. As I commented above, according to Yale’s own description of the responsibilities of that position, it includes psycho-social care of the students, “The head is the chief administrative officer and the presiding faculty presence in each residential college. He or she is responsible for the physical well-being and safety of students in the residential college, as well as for fostering and shaping the social, cultural, and educational life and character of the college.”

The email itself, though I think it was insensitive, I don’t think it would disqualify one from being able to serve this role effectively — but I do think what followed plausibly could given that it was part of that job to create a productive social, cultural, and educational environment for the students under their care in a residential situation. Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Thanks, this helps. I’m glad you think the email doesn’t constitute grounds for dismissal. In fact, it seems quite sensible to suppose the Christakises were fulfilling their duties for “psycho-social care” when encouraging the students to decide for themselves what kind of clothes to wear on Halloween. The idea that their “psycho-social care” requires the University to tell people how to dress is exactly the kind of coddling that people are pointing out is part of the problem with these outbursts, and care for the well-being of one’s charges-in-residence plausibly requires, at this stage of their lives, encouraging them to face these problems like adults.

I disagree with your assessment that it might be reasonable to think it wasn’t wrong to ask for the master’s resignation, and for the same grounds I’ve given above, though I can understand that people disagree about whether asking for a resignation is of itself inappropriate here.

At the same time, I hope you agree that the behavior the students displayed, and the outrage they express over that email, is not appropriate. And it is clear in that video that the email is what they are complaining about–again, just watch the exchange leading up to the student demanding that Christakis step down. If those students had a problem with the “many, many” things that you have alluded to, they should have focused on those “many, many” things. That’s how adults handle the problems they face–they address them head on. You don’t get to pitch a fit about X, demand concessions over it, and then retreat to concerns over Y when the petulance over X is called out.

That’s one reason the foot-stepping analogy you provided misfires. If I step on your foot and you demand an apology while yelling at me and calling for my resignation, you don’t get to defend yourself by saying your real concern was over something I did a week ago. If that’s your concern, bring it up. The second reason the analogy misfires is that Christakis didn’t do anything to step on anyone’s feet–he expressed a perfectly reasonable view about the way adult members of a free society should expect to comport themselves on Halloween. As I say above, I think that is plausibly within the scope of his duties concerning the care of his charges. So the relevant analogy would be one where I offer someone an umbrella in the rain and he explodes in my face and demands I be shamed in some way.

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Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

“[I]t seems quite sensible to suppose the Christakises were fulfilling their duties for “psycho-social care” when encouraging the students to decide for themselves what kind of clothes to wear on Halloween. The idea that their “psycho-social care” requires the University to tell people how to dress is exactly the kind of coddling that people are pointing out is part of the problem with these outbursts, and care for the well-being of one’s charges-in-residence plausibly requires, at this stage of their lives, encouraging them to face these problems like adults.”

The university didn’t issue a mandate banning racist costumes. They sent out an email encouraging students to be sensitive to these matters when deciding what to wear. Plausibly, part of being an adult is trying to not be a jerk without reason.

I just saw your comment below which I must have missed earlier about the sources I quoted, which are again relevant here. I’m not sure from your comment if you chose not to read them because you thought it was “preaching to [my] choir” but I’ll just note that PEN America is a free speech advocacy group. They are hardly illiberal.

“If those students had a problem with the “many, many” things that you have alluded to, they should have focused on those “many, many” things.”

They did. Over several days of discussion. Which is why the foot-stepping analogy does hold, and why I do think it looks as though the call for resignations was plausibly justified. Sure, the students lost their cool. But that’s not all that happened.

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Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Yeah, I still think the foot analogy misfires for the two reasons I gave above. Christakis wasn’t doing anything like stepping on someone’s foot, and no one said anything at the time about what was after the fact supposed to be the problem. Either way, we agree that the email does not constitute grounds for dismissal, and we disagree over whether the post-hoc rationalizations justify their call for resignation.

So, here are things as I see them. Let me know if you think I’ve made an error. I maintain that the Christakises were exercising their duty for “psycho-social care” by encouraging students to face these issues themselves rather than have the University intercede on their behalf. You think the “many, many” other problems that went undiscussed in that altercation, and which were wheeled in “over several days” after the altercation, somehow mean that these students were striking blow for Social Justice with their behavior in the quad. So maybe that’s the nub of our disagreement.

Either way, the students themselves make clear in that video what is motivating them in that encounter. Watch the clip. The woman screams at him to resign because he disagrees with her over whether the email sent around pushing back against the University’s directive was appropriate, and because he disagrees with her over what counts as a “safe space” for her at University. That is her self-professed position. So yes, in the students’ own words, this was an altercation over an email.

Once again, this is all compatible with there being “many, many” other problems worth addressing that went unaddressed in that outburst.

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Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Incidentally, I didn’t find any mention of anything the Christakises had done that was censurable, beyond sending the email, in anything in the sources you linked about the “many, many” problems that were supposed to be motivating the students. So were they themselves actually guilty of anything else? Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Yes — I think you’ve made an error. For one, I don’t grant that the context I’m referring to, or the students explanations of what happened amounts to post-hoc rationalization. These discussions were happening both before and after the confrontation in the quad which FIRE released a few minute video of. I also never said I think these students were striking a blow for social justice — and that’s not what I think did happen.

I’ve watched the clip Preston. I saw it the day it was posted. I’ve watched it again a few times in the interim, and I watched it once more to refresh my memory when you shared it here. I have no idea why you think you need to keep referring me to it. I’m familiar with it’s contents.

Imagine a different scenario. Suppose on some secular campus religious Christian students have felt excluded and been discriminated against for years. Suppose further that, for whatever reason, every year on Easter a number of students on this campus have a habit of defacing or destroying crucifixes for fun. After months of discussion with the religious students trying to get the university to listen to how the campus climate could be improved for them in a way that would facilitate a healthy learning environment, a student life office sends out an email before Easter saying something to the effect of “Hey everybody — we value of freedom of expression so we’re not banning anything, but it’s a good idea to take into account how destroying religious symbols can impact the environment for others — here are some things it would be valuable to think about as Easter is approaching”. Imagine a resident adviser then sent out an email to everyone in her dorm about how adults handle these things like adults — if you don’t like crucifixes being destroyed, look the other way! Or talk to the person destroying it! Back in her day, that’s what we would have done. Imagine then that students hurt and frustrated by this tried to talk to her, and she said she would have to think about whether or not she should apologize, and that she doesn’t think it’s her job to make them feel comfortable. Against that backdrop, I think it would be completely and totally understandable for the students to lose their cool. It’s not about feeling comfortable. It’s about undermining the sole, relatively minimal, and non-binding effort to address merely one of their litany of concerns and then having serious trouble understanding or acknowledging why students felt hurt. And I think that’s analogous to what happened here. And moreover, you don’t need to think their reaction to the email was proportionate to the issue of Halloween costumes itself if you really do want to insist on screening off all the background information to think that it would be appropriate to be sorry that someone under your care is hurting. Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

“Against that backdrop, I think it would be completely and totally understandable for the students to lose their cool.”

