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Oberlin Is An Insane Asylum

A devastating magazine profile captures a liberal arts college in full Dostoevskian meltdown

Everybody’s talking about the new Nathan Heller piece in The New Yorker, profiling the new left-wing student activist generation at Oberlin College.  And boy, is it quite a read. You can read it and guffaw at the crazy Social Justice Warriors, but there’s something deeper going on there (and on many other campuses). Here’s the nut graf:

Such reports flummoxed many people who had always thought of themselves as devout liberals. Wasn’t free self-expression the whole point of social progressivism? Wasn’t liberal academe a way for ideas, good and bad, to be subjected to enlightened reason? Generations of professors and students imagined the university to be a temple for productive challenge and perpetually questioned certainties. Now, some feared, schools were being reimagined as safe spaces for coddled youths and the self-defined, untested truths that they held dear. Disorientingly, too, none of the disputes followed normal ideological divides: both the activists and their opponents were multicultural, educated, and true of heart. At some point, it seemed, the American left on campus stopped being able to hear itself think.

Heller doesn’t take a position at all on any of this, just lets Oberlin voices speak. And it’s damning. For example:

This spring, at Oberlin, I tracked down Cyrus Eosphoros, the student who’d worried about the triggering effects of “Antigone.” We met at the Slow Train Café, a coffee joint on College Street, one of the two main streets that make up Oberlin’s downtown. (The other is called Main Street.) Eosphoros is a shy guy with a lambent confidence. He was a candid, stylish writer for the school newspaper and a senator in student government. That day, he wore a distressed bomber jacket and Clubmaster glasses. His hair was done in the manner of Beaver Cleaver’s, with a cool blue streak across the top. Eosphoros is a trans man. He was educated in Mexico, walks with crutches, and suffers from A.D.H.D. and bipolar disorder. (He’d lately been on suicide watch.) He has cut off contact with his mother, and he supports himself with jobs at the library and the development office. He said, “I’m kind of about as much of a diversity checklist as you can get while still technically being a white man.”

Oh for eff’s sake. More:

Half a century ago, Eosphoros might not have had access to élite higher education in the United States. In that respect, he is exactly the sort of student—bright, self-made, easily marginalized—whom selective colleges like Oberlin have been eager to enroll. So I was taken aback when he told me that he’d just dropped out for want of institutional support.

“There’s this persistent, low-grade dehumanization from everyone,” he said. “Somebody will be, like, ‘Yeah, I had a class with a really great professor, and it was wonderful,’ and I’ll be sitting there, like, ‘Oh, yes, that was the professor who failed me for getting tuberculosis,’ or ‘That was the professor who, because I have double time on exams, scheduled them during lunch.’

I googled Cyrus Eosphorus. On the first Google results page was an op-ed he wrote earlier this month for the Oberlin Review, which introduced his piece promisingly:

Editor’s Note: This op-ed contains discussion of medical malpractice, ableism, transphobia and homophobia. 

Oh goodie. Eosphoros launches into a crackpot rant against a local Catholic hospital.

The directives contain no statements on queer people or psychiatric treatment, so the Mercy Health system appears to be making its own decisions there. However, in my experience, it consistently and dangerously provides sub-par treatment on those grounds as well.

Last year, the College forcibly institutionalized me at Mercy Regional Center in Lorain.

Oh, I bet they did! More from young Eosphorus:

While hospitalized in Lorain, the psychiatrist on call asked me what I had to look forward to; I excitedly told him about my plans to propose to my girlfriend. He informed me that I was suicidal due to “anxiety” — this time provoked by “being in a same-sex relationship.” I am a man, but he didn’t believe me the fourth time I told him, either.

Because you have a vagina, you weirdo! No wonder the shrink thought this cat was crazy.

Nathan Heller meets a liberal professor who was targeted by a student he snapped at in class, and who denounced him to the administration for creating an “unsafe” environment:

“On or about December, 2014, student character changed,” Roger Copeland, a professor of theatre and dance, announced early one afternoon. We were sitting at a table in the Feve, a college-town grill. Copeland was wearing an extremely loud Hawaiian shirt. He has thinning silver hair, glasses that darken in the sunlight, and a theatrical style of diction that most people reserve for wild anecdotes at noisy cocktail parties. At one point, I looked up from my notepad to find that he had donned a rubber nose and glasses.

At which point you take nothing else Roger Copeland says seriously. A grown man, having a meeting with a reporter from The New Yorker, behaving that way. Patch Adams meets Chairman Mao.

Here’s where it gets seriously dark. Heller talks to the head of the Comparative American Studies program, which is said to be responsible for a lot of the radicalism on campus:

How, then, to teach? Two years ago, when the Black Lives Matter movement took off, “it felt like it was going to be a moment when we were really going to have a national conversation about police brutality and economic inequality,” Kozol said. She was excited about her students’ work in Cleveland and elsewhere. “But then, at some point, it became really solipsistic.” A professor who taught a Comparative American Studies seminar that was required for majors went on leave, and, as she was replaced by one substitute and then another, Kozol noticed something alarming: the students had started seating themselves by race. Those of color had difficulty with anything that white students had to say; they didn’t want to hear it anymore. Kozol took over the class for the spring, and, she told me, “it played out through identity politics.” The class was supposed to be a research workshop. But students went cold when they had to engage with anyone outside their community.

Kozol tried everything she could think of. She divided the seminar into work groups. She started giving lectures. She asked students to write down one thing they would do to contribute to a more productive dialogue. Only one person responded. So she did what she had never done in two decades of teaching: she dissolved the course mid-semester and let students do independent study for a grade.

