Tuesday, March 29, 2016

a culture of sensitivity


thecrimson |  I used to believe that open discourse was a value all Americans hold dear. I presumed that when asked about what makes America so unique, many Americans would respond that our pluralistic society is the foundation of so much of our success. That it was understood that without a marketplace of ideas, our society simply could not flourish. 

But then I started college.

Since the beginning of my freshman year, I have come to believe that a more fitting way to describe the current culture on college campuses is a culture defined not by open expression—but by sensitivity. This undue focus on feelings has caused the college campus to often feel like a place where one has to monitor every syllable that is uttered to ensure that it could not under any circumstance offend anyone to the slightest degree. It sometimes feels as though pluralism has become an antiquated concept. Facts and history have been discarded, and instead feelings have been deemed to be the criteria that determine whether words and actions are acceptable.

It is important to have organizations and movements on college campuses that work toward protecting individuals’ identities. The past few decades have witnessed an explosion of new identities, and students should become aware of and respect the plethora of new identities that have recently emerged. But many of these movements have gone too far.

Take the University of New Hampshire’s “Bias-Free Language Guide.” The list was compiled to inform students of words that are considered offensive in conversation. According to the guide, which was removed from the school’s website a few months ago after it incited controversy, the word “American” is unacceptable, for it fails to recognize people of South American origin. “American,” it argues, should be replaced with “resident of the U.S.” The words “senior citizens,” “older people,” and “elders” should also be eliminated, and instead replaced with “people of advanced age” and “old people.” If we’re at a point where it is offensive to say that your 90-year-old grandparent is a senior citizen, it seems that pretty soon, there may not be any neutral words left.