If by “understandable” you mean, intelligible given the fact that we’re flawed human beings, of course. But that’s never been at issue, at least not in anything I’ve said. If by “understandable” you mean “justifiable” or “appropriate in response to the perceived slight”, then I could not disagree more. That goes for Christians and crucifixes as well as university students and Halloween costumes. And I keep referring you to the video because it seems to me that it plainly shows the students in that exchange, particularly the one at the end, are way out of line–unjustifiable, inappropriate. One simply doesn’t behave like that when what is at issue, as it is explicitly in what she says, is a disagreement with Christakis over what his responsibilities are and what she is entitled to.

If, as it seems, there was nothing other than that email that incriminates the Christakises in any of the “many, many” other problems that are supposed to have been at issue, then the result of their outburst is all the more shameful. That is a horrible type of behavior to allow young people to develop a habit of adopting.

And the remark that it would be appropriate “to be sorry that someone under your care is hurting” shifts the emphasis on what the apology would amount to. Christakis has a different conception of what adult responsibility involves. It would be perfectly appropriate to feel saddened that people under his care are hurt by his attitude. But it would not be appropriate–indeed, it would be disingenuous–to say he was sorry, given his considered view. Sometimes a child needs to go through a difficult experience to grow a little, and though it may be sad to see them do it, if it is for the best then one should not apologize for it.

As to your emendations to my reconstruction. I grant that you don’t think the explanations were post-hoc rationalizations, and though I think the display of those students in the recording shows otherwise, I guess we’ll have to disagree here as well. At any rate, thanks for the exchange. I hope we can do it again some time.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

“Christakis has a different conception of what adult responsibility involves. It would be perfectly appropriate to feel saddened that people under his care are hurt by his attitude. But it would not be appropriate–indeed, it would be disingenuous–to say he was sorry, given his considered view. Sometimes a child needs to go through a difficult experience to grow a little, and though it may be sad to see them do it, if it is for the best then one should not apologize for it.”

I actually don’t think it’s clear he does have a different conception of what adult responsibility involves — I think the heart of the disagreement between the Christakises and the students was not about how adults should behave, though there was disagreement about whether or not appealing to that conception of adult responsibility was relevant. Remember, that email with guidance on questions to consider regarding Halloween costumes came about precisely because students had already taken it upon themselves to engage in serious discussions about racism on campus as individuals. Of course they hadn’t lost their “capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble [them]”, as she put it, or “lost faith in young people’s capacity – in your capacity – to exercise self-censure”. They wouldn’t have bothered to have those conversations — the very email she was objecting to wouldn’t have come about — if they had.

So, we still disagree about lots of things — but yes, thanks for the exchange to you as well!Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

All I meant was that it would be disingenuous of the Christakises to apologize for the content of the email given their considered view that they were *fulfilling* their duties of care to their charges by suggesting the students be resistant to institutional mechanisms imposed onto the rights and responsibilities of individuals in a community freely entered into together.

Whether and how the principle of care, as concerning helping the students segue into a healthy adult livelihood, involved encouraging them to habituate themselves to disagree amiably with someone over something like a Halloween costume, or giving them a safe space where they wouldn’t be triggered by such a traumatic email, is of course the nub of the issue. As it happens, Erika Christakis published an ope-ed on Friday that confirms my reading of her and her husband’s position, complete with a specification of just what they were willing to apologize for:

““I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation,” I wrote, in part. “I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.”

Some called my email tone-deaf or even racist, but it came from a conviction that young people are more capable than we realize and that the growing tendency to cultivate vulnerability in students carries unacknowledged costs.

Some demanded not only apologies for any unintended racial insensitivity (which we gladly offered) but also a complete disavowal of my ideas (which we did not) — as well as advance warning of my appearances in the dining hall so that students accusing me of fostering violence wouldn’t be disturbed by the sight of me.

Not everyone bought this narrative, but few spoke up. And who can blame them? Numerous professors, including those at Yale’s top-rated law school, contacted us personally to say that it was too risky to speak their minds. Others who generously supported us publicly were admonished by colleagues for vouching for our characters. Many students met with us confidentially to describe intimidation and accusations of being a “race traitor” when they deviated from the ascendant campus account that I had grievously injured the community. The Yale Daily News evidently felt obliged to play down key facts in its reporting, including about the two-hour-plus confrontation with a crowd of more than 100 students in which several made verbal and physical threats to my husband while four Yale deans and administrators looked on.

One professor I admire claimed my lone email was so threatening that it unraveled decades of her work supporting students of color. One email.”

From here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/my-halloween-email-led-to-a-campus-firestorm–and-a-troubling-lesson-about-self-censorship/2016/10/28/70e55732-9b97-11e6-a0ed-ab0774c1eaa5_story.html?utm_term=.7b5646e67d50

I understand you do some work on freedom of expression in higher education. It’s something I’m interested in as well. Do you know of another time in the history of U.S. higher education where a group of students rallied an academic community to censure members of that community, otherwise in good standing, over something for which there was never even a suspicion by any formal body that a condition of membership in the community had been violated? The stuff in the 60s and 70s was strident, but all sides seemed to agree that the debate was worth having out. The p.c. craze of the 90s was mostly toothless protesting directed at speakers’ invitations, together with some backroom negotiations getting programs like Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, and Race Studies off the ground.

Are either Ward Churchill or Steven Salaita a precedent? The latter ended up keeping the position, and my understanding is that Churchill’s scholarship was at issue at least as much as the inflammatory stuff he said.

The closest analogue I can come up with is McCarthyism, which resulted in somewhere around 600 U.S. educators losing their jobs.

http://scalar.usc.edu/works/constructing-a-culture/mccarthyism-in-education

But McCarthyism, like similar mechanisms used by the Catholic Church and the Soviet Union, was a top-down phenomenon which students and academics did not themselves initiate. Can you think of another case where the rallying of a student-run mob led to the disenfranchisement of a member of an American academic community without any formal mechanisms even initiated for assessing whether some wrong had occurred?

