As Americans have become more accepting of other cultures and lifestyles, more of our attention has become focused on further improving our social system to accommodate people of marginalized identities and moving toward not only tolerance, but acceptance, of groups that have already made large efforts toward achieving social equality. Considering the history of American civil rights, social liberalism has been generally embraced in the long-run; however, recently many parties have argued that today’s social movement pushes not for egalitarianism but rather the over-accommodation, or “coddling,” of marginalized students. The latter perspective often views recent pushes for social liberalism as a “political correctness,” “entitlement,” or even “victimhood” movement  . Regardless of its name, this social phenomenon has exploded recently, especially on college campuses, which are already significantly more liberal than the average American population.
With school shootings in the past few years racking up in the hundreds  and racial discrimination protests blowing up on college campuses this year , many students seek protection from violence erupting from social unrest. Protesting groups believe the solution may include asking college administrators to either establish “safe spaces” on campus or execute more serious punishments for students who make others feel unsafe through usage of outdated or offensive terms – oftentimes dubbed “politically incorrect language” or “microaggressions” . There is little disagreement that nothing is wrong with striving for a safer college campus, but some students feel that creating an atmosphere that coddles marginalized students and polices political correctness defeats the purpose of a college experience and in many ways abridges free speech . After all, racial, sexual, and socioeconomic discrimination is certainly not limited to college campuses, and to protect marginalized students from experiencing discrimination may result in ill preparation for the real world. Furthermore, separating minority groups from others could encourage a culture of segregation on campus, and as we’ve learned through our oppression-stained history, separate can never be equal. So safe spaces may only magnify the problem instead of resolving it . In addition, many students have complained that self-proclaimed marginalized students have been dictating what is and is not “politically correct.” This creates an unbalanced environment where the rights and actions of students who do not feel marginalized – regardless of whether they are part of the social minority – are completely subordinate to students who claim that they do – this phenomenon is what some students call “stubborn entitlement.” Some worry that these “stubbornly entitled” students are able to demand special treatment while demonizing non-minorities. Needless to say, social discrimination nonetheless remains wholly unjustifiable.
The crux of this issue is, like many issues, multifaceted: it lies in drawing the line between maintaining a safe campus environment and ensuring that students are not so coddled to the point that an over-safe campus would yield unproductive in preparing them for the real, post-college world. At the same time, establishing safe spaces on campus for minority groups could only exacerbate the pre-existing culture of segregation , whereas others believe that such measures will ensure a peaceful, environment for all parties involved. It is also unclear what role people who do not feel marginalized can have in these discussions. And all the while, college administrators must remain astute as to not encourage a culture of stubborn entitlement among students who feel marginalized, while still instilling these students with the understanding that their lives do matter. Needless to say, achieving widespread social liberty is much more complicated than it appears.
Harry Beard & David Brown
Nationwide protests have led to heated debates on whether college administrators should provide additional accommodations for marginalized students. Indeed: students, professors and even the President of the United States  have now voiced concerns that the so-called “political correctness” movement serves to only coddle whom they judge to be self-proclaimed marginalized students.
The traditional opposing argument posits that establishing safe spaces, diversifying curricula, and censoring hurtful language only deteriorates the “true” college experience. As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus puts it, college “is supposed to be a provocative environment – broadening, not sheltering” . It’s a nice sentiment, but such an argument suffers from the assumption that minorities do not deserve the innate sense of safety and comfort that straight white cisgender middle-class students enjoy. Putting aside the fact that this argument discounts the feelings of minorities, the harsh reality is that neglecting the pleas of marginalized students actually harms the college itself. One of the most widely-cited metrics is graduation rate: at two-thirds of America’s four-year colleges, there exists an unsettling 14% graduation rate gap between racial minorities and white students as of 2013 . Moreover, there exists a striking correlation between accommodation programs and graduation rate gaps – just ask the administrators at Georgia State,  who sharpened their academic advising and learning community programs to close the minority graduation gap, or the researchers at University of Maryland , who explored the relationship between campus racial climate and postgraduate success of minorities, just to name a few . Regardless of how “sheltering” accommodation policies may appear to the opposing party, the grim fact remains that students of color are dropping out of unaccommodating schools like flies.