Something is very, very seriously wrong at this place, and with a society that produces people like this. When Heller meets with the university president, Marvin Krislov, the man tells the reporter that he loves getting together with students over ice cream to work out their problems.“There is nothing like ice cream to bring people together,” he says.

Yeah, he said that.

The sense of entitlement among these students is simply off-the-charts. One girl named Megan, a Bronx native who “identifies as Afro-Latinx,” expresses her exhaustion after the living hell that is life at Oberlin:

Then she wanted to get as far away from the United States as she could. “Working my piece of land somewhere and living autonomously—that’s the dream,” she said. “Just getting the eff out of America. It’s a sinking ship.”

Babe, you come from the Bronx. You would be lucky to be able to grow a Chia pet.

Heller transcribes a priceless snit-fit among minority students he meets with, who apparently just make stuff up:

But the alumni reactions were the worst, according to Adams. “They are quick to turn around and call twenty-year-old students the N-word, and monkeys, and illiterate uneducated toddlers, and tell us to go back to Africa where we came from, and that Martin Luther King would be ashamed of us,” she says. “We knew realistically that most of those demands were not going to be met. We understand legality. We understand finances—”

Thank you, Tawana Brawley. How many people in this room believe that alumni of one of the most legendarily liberal colleges in the nation call black students racist names and tell them to go back to Africa? Nobody? Right. Let’s continue:

“We see the pattern of nonresponse,” Slay says.

Zakiya Acey furrows his brow. “The argument was ‘Oh, so students ask for this, but it’s not legal,’ ” he says. “But it’s what I need. And it’s what this country needs, and it’s my country. That’s the whole point. We’re asking—”

“We’re asking to be reflected in our education,” Adams cuts in. “I literally am so tired of learning about Marx, when he did not include race in his discussion of the market!” She shrugs incredulously. “As a person who plans on returning to my community, I don’t want to assimilate into middle-class values. I’m going home, back to the ’hood of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin.”

Yes, this person in dire need of a straitjacket is griping because a 19th-century German Jew writing a dense book of economic and social theory while sitting in the British library didn’t factor race into his analysis of capitalism. And so it goes.

Please read the whole thing, especially if you have children who are thinking of applying to college. You would ruin them if you sent them there, or to other colleges also overrun with SJW derangement. The college professor who sent me this piece comments:

The stories tell the ways in which, like Dostoevsky’s demons, students have turned against their teachers. Really, however, the subtext of the story is the abandonment of authority by one generation, and what happens to the next generation when adults forgo their obligation to enrich and pass on an inheritance. (This is what I refer to as the “Friday Night Lights” problem: a culture falls apart when adults are interested only in their own happiness, and the kids are left to their own devices to figure out ways to survive amidst heartbreak and dissolution.) When a president believes he can still the students’ pain and quiet their confusion with ice cream socials, and a professor – while wearing a rubber nose and glasses –  complains that students won’t look him in the eyes, you know that authority has ceased to function. Students will have no choice but to adopt the empty slogans of their elders, having no knowledge of a rich cultural inheritance to draw upon, and fill them with their rage.

There’s a part of me that takes pleasure in the irrationality of the contemporary cultural left destroying itself. But these are actual lives here, and institutions that people now gone have loved, and took generations to build. All being dismembered by ideology and pathology. This doesn’t just happen, though, and Oberlin is not the only school like this. This sickness says something about the American ruling class. Only because he takes his cues from a culture like this could a President of the United States order every public school in the country to let boys who think they are girls use the locker room. The backlash in this country when it all starts to come apart is going to be a terrible thing to behold. If you’ve read your Dostoevsky, and if you know your early 20th century history, you know where this kind of thing went in Russia.

UPDATE: Great comment from DancerGirl, who, it may interest some readers to know, is black and a liberal:

“The most revealing thing said by a student in the article is, “l can’t produce the work they want me to do.””

Maris, that line hit me like a 2×4. He’s so busy doing whatever, he can’t do what he went there to do — learn.

But I have to take issue with the sparseness of your excerpt because you left out the context, in which he complains about the way in which the courses are set up. “You know, we’re paying for a service. We’re paying for our attendance here. We need to be able to get what we need in a way that we can actually consume it. . . . I can’t produce the work that they want me to do. But I understand the material, and I can give it to you in different ways. There’s professors who have openly been, like, ‘Yeah, instead of, you know, writing out this midterm, come in to my office hours, and you can just speak it,’ right? But that’s not institutionalized. I have to find that professor.”

I read that passage and wanted to kick everybody’s ass. All of them.

1) “I’m paying for my education, therefore, I should decide how I will be taught.” This reasoning is also known as the logical breaking point of the customer service model in higher education. If he is so convinced that he can decide how he should be taught and examined, I don’t think school is the right place for him. Student, teach yourself. (See also, Yale English majors who resent having to read — get this — canonical British writers. Why, you might ask? Because they were white and male; the students wish to “decolonize” the English curriculum by abolishing the requirement that they read the people who established it. You see, no one writing in the Western tradition today was ever influenced by Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, etc. Check it out:https://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2016/05/24/yale_students_want_to_remake_the_english_major_requirements_but_there_s.html)

2) “I can’t take an exam in order to prove baseline competence in a class, and it’s unreasonable to expect me to do so. But I know the material, really, I do, and if you just let me come to office hours and chat, I’ll prove it to you!” I will grant that instructors have evaluated student learning through oral exams for millennia, but somehow, I don’t think he’s looking for a Socratic dialogue with his professor.

3) If I were the department chair for the professor he described, and I learned that he or she had engaged in such shenanigans, I would raise holy hell. And if he or she didn’t have tenure, it would go in the file. Because that is professional malpractice.

Who broke this generation, and how do they get fixed?



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