Looking over the commentary that’s been given in support of these students, I keep coming back to “sophistical casuistry” as a term for the phenomenon. Brian Leiter’s takedown of the piece that Kate Manne and Jason Stanley put up in the Chronicle of Higher Education is right about this much: they do not accurately represent the concerns voiced over what happened to the Christakises. Instead, there’s a baroque narrative swept in to explain how tough it is to be a Yalie person of color right now and a veiled suggestion that anyone who doesn’t sympathize with the position of these students is crossways on social justice.

But that’s not at all what the objections to those students’ behavior amount to. Whatever “many, many” problems Yalie people of color face, that was NEVER at issue with anything that’s been said in support of the Christakises, so wheeling it in, and protesting with distinctions like “publicly shouted at and called to be fired” versus “publicly shouted at and called to resign”, or “employed as an educator” and “employed as an administrator”, just looks casuistical.

The “many, many” problems that Yalie people of color face is orthogonal to the concern with the behavior in that quad, and with the people calling for the Christakises to apologize for their views. That behavior, both in the quad and subsequently, was an attempt to use the will of the mob to enforce ideological conformity with a particular political position, and the effort on the part of certain ideologues to cover that up by ignoring it in favor of a backstory about oppression and social justice is sophistical.

Thankfully, as I look over comment sections on news pieces from then and now, the overwhelming majority of people seem to get what’s going on. It would be good of the philosophical community to be more careful about trying to do so as well. Particularly when the members of that community decide to have a say in the public sphere (I’m looking at you, Manne and Stanley).

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Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

The central debate in this thread is about whether, as Kathryn says, there is a lot of relevant broader context important to understanding the events at Yale, or whether, as Preston says, a brief video clip is enough to show that black students at Yale are totally out of control.

In this context, it is amazing to me that Preston thinks it his place to chastise Kathryn and others who have weighed in for speaking without having a thorough understanding of the situation. I guess he thinks it obvious that Kathryn is being disingenuous or underinformed, despite her very patient engagement. I guess he thinks Kathryn Pogin, Kate Manne, and Jason Stanley, too, are totally out of control.

This latest comment from Preston, I think crosses something of a line—it’s one thing to express disagreement with Kathryn et al; I think one is clearly outside the realm of good faith intellectual engagement once one is telling their interlocutors that their views are unworthy of public expression.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Actually, the debate thread was about whether Reider’s remark was a caricature, and it branched away from that. As for the rest of your comment, it attributes things to me I’ve never said. Like this:

“as Preston says, a brief video clip is enough to show that black students at Yale are totally out of control.”

I’ve never said that. And in comments to Matt McAdam I made clear just what I thought the relevance of the video was for the broader point, and just what the broader point was I was using it to illustrate. Also, I’ve never told Kathryn her views are unworthy of public expression. I did say I think it would be good if people like Manne and Stanley were more careful in reconstructing the view they take issue with in their article. But I’ve justified that claim–Leiter does a fine job showing just how inaccurate is their reconstruction. And there’s no sense in which a claim like that, backed up in the way I have, is “clearly outside the realm of good faith intellectual engagement”. When someone misrepresents the views of another person or person, it is perfectly in order to call that out and chastise them for doing so.

So when you tell us “this thread is about whether, as Kathryn says, there is a lot of relevant broader context important to understanding the events at Yale, or whether, as Preston says, a brief video clip is enough to show that black students at Yale are totally out of control”, you, like Manne and Stanley, are not doing a good job of reconstructing the debate, and you are opening yourself up to the same criticism I gave to Manne and Stanley.

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Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Also, remarks like this are just empty:

“In this context, it is amazing to me that Preston thinks it his place to chastise Kathryn and others who have weighed in for speaking without having a thorough understanding of the situation.”

If you are amazed that I’m not obeying your conception of “my place” because there’s something you think I’m misunderstanding, please specify it and we can talk about it. I’ve done quite a bit of looking into the Halloween fiasco at Yale, and I feel pretty confident in everything I’ve said. I also try to be careful about how I say what I say so that I don’t misspeak. Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Preston, regarding your response to Jonathan – you specifically included me in your remark about Manne and Stanley.

Regarding this, “Whatever ‘many, many’ problems Yalie people of color face, that was NEVER at issue with anything that’s been said in support of the Christakises, so wheeling it in, and protesting with distinctions like ‘publicly shouted at and called to be fired’ versus ‘publicly shouted at and called to resign’, or ‘employed as an educator’ and ‘employed as an administrator’, just looks casuistical.”

I honestly don’t know or how to communicate this in a way where we can actually talk to one another rather than past one another again, but I’ll try to reiterate this again nonetheless: I am not wheeling in a distinction between calling for a resignation and calling for a firing. That’s totally tangential to anything I’ve tried to say. What I am trying to communicate is that in addition to being employed as faculty by Yale, the Christakises had this additional role – as master and associate master of a college. That role is a student life position one has alongside one’s ordinary faculty position. When students called for them to leave those non-academic roles in the residential system of Yale, that is not tantamount to calling for the Christakises to be fired. When people say “I was fired” we don’t typically think that means they’re still employed by the same institution that fired them. We don’t typically think they still have the protections of tenure, a stable income, or the very same place to get up and go to work in the morning. That’s the distinction I’m making. That’s not sophistical. That’s standard English usage.

Same to the issue of the many problems Yale students of color face on campus and the question of apology. Remember in the FIRE video you linked to, the discussion begins with a student saying that she has been listening to Christakis but in listening to him she hasn’t heard an acknowledgment of the students’ perspective. She tells him that what she was hoping to hear him say is that “I hear you, I hear that you are hurting, and I am sorry that I have caused you pain.” Note – she did not ask him to acknowledge that pain was unjustly caused, nor did she ask him to acknowledge that pain was not caused in the service of some higher good. She didn’t even ask for him to apologize for racial insensitivity – she only asked him to listen to what the students have to communicate, and to say that he was sorry that the students were hurting. That’s it. And that apology he did not gladly give. He said he needed to think about it. And that’s the context out of which the rest of the video follows.
As for the history of student activism, I’m surprised you don’t know about this given your reference to Jason’s work – but actually the critiques we’re hearing now about student activism parallel critiques from decades past (including the 60s). A. H. Raskin wrote about Berkley student activists in the 60s, “The proudly immoderate zealots … pursue an activist creed — that only commitment can strip life of its emptiness, its absence of meaning in a great “knowledge factory” like Berkeley.” (The student activists he was criticizing belonged to the Free Speech Movement.) Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Sorry, one more thing, just to drive home the problems with the reconstructions on offer here from people like Jonathan, Manne, and Stanley.