Moreover, with college tuition skyrocketing in past years in large part due to student services , colleges have an obligation to accommodate for their students, or in the very least ensure their students feel safe. But that is unfortunately not the case for some minorities. Year after year, racial minorities consistently feel more unsafe on campus than white students  . And with colleges spending their endowment on frivolous things like fountains, rock walls , and complimentary late-night snacks , it is only reasonable for marginalized students to bravely speak out and request some of that endowment to come their way.
Across the nation, marginalized students have protested unsafe or unaccommodating college environments, particularly campuses that lack support service staff or safe spaces . Although some opposing students believe that unhappy protesters should simply drop out of college (perhaps thus seeing the low percentage of minority graduates as a solution to the problem), this only suppresses marginalized students even more and therefore exacerbates the problem. Granted, marginalized students will always maintain the ability to transfer to different, usually more suitable colleges. However, these protests aren’t only occurring at run-of-the-mill colleges; students are protesting at Yale, UCLA, Claremont McKenna, and other renowned institutions. So in essence, such opponents are asking these marginalized students to forgo the elite quality of their education. When any group of people risk not only embarrassment but also endangerment through protesting, the issue at hand is certainly not petty, nor can such passion be quenched by shallow concessions – protests usually only occur after months or years of deep, ongoing oppression. Think about how labor unions go on strike, instances like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or more recent gay rights marches on Washington. Marginalized groups protest because they are fed up with being silenced and pushed aside – instead of discouraging protests altogether, a more logical solution would be to listen clearly to those who feel oppressed and enact programs to meet their basic needs. After all, as MLK declared, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Lastly, in the eyes of highly-performing underrepresented students , unaccommodating colleges are overwhelmingly held at fault for their stark graduation rate gaps. But if colleges began accommodating marginalized students by establishing safe spaces and providing more support faculty, many on-campus protests would cease, and the college’s poor reputation would gradually fade. Needless to say, the marginalized students fighting for these resources would benefit the most, because they would finally feel comfortable and accepted at the school into which they are investing irrevocable years and hard-earned money.
At the end of the day, it is in every college’s best interest to attract and produce the highest-performing graduates. Considering that students are more inclined to attend colleges at which they feel most comfortable, it only makes sense that administrators would foster such environments for all students. But recent protests have shed light on an ugly reality that many universities have been trying to conceal: lack of accommodation for marginalized students. In order for colleges to ensure that they are attracting the most successful students – regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or ethnicity – establishing accommodation policies is a foundational step toward improvement. Moreover, studies done by organizations such as Harvard Business Review have demonstrated that a diverse environment yields more innovative and productive results to all parties involved . So as a matter of fact, accommodating marginalized students would come at the cost of maybe a lavish fountain or two, but such policies would provide overwhelming benefits for minorities, majorities, college administrators, and society as a whole.
While Mr. Beard’s argument for funneling more resources into marginalized communities is certainly, and always has been, a strong one – it lacks the nuance required to accurately respond to modern actions. Mr. Beard and protesters enjoy tying their own movements to those of Martin Luther King Jr. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two movements; MLK fought powerfully for equality of condition, to have an equitable system of laws which guaranteed a certain level of inalienable opportunity. Fast forward a few decades, and we now have a modern movement seeking equality of feelings. While some view this as an extension of egalitarian principles, I see it as a betrayal, in the sense that no system can ever be considered equal when one group gets access to additional accommodations such as resource centers and institutional support networks designed only for themselves. This is due to two follies in protester rhetoric. The first is that feelings are entirely subjective and derived from one’s own, internal view. Feelings are independent of reality; they are based on perception. Therefore, someone with low self-esteem can only, by nature of their internal view, feel equal in a society where they are ahead from the start. The second fault in the pseudo-egalitarian principles of many modern protesters is their blatant misunderstanding of equality. Equality can never be, and has never been accomplished by providing more for one group than any other. Buildings and staff members dedicated to the betterment of only a particular group are fundamentally unequal. Therefore, support for such policies do not come from the egalitarian values americans have spent decades fighting for, but rather an entitlement-driven quest for retribution fueled by centuries of events that can never be taken back instead of creating an egalitarian society for our future.
