The Eggshell Student.

August 13, 2015

The Atlantic recently ran a thoughtful, very well-written piece by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, in which they describe and trace the causes of a disease epidemic in American higher education: the development of thin-skinned students who expect coddling and protection from any perceived offense, no matter how slight (or imaginary) and who have become expert in escalating situations from misunderstanding to hate crime. The condition is unfortunately well-known to anybody graduating college in the last few decades: everybody seems eager to be offended by anything, and instead of honest self-analysis or even meaningful conversation they call for politically correct retribution, sometimes with frighteningly real consequences. Take the authors’ example:

“[I]n 2013, a student group at UCLA staged a sit-in during a class taught by Val Rust, an education professor… In the course of correcting his students’ grammar and spelling, Rust had noted that a student had wrongly capitalized the first letter of the word indigenous. Lowercasing the capital I was an insult to the student and her ideology, the group claimed.”

Careers have been ruined with this kind of nonsense.

The authors note the danger of accepting claims of offense at face value, absent any ability to objectively quantify (or even confirm the existence of) offense. “I’m offended” has become the trump card in any campus debate, immediately foreclosing debate (for fear of giving further offense) and requiring appeasement to the offended party – regardless of the intent behind (or even existence of) the offending act. Further, they point out nothing good can come of coddling hypersensitive, entitled students – they learn that brittle feelings are precious snowflakes to which sacrifice will be made by administrators fearful of litigation, and are thus unprepared upon graduation for anything resembling the real world or an adult relationship of any kind.

Were it not for the fact the rest of us have to put up with these people, that might be poetic justice. But as things stand, these student crusaders against offense are as dangerous as child monarchs – they have immense power and use it unreasonably upon the slightest provocation, recreating scenes better left in The Crucible. To their credit, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock have both stopped performing on college campuses, citing the inability of students to take a joke.