One of the productive things that emerged from the back-and-forth between Kathryn and myself, it seems to me, is the disagreement over what the duties of care in a situation like the Christakises. That, I now believe, is where the real disagreement lies. And Erika Christakis’ piece in the Washington Post on Friday confirms that reading. But that position goes undiscussed when people reconstruct the debate in the way Stanley, Manne, and Jonathan have–namely, by weaponizing the victim-status of the protestors and demonizing anyone who disagrees with what they did. But notice, no one said anything Yalie people of color, as a group, being “totally out of control”. And in fact, I repeatedly emphasized that whatever “many, many” problems Yalie people of color may be worth talking about, for all the complaining that was raised against the email.

The debate has always, here and elsewhere, been about whether the people in that quad were justified in behaving the way they did in response to that email, together with whether the subsequent call to censure the Christakises over their views was likewise justified. And it turns out there is a substantive disagreement about the significance of that email vis a vis the Christakises’ duties of care to the students in their house. That goes missing when someone breaks in at the end (after, I might add, Kathryn and I had a pointed but friendly enough exchange where we both thanked each other for the chance to hash it out) and says “this thread is about whether, as Kathryn says, there is a lot of relevant broader context important to understanding the events at Yale, or whether, as Preston says, a brief video clip is enough to show that black students at Yale are totally out of control”.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Actually I’m confused by your last reply to Jonathan because I thought the debate was about whether “Or, if a residence hall master claims that their college shouldn’t weigh in on student Halloween costumes, and students respond by claiming that that person should be fired,” was a caricature of what happened. Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Ok Kathryn, thanks, I think I see what Jonathan meant now. I do think the distinctions you’re drawing are orthogonal to the point, though the remark at the end was specifically addressed to the Manne and Stanley piece. At any rate, I never said anyone’s views were “unworthy of public expression”. And what I have been doing–namely, objecting to the way the episode is portrayed, and to the way the ‘other side’ is being represented–is most certainly within the realm of “good faith intellectual engagement”.

I get that you think the fired/asked to resign distinction is important, but I don’t, and largely because it is irrelevant for assessing whether the students were in the right in what they did. Publicly shouting at someone in the interest of removing them from a position of authority, whether or not that position is the only position they have at an institution, as with whether it’s in the interest of getting them fired or in having them resign, is relevantly the same here: in any event, this was a case of publicly mobilizing a mob to achieve a political end in an academic setting. It’s casuistical to focus on that distinction when the significance of what happened, in terms of the role the students played, is the same. And to my knowledge, this is the first time something like this has succeeded in American higher education. So that’s what I was asking you about–I know the rhetoric used in the 60s (and the 90s for that matter) was similar. But it was the practical consequences of the agents involved that I was interested in. Has there ever been a case where mob tactics like this secured what the mob was after without even the suspicion by a formal body that a convention of the institution was violated?

As for the video–as I indicated with my response to your foot analogy, I do not think the fact that someone asks for an apology automatically entitles them to one. That is the Christakises’ view, too, it seems. Sometimes, if the pain is something that one recognizes as a foreseen but unintended consequence of an action, while the intended consequence is all-things-considered for the best, the right response is *not* to apologize. Instead, the right response is to try to help the individual successfully cope with such events while also reaping their benefits. That’s just part of what it takes to help young people go through difficult things that are ultimately good for them. And that’s the sophistry–presenting a disagreement over whether something is wrong, about which people of good will can obviously disagree, as if it was a case of someone committing a wrong and refusing to apologize for it. Incidentally, that’s one of the values of the Haidt and Lukianoff piece on the coddling of the American mind–they suggest practical steps to help young people face life’s difficulties without resorting to tactics of the sort we are seeing in some places in American higher education.

As to the debate here–it’s shifted a bit since we first started talking, I think. Originally it was about the aptness of ‘caricature’. I think we agreed to disagree there. I take it the nub of the disagreement concerned what duties of care a “master” has toward the people in his or her charge. I and the Christakises think, as Erika Christakis put it in her triggering email:

“I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation,” I wrote, in part. “I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.”

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Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Sorry, a couple more quick thoughts. First, a clarification: I think the conversation in this thread shifted from the caricature question, to what I take to be the real issue: namely, what the duty of care was that a “master” should be responsive to. That’s the ‘real issue’ in that It seems to me that’s what is driving the disagreement across the various places it’s occurred.

Second, I think there’s an important distinction between the kinds of public remarks that Manne and Stanley offered in the Chronicle and the back-and-forth here. Both are public, and as such both are subject to whatever norms are appropriate for a public debate. But with a piece published in a place like the Chronicle of Higher Education I think we should hold its authors to a higher standard of fidelity to the facts and carefulness in exposition than in a comment thread on a blog. That doesn’t mean a blog comment is immune from criticism if it’s ill-phrased, of course, but we should be willing to give our interlocutor more leeway in interpreting what they say. A blog conversation is more like a face-to-face conversation, and though much the same conversational norms concerning accuracy obtain in both kinds of cases, a face-to-face conversation has more of a function of ‘thinking out loud’ or deciding what to believe, rather than a considered expression of what one thinks or believes. Anyway, so it seems to me.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

“I get that you think the fired/asked to resign distinction is important, but I don’t, and largely because it is irrelevant for assessing whether the students were in the right in what they did.”

No — I don’t think the fired/asked to resign distinction is important. This is what I keep trying to say and I have no idea why it’s not getting uptake. The distinction I do think is important is being employed vs. not being employed. I am saying it is inaccurate to describe the students as asking for them to be fired because when one is fired by X, one is no longer employed by X, and no longer being master and associate master of their college does not entail no longer being employed by Yale. Their employment by Yale was never on the table with the students.

As for whether or not student activism has been successful in the past at achieving it’s aims without the involvement of formal bodies — yes. I can think of a couple of cases where it’s resulted in change that impacted particular individuals. If you’re interested in the history of student activism, I would look at Angus Johnston’s dissertation (he’s a historian of student activism; his dissertation was on the mid-century history of the National Student Association). It’s more than 500 pages, and most of it doesn’t relate to the specific question you’re asking, but he has a detailed table of contents on his website and the references would be useful to you.

If your comment was specifically about Manne and Stanley’s piece, I don’t know why you included me in the list of folks you were addressing it to. Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Right, sorry, I know that’s the distinction you’re after. That’s why I phrased things this way, to avoid appealing to it while still making my case:

“Publicly shouting at someone in the interest of removing them from a position of authority, whether or not that position is the only position they have at an institution, as with whether it’s in the interest of getting them fired or in having them resign, is relevantly the same here: in any event, this was a case of publicly mobilizing a mob to achieve a political end in an academic setting.”