Though this movement has a good premise, it fails in both precedence and evidence. Mr. Beard cites the difference in graduation rates between minority and white students attempting to deduce that the difference is due to a lack of race-specific resources. However, one set of statistics sends his claims reeling: the graduation statistics at the most accommodating schools in the nation for African Americans – historically black colleges and universities . You’d be hard-pressed to make an argument for any school in the country being more accommodating to black students than the institutions founded on that sole value. Yet with all of these accommodations we do not find the graduation statistic Mr. Beard might have you believe would be there. Rather, we see numbers that are, in most cases, terrifyingly low and indicative of a problem far more complex and severe than can be fixed by the same institutional accommodations which are failing at the schools that most employ them. When Mr. Beard writes about an increased graduation rate amongst students who have received more race-based accommodation, he isn’t validly showing the efficacy of resource centers per se; he is only confirming a fact we already know to be true. Across race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status, students are more inclined – ceteris paribus – to stay at places that give them more stuff. This argument doesn’t support the philosophical case of the politically-correct movement. If anything, this argument indicates that colleges have a greater responsibility to increase investment in all of their students. Few would argue against an America with fair treatment for all, but you cannot get there by advocating for a separate and fundamentally unequal “solution.” Special treatment is the root of discrimination, not its solution.
The political correctness movement has never been louder, promising to usher in a new age of compassion and respect, when in reality it seeks only to replace our country’s traditionally scrappy culture with a new wave of paper-skinned apprehension. Don’t get me wrong – underrepresented communities face many legitimate problems, but the solution to them should be through bold strokes, rather than timid speech; marches on Washington, not marches on eggshells. The majority of political correctness supporters have good intentions, but their egalitarian pursuit is in most cases an entitlement-driven plea for special treatment.
This self-victimizing mindset, as Stanford psychologists have pointed out, leads to greater feelings of entitlement and more selfish behavior . Due in part to the consequences of the mindset driving this movement, the benefactors are its leaders rather than the actual victims of large-scale institutional oppression. For example, a number of Harvard Law School students have recently asked for a ban on the teaching and testing of rape related law due to its potential to “trigger” previous victims in class and on tests . If anything, notions like these are a massive disservice to the people they supposedly serve. Firstly, this proposal makes future lawyers less qualified to handle the cases of rape victims in the US. Secondly, these law students and the PC movement as a whole have, in their focus on trigger warnings and microaggressions, moved focus away from the more terrifying and intersectional issues of rape in parts of the world like the Democratic Republic of the Congo . By all means, if supporters of this movement want to fight to better their own lives, please go ahead, but don’t hide it under the guise of higher principles like ending oppression. To be clear, I’m not condoning the implementation of a worldwide oppression-olympics Americans can never win. If an individual who has been sexually assaulted psychologically needs accommodations the conditions of anyone else in the world do not affect their need. But the idea that the most pressing issue regarding rape right now is the classroom discussions at Harvard Law is incredibly self-centered and delegitimizes a global, much more serious issue our world is facing. Students at one of the top law schools in the country are the winners of the same rigged game they decry . But incessant self-victimization has – as the Stanford study predicted – led these students toward a self-entitled life to the point where teachings that directly benefit real victims have become too inconvenient and uncomfortable for them to bother .
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a notable difference in wages across racial lines with Asians making the most and Hispanics making the least . However, the PC movement, which rightfully seeks to change this trend, is acting in a poor manner by pursuing a dependence on white and Asian groups. Trigger-warnings, safe spaces, and petitions championing causes as ludicrous as banning the song “White Christmas” make supporters of this movement further at the mercy of the same people they believe to be oppressing them . By building safe spaces where only people of one’s kind may enter – whether that “kind” be a racial, gender, socioeconomic, political, or sexual affiliation – one runs the risk of feeling comfortable only in this space. If this happens, which based off of the soaring passions of recent protests, is likely, one essentially becomes a victim of the very group he or she attempts to escape by giving the majority group the power to disrupt their comfort. If college students of color acquire a dependency on safe spaces when surrounded by the most liberal age group in the country, they will presumably continue to require those spaces as they enter a more conservative workforce, because even as they age, the need for comfort will remain constant . What if these students wish to work at a company which does not offer a “safe space”? They would either have to limit their working hours (presuming that their home is a functioning safe space), allowing
“non-marginalized” employees to surpass and outwork them, or refuse the job altogether: only straight white wealthy cis able-bodied christian male applicants get to enter the door. Nursing a dependence on unrealistic expectations creates long-term vulnerabilities to the oppressors, who now, even by treating members of this movement equally, are employing a system that they are incapable of dealing with.
