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Desperately seeking a college that’s free of ‘safe spaces’

By Brooke A. Rogers     •     New York Post

screw_political_correctness_When I began looking for a university to finish out a degree I started in 2012, my set of standards could be summed up by the bullet points in the average college brochure: strong programs, experienced faculty, vibrant campus life, etc.

But by the end of last year, as well-documented sit-ins and protests began popping up in the news weekly, my criteria began to change to include other stipulations, such as: “doesn’t suppress freedom of speech” and “doesn’t treat its students like children.”

Which narrowed my choices considerably.

I don’t remember exactly when I began second-guessing my decision to go back to college, but the extent of the backlash against dissent on campus caused me to wonder whether college was still the enlightening experience I was hoping for. Students were raising hell over maracas on posters at Quinnipiac University and “appropriated” cafeteria food at Oberlin (the mecca of overreacting).

It was like watching an episode of “Scared Straight: University Edition.” What am I going to gain from an education that tiptoes around important issues and an environment in which students bully each other into pretending to agree with the majority opinion?

A protest at Yale, during which students showed an infuriating lack of self-awareness and a nonexistent sense of irony by screaming at participants in a panel on freedom of speech, hit close to home with me because the objects of the abuse were some of my own colleagues. They returned from Yale shaking their heads and lamenting the state of this generation, my generation, that is so easy to enrage and impossible to placate.

In November, a harrowing video was released of an irate Yale student ripping into her professor while her classmates encircled him like a pack of hyenas in Nikes. It felt like the first 10 minutes of a B-horror movie; I was half-expecting the students to turn into vampires and sprout bat wings.

The victim’s crime was defending his wife, a fellow professor at Yale, who voiced her displeasure with the over-censuring of adult students in the name of protecting the feelings of other adult students, a concept that most rational people can level with, but the freshly minted social-justice warriors at Yale could not.

As I watched the young woman in the video scream, “This is not about creating an intellectual space . . . this is about creating a home here,” my heart sank because I was staring into the face of my educational future.

As time went on, my college prospects, somehow, got worse.

Amherst students demanded punishment in the form of mandatory re-education for their classmates who posted First Amendment fliers on community bulletin boards. Which was difficult because no one was sure who posted the fliers, and Amherst isn’t located in Mao’s China.

Then there was the now-infamous video of Melissa Click, the University of Missouri communications professor who asked that a student reporter be thrown out of a protest on public property, demonstrating a contempt for rights protected under the law and the students she was supposed to be educating.

For the past few months, one university administration after another has been caught in a showdown with its students over freedom-of-speech issues. In December, conservative filmmaker Ami Horowitz took a petition to repeal the First Amendment to Yale and collected over 50 signatures from students.

As one of the most precious rights we have, freedom of speech is especially important on college campuses, whether these students realize it or not. Late teens and early 20s are, and should be, a time to explore ideas, challenge ourselves and learn to empathize, argue and process negative emotions. We can’t do that inside incubators, where all choices and discussion must be vetted through a closed-minded, illiberal worldview.

It’s easy to forget that less than a year ago, many of these students had a curfew and a chore wheel. Maturity comes with uncomfortable discussions and disagreements. If I wanted to be insulated from hurtful words or challenging ideas, I could wrap myself in packing foam and spend four years watching MSNBC in my bedroom for next to nothing. I certainly wouldn’t pay upwards of $50,000 a year to have someone else do it for me.

The question of whether a university would provide an environment that facilitates robust debate, meaningful conversation and diversity of thought has become one of the most important when considering where I’ll spend the next four years, and it’s shocking how few places offer those opportunities.

There are still young adults who want nothing to do with being kept safe from differing ideas or new experiences; we don’t expect to be protected from harsh words and angry voices, and we’re hoping there’s still a place for us at American universities.

Brooke A. Rogers is an assistant at National Review and a freelance writer living in New York.