As for the Manne and Stanley piece–I was responding to this comment from Jonathan:

“This latest comment from Preston, I think crosses something of a line—it’s one thing to express disagreement with Kathryn et al; I think one is clearly outside the realm of good faith intellectual engagement once one is telling their interlocutors that their views are unworthy of public expression.”

Part of the problem is that Jonathan was attributing to me things I’ve never said. So when he accused me of “telling [my] interlocutors that their views are unworthy of public expression”, I wondered what the hell he was referring to. The only thing I could make out that was remotely like that was this remark at the end of the comment he was responding to:

“It would be good of the philosophical community to be more careful about trying to [accurately reconstruct what is going on] as well. Particularly when the members of that community decide to have a say in the public sphere (I’m looking at you, Manne and Stanley).”

That was the only thing I said that came close to telling anyone their views were “unworthy of public expression”, but it made no reference to you. I did mean to group your remarks with Manne and Stanley as instances where I take it the real issue (a debate about what the duty of care here is) was being occluded by one side. But as I say in the comment at 9:57, I think that public contributions to the Chronicle of Higher Education (say) should be held to a more rigorous standard than comments at Daily Nous (say).

Either way, it’s inaccurate to say that I’m telling Manne and Stanley, still less you (with whom, I once again want to say, I’ve had a productive exchange that I’m thankful for) that their views are “unworthy of public expression”. I’m quite happy to have people express their views publicly all day long. But I’m certainly not going to refrain from objecting to views that, as I see it, misrepresent what is at issue. And Leiter’s takedown on the Manne and Stanley article shows that they did indeed misrepresent the view of the other side.

And thanks for the recommendation about Johnston–a recent dissertation on the subject sounds like just the place to turn.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Oh! When you said “I’m looking at you, Manne and Stanley” I thought (and I take it Jonathan thought too) you were saying “you” in reference to me, Kathryn Pogin, not as a qualifier to Manne and Stanley. Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

Oh shit! I get it. Never even occurred to me to think about that.

And of course I wouldn’t expect you to know this, but I’m an inveterate proponent of the Oxford comma. Had I been making a list, I would have said “I’m looking at you, Manne, and Stanley”.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

“these students were exercising their speech rights despite the hostility to their views on campus”

I’m afraid we do not share a view either on what freedom of speech is meant to protect, or on what counts as hostility. The behavior of those students in the quad is reprehensible by any measure of rational debate. And block-quoting people whose narrative involves questioning the “the physical well-being and safety of students” while supporting the illiberal display of petulant outrage exhibited in that video, and who defend themselves under the guise of “social justice”, isn’t doing anything but preaching to the choir. But I follow a different coryphyaeus, so you’ll have to understand I just don’t care. Here’s an image of my chorus, to give you a sense of my response to your block-quotes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qGXqaIhqJc

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Preston Stovall
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

Yes Kathryn, I think the behavior is duplicitous–the victimhood is being used as a shield to pursue a political agenda, and the claim to be a victim has no merit. It was an email telling them that in the Christakis’ opinion it wasn’t the University’s place to tell the students how to dress on Halloween.Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

Wow, this is a long and surprisingly intense thread! Kathryn Pogin disputed ajkreider’s description of the Christakis affair as a caricature, which prompted the Onion Man and Preston Stovall to paint a vividly exaggerated portrayal of the Yale students, setting aside as irrelevant the contextual details Kathryn suggested could make their protests more understandable. They also repeatedly, after several clarifications, conflated the suggestion that the Christakises step down as college masters with the suggestion that they step down as professors. ‘Caricature’ seems exactly the right word.

I do not understand why Preston Stovall thinks the video to which he links twice is helpful in making his point. When I watch that video, I see students who are deeply hurt. I suppose this is compatible with a variety of possible explanations, including (a) that they have been undergoing a long pattern of oppression, and have been ignored when they complained more quietly and respectably, and (b) that they are treated so well that they’ve become spoiled, and are now so sensitive that they will scream demands of resignations from anyone who voices disagreement to any of their whims. To me—especially in light of the background information I have—(a) seems overwhelmingly more plausible than (b). Certainly, contrary to Preston’s suggestion, the video offers no support for (b) over (a). A short video clip is not evidence that there is no broader relevant context. How could it be? Not even if that context isn’t mentioned in it—especially as, as Kathryn has pointed out in this thread, the students themselves *did* say there were many other precipitating factors. Shockingly enough, not all of that discussion made it into that particular video clip.

It’s almost as if Preston and Onion think this brief youtube video, which is entitled “Yale Students Whine and Moan About a Lack of Safe Space”, is itself the unfiltered truth, and that the things the human students in Connecticut said about what they were doing and what they wanted were some duplicitous attempt at spin. I agree with Kathryn: this looks at things exactly backwards.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
4 years ago

There was no conflation Jonathan. I simply deny that a shouting public demand that one resign from a position of authority and a shouting public demand that one be fired is a difference that makes a difference when deciding whether what Reider wrote is a caricature. Still less do I think the master/professor distinction matters–from what I can tell, that was never at issue anyway.

You say you see students deeply hurt in that video. So do I. But the fact that someone feels hurt doesn’t mean they’ve been harmed, and when I look at what the students say and do I do not find evidence that they have in fact been harmed by the thing they are complaining about. Context matters, of course. But so does what a person says and does. And in that video I see students acting like children while willing to exercise institutional power disproportionate to the offense they are complaining about, with an academic culture that is willing to allow this immaturity to go unchecked in the interest of ‘social justice’ crusades that are of dubious value. If the email wasn’t the issue, it should not have been made the issue, as it clearly was. The Christakis’ careers have been seriously harmed by those students’ response. That should trouble people who think the university is a place for reasoned debate over contentious issues, and that the young people who attend university should be given the intellectual and emotional resources needed to face those issues without having to resort to tactics like those displayed in that video.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
4 years ago

And the issue of context bearing on the significance of the students’ actions cuts both ways. The outburst in the quad at Yale isn’t an isolated occurrence, as this sort of thing has become not uncommon over the last few years–students use a mixture of unbridled outrage and emotional ebulation to call for professional censure against those with whom they disagree politically. Thankfully, there are organizations like FIRE and the Heterodox Academy that are beginning to push back against that kind of behavior. Hopefully, in the future, people in positions of power will be better equipped to give students the coping mechanisms they need to handle disagreements of this sort without having to resort to the kind of tactics on display here. The suggestions made at the end of this essay are a good place to start, it seems to me:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/

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Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

