Most Students Aren’t Radical. They’re Afraid

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The College Fix reports that earlier this month, a group of English students at the University of Pennsylvania removed a portrait of William Shakespeare that was hanging in the English department building. In its place they taped up a photograph of Audre Lorde, a “black feminist, lesbian, poet, mother, [and] warrior,” according to Lorde’s website.

Not surprisingly, this was preceded by a department faculty vote a few years ago to move the Shakespeare portrait and replace it with a portrait that was more representative of a diverse background of writers.

The episode is just one more example of increasing identity politics and political correctness on campuses around the country. But with all these stories flying around, it’s important to ask, are most students as radical as the ones who are constantly making headlines?

My answer: probably not. Based on conversations I’ve had with non-leftist university professors, and my own experience teaching, most students think that safe spaces and trigger warnings are laughable. The majority just want to get their degrees and get out of there so they can get a decent-paying job.

But this doesn’t mean the radicalism that’s being pushed by professors in the humanities isn’t having an effect on college students and the way they think. It’s just not as overt as we often fear.

Most students aren’t involved in protesting speakers or forming a mob to get a professor fired for his or her beliefs. They don’t buy into the world of microagressions and extreme identity politics. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel it’s necessary to play by progressives’ rules.

One of the dangers of campus radicalism is that it creates an environment of fear. One recent interview with a philosophy professor revealed that debates in his moral ethics class grind to halt when anything controversial comes up because students don’t want to say anything politically incorrect. He stopped teaching the class because, according to him, it’s not worth the possible backlash for encouraging such discussions.

Students are given a censored menu to choose from when it comes to their education, both in the classroom and at campus events. They don’t get the chance to engage in debates on controversial topics or be taught differing viewpoints because it might “trigger” someone. Similarly, conservative groups, and their guest speakers, are slowly being pushed out.

The influence this has on most students is in the small ways they’re being taught what is and isn’t appropriate to say and think. They have to tacitly accept that being “cis-gendered” is inherently bias or that the writings of Shakespeare decrease in importance because he was a white male. Saying otherwise can get you in a lot of trouble these days.

Students will carry these notions with them when they leave college—whether they know it or not.

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