Here’s a clip from my alma mater, LSU, in which one Jana King, a gender studies major (unsurprisingly), protests the oppression she has to live under. What is her yoke? The possibility that she might have to confront an opinion with which she doesn’t agree. More from her accompanying op-ed from the campus paper:
In October 2012, the Alliance Defending Freedom group filed a lawsuit against LSU. The University was found guilty of prohibiting students from passing out materials outside of the 1,000-foot area of campus known as Free Speech Plaza.
ADF legal counsel stated “by limiting the distribution of material and free speech to less than one percent of the campus, Louisiana State University is violating the constitutionally protected freedoms of students who should be free to express themselves on the sidewalks and open spaces at the university.”
This is the type of argument that causes me to incoherently rage into my pillow.
Somehow, one gets the idea that Jana King does a lot of incoherently raging into her pillow.
In a sense, I am grateful for her video and article because it’s rare to see a student so clearly and forthrightly make the case against basic political speech on campus. It’s also nice to have someone state so clearly that they think basic political speech could be harassment and possibly deny her a “safe learning environment.” When I tell people the language “safe learning environment” is often used as a code for the supposed right “not to be offended,” they are, ironically enough, sometimes offended by that suggestion. But Jana King has no problem connecting the dots for us. The watering down of what “safety” means on campus is dangerous for all the same reasons that the proverbial boy should not have cried “wolf!” On today’s modern campus, safety equates to comfort, which too often means a right not to hear opinions that you dislike. This is precisely the opposite of what campuses should encourage.
I wish I were surprised by anything Jana King says, but my experience speaking on campuses across the country demonstrates that her attitude is all too common. A generation is being raised with the idea that free speech is a nuisance and the enemy of, not an essential element for, progress. Not all of them share this opinion, of course, but I encounter it with increasing frequency on campus. This shortsightedness would immediately become apparent to Jana King should any of her opinions run afoul of the censors. But to so many students on campus, it is simply inconceivable that anyone could want to ban their speech, and it’s taken for granted that they are entitled to be “safe” from hostile points of view.
That “safe” business deserves a bit more commentary. If you watch the short King video to the end, you’ll see that she considers restricting speech on campus to be a matter of protecting her “right to a safe learning environment.” This whole idea of “safety” is often a cudgel the cultural left uses to marginalize and silence its ideological opponents by condemning their opinions as a threat to safety.
The first time I encountered that was back in 1994, when a self-described feminist at my lunch table, upon learning that I was pro-life (this, in response to my answering a question one of her feminist friends put to me), mildly freaked out, and told her friends that she didn’t feel “safe” with me at the table. I had never seen anything like that before.
But it’s quite common now among gay activists in schools, who (rather brilliantly, from a Machiavellian point of view) sell their highly ideologized approach to education as a method for creating “safe spaces” in schools. The idea is that if you oppose their strategy or proposed policies, you must be indifferent to the safety of LGBT students. Here is the page explaining what the “Safe Space” kit the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network sells to schools (and provides to many for free via corporate funding). I have not been able to find details from the kit, but other materials from GLSEN’s site give a sense of their approach. For example, here is their advice for how school personnel can become “allies” to LGBT kids:
Put the focus on safety. All school administrators have a responsibility to make sure their schools are safe (physically and emotionally) for the students who attend them. “As you can see from these statistics (or incidents, stories, etc.) the climate in the school is having an effect on the comfort, safety, and sense of belonging of many of the students as well as test scores, attendance and grades.” Point out to them the negative effects anti-LGBT behavior has not only on LGBT students, but all students.
Well, sure. Who can be against safety? No morally responsible educator can remain indifferent to the safety and well-being of students. The trick here is that GLSEN pushes its own ideological re-education of schools under the guise of promoting safety. For example, in this guide, GLSEN compares rejecting its definitions of what constitutes an acceptable school to being on the same spectrum as supporting slavery or being a member of the KKK. In the same guide, it gives this example of “community oppression”:
Community oppression is oppression that one experiences within a community to which they belong. Example: A lesbian attends a house of worship that preaches homosexuality is a sin.
You see what’s going on here? To express the opinion within your community that homosexuality is sinful is a form of oppression. A student or a teacher within the school community who adheres to Christian orthodoxy is, therefore, an oppressor. To disagree with GLSEN, even off school grounds (within a church), is to be stigmatized as an oppressor, a bigot, and the kind of person who is an obstacle to safe schools. And GLSEN even offers teachers a way for you to prove your loyalty to the cause: stickers to post on their office doors indicating that theirs is a “safe space” for LGBT kids and allies. Maybe these stickers do that, but these stickers also serve the purpose for morally shaming those who don’t agree with GLSEN. If you don’t display the Safe Space sticker, are you identifying your office as an Unsafe Space? Why are you indifferent to the safety of LGBT kids? You see how this works.
Think of it in this context: after 9/11, a refusal to display the American flag or some other sign of “supporting the troops” on your office door stigmatizes you as unpatriotic within your academic community. Perhaps you are quite patriotic, in your own way, but don’t like being coerced into demonstrating your patriotism. Or perhaps you simply do not support the war, and dislike being compelled to conform, even though you are perfectly comfortable with colleagues and students who disagree, and are committed to treating everyone fairly. How “safe” do you think you would be to dissent from the prevailing norms in a highly emotional, highly ideologized environment, when dissent, however passive, marks you as “unpatriotic” in the eyes of the community? Do you love your country, professor? Then why won’t you show it?
Think how teachers, administrators, and students who disagree with GLSEN must feel when confronted with this kind of thing. The “safe space” campaign is about coercion through shaming. GLSEN knows this. It’s a brilliant strategy, from a Machiavellian point of view. It’s ultimately not about creating spaces where LGBT students are safe from bullying — something every decent person should support — but about creating spaces where LGBT students never have to hear a point of view that makes them uncomfortable. Because free speech is violence.
This is the McCarthyist mindset that leads Jana King to rage incoherently into her pillow because she has to walk across a university campus and possibly be confronted by an opinion she doesn’t like. She is quite literally scared of freedom of expression; it makes her feel unsafe.
When I was at LSU, I sat in a Western Civ class taught by Prof. Hardy of the History Department. He was criticizing the excesses of the Church — this, in a lecture on the causes of the Reformation. A young woman stood and denounced him for anti-Christian bigotry, and stormed out. I recall being shocked that she considered this lecture to be bigoted against Christians. The professor said calmly to the rest of us, “There’s a college for people like her on the other side of town” — Jimmy Swaggart Bible College, he meant. That young woman didn’t want to be confronted by information that discomfited her. People like that shouldn’t go to college, or at least not to a state university. Jana King is the liberal version of that angry Christian.
The thing is, she probably considers herself enlightened and progressive. Such is the nature of illiberal liberalism. This is why the work that FIRE does fighting for free speech and freedom of expression on campus is so important. Free speech means free speech, not just freedom for speech that’s “safe,” according to the tendentious and manipulative definition the cultural left’s commissars insist on.