Funny story: A couple of weeks ago I was giving a presentation at a Georgetown Law Symposium on conceptualizations of free speech in campus activism debates. In part of my talk, I took issue with how I think groups like FIRE selectively, and sometimes inaccurately report on cases, in ways that unhelpfully politicize the notion of free speech. At one point, I attributed to the use of the narrative of students as “coddled” to groups like FIRE and the HA. Someone from FIRE who was there confronted me afterwards about it, telling me that FIRE doesn’t use the term ‘coddled’ and so I shouldn’t attribute it to them. Of course, as I’m sure you know, the head of FIRE is one of the co-authors of that piece you just linked to, titled, “The Coddling of the American Mind.” Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

Indeed, though of course I think the term ‘coddled’ is quite appropriate here and in the cases he and Haidt discuss. We’re facing all sorts of problems in this country right now, and people of good will and at least moderate intelligence need to be able to debate one another about what the problems and possible solutions are without resorting to public condemnation and the call to institutionally punish political opponents. Higher education, of all places, should be a venue where that debate can occur. But that’s now what we’re seeing.

That’s what really irks me about the way the Christakises were treated. They disagreed with some students concerning what their duties to care for them, and to help foster their burgeoning maturity, involved. As a result, they were subject to public condemnation and institutional pressure that, from what I can tell, ruined their careers at Yale. And is it true that nothing other than the email came in as something that they themselves were supposed to be on the hook for? Report

Matt McAdam
Matt McAdam
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

“We’re facing all sorts of problems in this country right now….”

And you seem to be saying that a couple of videos of fired-up 19-year-olds at a couple of super elite universities really, truly captures some of these problems. Is that right? Even against the background, that you surely accept, that people say all kinds of intemperate, obnoxious, unconsidered things that they may not even mean or that don’t perfectly capture their point when they’re 19 and fired up. And even against the imperative, again that you surely accept, that we have to try to overlook some surface-level things like tone and take into account real broad context in order to be charitable. That, perhaps people, especially fired-up 19-year-olds, can have a legitimate point somewhere buried in rhetoric and histrionics that we ought to put some effort into seeing. That we are entitled to some mercy because sometimes (god-forbid!) we all face situations where we just vent and don’t care if it’s justified. Even against these you want to say that a couple of short clips from videos of fired-up 19-year-olds are so significant because they capture mega, USA-level, whole society level, super worth fighting about because emblematic of major big deal stuff level, OMG it’s 2:30 in the morning must have the last word on Daily Nous level problems. Is that right? It’s not possible that the rule “it might not be a good idea to look to fired-up 19 year olds on college campuses as a gauge for the general state of society and civic discourse” isn’t perhaps worth considering as a regulative ideal? Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

Hi Matt–not at all. This video is one datapoint that is part of a larger problem. Anybody who’s been paying attention to higher education in the last couple of years is aware of it. I’m sure I don’t need to refer you to any sources, but you should at least be aware of the Heterodox Academy.

The value in dwelling on particular datapoints like the Yale fiasco lies in its ability to offer a testing ground for the principles that might be called on to explain or otherwise justify what occurred. And certainly people have opinions about the principles that best explain or otherwise justify that fiasco. So, I’m curious to see what people have to say about events like these once we get beyond the virtue-signaling and moral posturing.

Of course, the testing ground of any particular datapoint will be peppered with things peculiar to that situation, so we shouldn’t be too quick to generalize. Indeed, for the most part I think we should try to suss out what we take to be going on in the particular case under consideration. I think there’s value in that, particularly given the state of the country and the role of the philosopher as a cultural contributor. Only after we’ve done a bunch of that groundwork in the messy particulars will we be in a position to take a survey of the sort you were gesturing at with the imposition of generalization from this particular case to the larger problem.

And I try not to think in terms of “truly capturing” stuff of this sort, at least not without some remove from the particulars of individual cases (which, again, I don’t think we’re ready for yet, except to make some very general remarks). I’m of the opinion we’re at an early stage and that we need to talk about, and to ensure others are able to talk about, all sorts of things. And it turns out there are lots of places where one can do that today. I happen to be a philosophy instructor, at least for a while, and I never got into facebook. My understanding is that lots of these conversations happen there. I figure I’ll talk to people publically. I was glad to see Kathryn link to this, for instance:

https://pen.org/sites/default/files/PEN_campus_report_final_online_2.pdf

As to the ‘last word’, that’s something of a misnomer. This is an exchange online, able to go on as long as there’s a venue and people willing to participate. I’m really getting something out of it, and I expect other people are, too. I think about these things anyway. Hell, I went to a local dive last night and spent two hours talking with people I’ve met there about this stuff. Over the last couple of years, my sense is lots of people from a variety of backgrounds are interested in and capable of having conversations that you would not expect given the way those conversations sometimes play out in other quarters.

Finally, as to series of ‘thats’ in the middle of your post. This is something that came up in conversation with friends last night and I wanted to sleep on it. I’m not sure I have a handle on this yet, so the following is a bit of spitballing. Bear with me.

What bothers me about the way people position background, context, general appeals to how difficult it is to be a person of color at Yale today, etc., is the appearance of casuistry concerning what I take to be the underlying structural significance of the Yale Halloween fiasco. Kathryn’s appeal to the “many, many” problems the Yalie people of color face, Jonathan’s attempt to dismiss my position as conflating distinctions that I’ve nowhere gone sideways on (prove me wrong before you say I am), and your appeal to emotional sympathy in the interest of telling a story about what happened–these dialectical moves replace a concern with what is, in terms of certain facts that everyone can agree on, a case of students publically condemning a college official over an email concerning Halloween dress with the result that the people involved had their careers at Yale seriously harmed.

To my knowledge, that’s the first time an event like this has happened at a U.S. university. It bears a weird resemblance to some of the top-down mechanisms for keeping universities in line historically exercised by the church and in the Soviet Union. All the stuff about background and context looks like so much casuistic sophistry when one considers what happened to the Christakises. And that can be true even if there are otherwise “many, many” problems that Yalie people of color face. So all the stuff about background and context rings hollow when one looks at what happened to the Christakises as a result of that altercation in the quad. And if our colleges and universities aren’t teaching people how to behave with civil decorum in the quad at Yale, we’re in serious trouble.

Now maybe the Christakises did something else to deserve that fate. But I’ve asked my interlocutors a number of times whether there was anything other than that email that the Christakises were themselves on the hook for, and I’ve received no response. I haven’t found anything in any of the documents I’ve looked over, either. If the email is all that they themselves can be judged deficient in, then leaving open the question whether (as I believe) the Christakises were in fact *obeying* their duties of care to their students by encouraging them to address the Halloween triggering on their own, then the appeal to background, context, and other “many, many” problems is functioning as a smokescreen to obscure the underlying institutional mechanisms at work in the way the Christakises were treated.