The only difference in America between a victim and an underdog is mindset. Though the terrain ahead is rougher for many Americans, seeing oneself as a perpetual victim induces a paralyzing fear, as opposed to seeing oneself as a scrappy underdog ready to take the punches coming their way. America was built with this defiantly industrious mentality in mind, centered around the notion that anyone can rise from the bottom, so long as he or she puts in the required work and brainpower. Instead of encouraging this mentality, though, the modern movement of political correctness has seemingly deemed the notion of hard work and perseverance too much to expect from marginalized groups, in a sense deeming them inferior. Success in life is inevitably harder for some than others, but by arguing that marginalized groups are so weak that they rely on their very oppressors for special allowances is in and of itself implying inferiority. Under the guise of protecting them, the modern political correctness movement is tricking people out of the tools required for success by instituting an unrealistic environment that deprives them of the uncomfortable opportunities that foster personal growth and mental fortitude. Regardless of whether or not you come from a marginalized group, if you’re doing anything correctly in your career, you’ll eventually be the only one in a room with a particular stance. Will you have the strength to stand up for it? The political correctness movement would rather you concede, leave the room, and find your safe space.
The claim that groups who have been oppressed for years are protesting merely because they seek special treatment is foolish and fallacious. The case is actually the opposite; they seek fair treatment. To me, this point is painfully straightforward: marginalized groups have been protesting because they feel marginalized – insignificant, unimportant – compared to the straight white cisgender social majority, and they hold that enacting social programs would ensure all students the safety and comfort necessary to succeed in the classroom.
So you may ask – how much is too much? Before answering this question, it is necessary to delineate who has the ability to accurately answer this question. If groups of marginalized students have been suffering unfair treatment and suppression for years and have only recently found the courage to organize campus-wide protests, it is illogical to assume that the non-marginalized student body should have any clear idea of where to draw the line for accommodating these marginalized students. Put another way, students who have consistently silenced the pleas of marginalized students do not empathize with nor understand the experience of marginalized students (hence the former party often claims that marginalized students have been “victimizing themselves” for years), and should therefore have no right to dictate how much is too much. The extent to which college administrators (who, by the way, are not necessarily the “very oppressors”) should accommodate for marginalized students should be up to the discretion of the marginalized students. To extrapolate that marginalized students are only seeking to be coddled and pampered through their protests is profoundly ignorant and founded upon weak assumptions.
Perhaps the only agreeable piece of Mr. Brown’s argument is the case for valuing macroaggressions over microaggressions – I believe we can all unanimously concur that serial rape assaults in countries like Democratic Republic of the Congo are more serious than an American college lacking safe spaces. But that is not to say that the feelings of marginalized students in America are trivial – these issues lead to real consequences that affect the real First World: graduation rate gaps, lack of diversity, adverse learning environments for minorities. The argument that we should completely quit allocating resources to improve the First World to instead develop the Third World is a slippery slope that clumsily extols pure equity over any degree of efficiency – this is ironically the very result that anti-PC supporters seek to avoid. By the same token, I am not arguing that colleges should sacrifice all their resources for safe spaces, but a balance is necessary. And right now, minority groups are finally protesting after being suppressed for years. Students are dropping out because they feel unsafe on campus. Colleges lack the diversity they need to succeed as an institution. In order to ensure a foundational level of equity in higher education, accommodating marginalized students to the extent to which they feel safe is a necessary first step.
Photography by Emily Wang, CMC Forum