Again, that leaves open that there were problems that were worth addressing. But the way the Christakis situation was resolved seems pretty shitty, and if the best people can do is appeal to a context and background that the Christakises themselves weren’t responsible for, then in this particular case I think the best explanation for what happened makes no appeal to principles that justify or render appropriate the behavior of those students in the quad. Anyway, it’s early going. I appreciate hearing what others have to say.

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Preston Stovall
Reply to  ajkreider
4 years ago

At any rate, this from ajkreider’s original remark seems spot on to me:

“The point is that there is middle ground to be navigated here – where offences can be given a proper airing and their due consideration. The harm and the outrage should be in proportion. Small harms deserve small complaints. Great harms ferocious ones.”

I think we’re due for a revaluation of harm and health across a range of contexts, and outbursts like the Yale students’, or treatment like that Laura Kipnis received in the Title IX investigation initiated at the hands of her anonymous accusers, are two datapoints in support of that need. It is appalling that people’s professional well-being and social regard is under threat from those who evidently feel entitled to act like this toward people they disagree with politically.Report

EDT
EDT
4 years ago

for example, white conservatives don’t see that their complaints about lack of representation are structurally identical to many complaints they dismiss as “PC whining”

Surely this goes both ways. In the recent Daily Nous discussion on academic taboos, a variety of conservative reads (and a tbf a bunch of fringe cranks) all mentioned that they felt/would feel uncomfortable expressing political and/or social conservative views in their dept or classroom for fear of professional/social consequences.
Many of the dismissals of this i)”You’re making too much of (a large number) isolated incidents”
ii)”Your personal experience is just proof you’re overly sensitive
iii) “Acknowledge the behavior exists but denies its a problem
are pretty much identical to the kind of dismissals that many progressives find utterly appalling when applied to complaints by women in philosophy about pervasive sexism (which is I hasten to add a real and serious problem). Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Let’s assume that “privilege theory” has some redeeming value somewhere.

What you’re missing is that society is not a uniform, but a differential field. Even if the “broader background culture”–that is, society taken as a whole–is not characterized by anti-conservatism, you must be deliberately blind to miss the fact that the academy , and especially the humanities and social sciences, are hostile territory for anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders. A field can have an average strength F while still having local pockets of strength greater or lower than F. That’s, uh, literally how averages work.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

So it’s OK to systematically exclude anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders from humanities departments, because they might still potentially find a job freelancing for National Review. Got it.Report

AB
AB
4 years ago

Tough, tough tough tough. Education should be tough and make us tough. Hmmm.

When I heard the word toughness I reach for my Adorno:

“This entire sphere is animated by an alleged ideal that also plays a considerable role in the traditional education: the ideal of being hard. This ideal can also, ignominiously enough, invoke a remark of Nietzsche, although he truly meant something else. I remember how the dreadful Boger during the Auschwitz trial had an outburst that culminated in a panegyric to education instilling discipline through hardness. He thought hardness necessary to produce what he considered to be the correct type of person. This educational ideal of hardness, in which many may believe without re- flecting about it, is utterly wrong. The idea that virility consists in the maximum degree of endurance long ago became a screen-image for masochism that, as psychology has demonstrated, aligns itself all too easily with sadism. Being hard, the vaunted qualiity education should inculcate, means absolute indifference toward pain as such. In this the distinction between one’s own pain and that of another is not so stringently maintained. Whoever is hard with himself earns the right to be hard with others as well and avenges himself for the pain whose manifestations he was not allowed to show and had to repress. This mechanism must be made conscious, just as an education must be promoted that no longer sets a premium on pain and the ability to endure pain. In other words: education must take seriously an idea in no wise unfamiliar to philosophy: that anxiety must not be repressed. When anxiety is not repressed, when one permits oneself to have, in fact, all the anxiety that this reality warrants, then precisely by doing that, much of the destructive effect of unconscious and displaced anxiety will probably disappear. Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
4 years ago

I love how Justin just absolutely consistently refuses to ever even consider getting off his high horse.

Meanwhile, students “of color” are literally preventing white students from getting to class, all in the name of “safe spaces”:

http://reason.com/blog/2016/10/26/video-uc-berkeley-protesters-built-a-humReport

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Justin, the protestors literally let students “of color” pass but prevented white students from moving through their barricade. That’s the real story, it is and it’s an issue you conspicuously fail to address in your reply here. If this were Birmingham in 1960 and the colors were reversed, what exactly do you think the narrative would be?

To be clear, I am not responding to your delineation of “tough” vs. “enough.” I think these categories are too vague and too open to semantic shenanigans to be useful in this discussion. For example, you claim, with some justification, that the cis/white/hetero/male students could just “toughen up.” That’s a defensible point of view. But it’s equally defensible, within these paramenters, for those same people to say: you know what? We’ve had enough. We conquered the Americas, we built an industrial economy the likes of which the world has never seen, we pay an outsize proportion of taxes, and we are not going to be talked at as if we are the enemy. Enough.

What I’m calling into question is the premise of this discussion, that there is no “major problem” with a PC clampdown. Protesting is one thing, but this is just the latest example of a differential enforcement of both legal regulations and social standards based on the inverted hierarchy of the SJWs, who have apotheosized victimhood. The fact of the matter is that, within academe, “marginalized” voices are front and center and are drowning out even limited, sensible critique. Even if it’s because they’ve had “enough,” even if there are legitimate grievances underlying this attitude, it doesn’t excuse this kind of bullying behavior.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

This is exactly the kind of double standard I’m talking about. You condescend to white people for identifying with their ancestors, or even just their grandparents, but which of the students “of color” have been enslaved? Which of them built the railroads?

(NB: I am not white, just sick and tired of the hypocrisy and the thought-policing).Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

“Slavery is part of the causal story as to why today’s racism is as bad as it is.”

And the conquest of the Americas (etc.) by white Europeans is part of the causal story as to why what you call “privilege” is nothing more than the prerogative of the dominant social group to order society as they see fit, as they have done since time immemorial, and as they (you) still do in humanities departments. And why the vast majority of what you call “structural racism” is nothing more than an artifact or exercise of this prerogative, as is the systematic (“structural?”) exclusion of right-wing people and ideas from the academy.

What angers me here is the hypocrisy. You are the one who claims to be against racism. What exactly would you call preventing white students to pass, while allowing students “of color” to pass, especially in a local field of racial power-relations which explicitly and increasingly places students “of color” over and above white students? Payback? This takes us back to the previous paragraph: if it is just for black students to claim injury on the basis of their ancestors’ situations, it is equally just for white students to claim social prerogatives on the basis of their own ancestors’ situations. Unless you’re a racist who think black students either need (i.e., will not thrive in the absence of) or deserve (because they are superior) special treatment.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  the Onion Man
4 years ago

To be more precise in the second to last sentence, because I’m sure you’ll claim that I’m ignoring your point about “today’s” racism, please amend:

“if it is just for black students to claim injury on the basis of how their ancestors’ situations affect their situation today, it is equally just for white students to claim social prerogatives on the basis of how their own ancestors’ situations affect their situation today.” Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Living blacks have a legitimate moral claim to injury because of they are subject to current harms (e.g., greater police scrutiny and use of force) resulting from the lasting effects of the legal and political institutions that treated their ancestors as property. How the hell is it supposed to follow that living whites thus have an equally legitimate claim to special social prerogatives (e.g., preferential treatment by police) insofar as their ancestors were the ones who erected those abominable institutions in the first place?Report

Ghost
Ghost
4 years ago

This is ridiculous. Academics are not tough. Report

Shelley Tremain
Shelley Tremain
4 years ago

Justin, you wrote: “Despite the overblown rhetoric in the Reason column (a magazine I once subscribed to, btw) and your comment here, students are hardly being prevented from going to class. Apparently they had to go a few yards out of the way to take a path through some trees and over a narrow, shallow stream on some stepping stones. Mercy me! How did they ever manage? … Ensure that they didn’t have to physically exert themselves or get lost in the expansive 40 feet or so of trail they had to traverse? ”

I’d like to point out that these remarks make a number of assumptions about who is a Berkeley student and how the students of Berkeley go about in the world. Because of (the city of) Berkeley’s history as the birthplace of the U.S. disability rights movement and UC Berkeley’s renowned disability studies program (and related programs and services), the university has a large constituency of disabled students and faculty. Disabled students (faculty and staff) face enormous barriers to accessibility on university and college campuses. What you have described as an effortless detour would, in fact, pose significant additional obstacles to many disabled students (faculty and staff), including disabled students in electric wheelchairs or scooters, blind students, and some learning disabled students, among others. I hope that the protesters made allowances for disabled students on the campus, including an advance alert that avenues of the campus would be blockaded..Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
4 years ago

I have probably missed the boat on this discussion, but nevertheless I will still offer a small comment.

The OP said:

“There seem to be difficulties in non-arbitrarily identifying and categorizing complaints. Suppose Pat, a white person who doesn’t take herself to be a racist, is criticized by Terry for saying something that is subtly racist; Pat then complains about this criticism. What I’ve observed is that in cases like this, the toughs will target Terry’s charge of racism, and claim that Terry needs to toughen up and shake it off. They will not say that Pat, who is complaining about being accused of saying something racist, needs to toughen up and shake it off.

An example of this difficulty in the philosophy profession recently concerned offensive remarks about gays and lesbians made by a keynote speaker at a conference of the Society for Christian Philosophers (SCP). The apology offered by the SCP president for any hurt these remarks might have caused was loudly condemned by some as kowtowing to oversensitive academics and disrespectful to the speaker and other conservative Christians. Yet this barrage of condemnation (a mild example here) was not itself seen as evidence that those issuing it were also oversensitive and needed to toughen up.”

I think possibly one of the fundamental differences being missed by the OP here is that perhaps people who are suggesting others “toughen up” (it’s a bit of a crude straw man, but I’ll accept it for the sake of argument) aren’t saying so out of their own hurt feelings, but a worry about how much weight should be given to hurt feelings in the course of debate. They aren’t necessarily expressing hurt feelings or offense at being called hurtful or offensive, but are suggesting that giving too much discursive moral weight to hurts and offenses will have an inhibiting effect on robust, intellectually honest discourse. Sure, they might be outraged, but they aren’t outraged PERSONALLY, any more than I am personally outraged by the threat of a Trump presidency: I am outraged about Trump’s behaviour and the state of democracy in the US today. It may be the case that many people are outraged by what they perceive as an abdication of fundamental philosophical attitudes and values, perhaps best represented in the mythos of Socrates: a person who persistently said profoundly unpopular and offensive (by the standards of his day) things even on pain of his own death.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

Obviously, philosophers both do and don’t need to get tougher. Since we are human beings, we will sometimes be too sensitive and sometimes too insensitive. Importantly, we are not going to be able to make simple weeping judgments about which groups needs to be more or less sensitive on purely political grounds, since personal circumstances will vary so much. Knowing what groups a philosopher belongs to, or what views they hold, doesn’t in itself tell us whether their colleagues are treating them fairly or unfairly, nor whether they are being fair or unfair to their colleagues. I’m a bit worried by attempts to determine on purely political grounds who needs to toughen up and who doesn’t. Humans aren’t that simple. We all do wrong and can all be wronged.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

I agree that it will vary from case to case, and context certainly does matter (Pogin’s toes/broken-foot example above is a good one). Just about everyone, though, bristles at “you should not be so upset about x”. While we should always be empathetic, harm claims can be in a sense “unjustified” – say, when the hurt is based in part on a false (or unjustified) belief.

So, perhaps the fuss about the SCP apology is based on the idea that such statements make it impossible for Christian philosophers to publicly express views consonant with their religious beliefs. But that may be false, as people have pointed out that Swinburne said nothing new. If similar talks will not be prohibited at future sessions, then the fuss in unwarranted. It matters if there really is a significant chilling effect.

Even if it’s true that the Yale-master email made some students feel unsafe, it matters if students are really more unsafe as a result. Would it be more likely that because of the email, some white students would, say, perform a minstrel show in black face on campus? If not, then one shouldn’t feel unsafe by the email. Or at least, they shouldn’t feel so unsafe as to call for resignations.

Or, if a student refers to a black professor by her first name, and the professor takes offense. Context may be important here, given how many black professionals are treated. But if there’s an underlying counter-factual at issue: “The student would not have referred to me so informally, had I been white and male” – it matters if the student in question refers to all professors so informally.

It’s a bit like people being fearful of allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. This will vary across individuals, perhaps especially so for those who felt the effects of 9/11 or the Pulse shootings more acutely. But the facts matter here too. How likely is it that admitting 50K refugees will result in something similar? If the answer is, “not very much”, then we can say that people shouldn’t be so fearful. Or at least, they should let that fearfulness determine their support for Syrian refugee settling in the U.S.

Reacting strongly in these sorts of case seems like “not being tough enough”.

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