David Rubin: College campuses need fewer listening sessions, more edgy dialogues


Below excerpt from an article on Syracuse.com by David Rubin:

Syracuse University is alert to these trends. Its administration has established a special Chancellor’s Workgroup on Diversity and Inclusion. It sponsored an open meeting earlier this month, billed as a “listening session,” to hear student concerns about the campus climate. I went, along with about 125 others.

The students did make a few suggestions for changes that would improve education on campus. They want a more diverse faculty, affordable tutoring services, and more courses on social justice topics.

Much of the discussion, however, addressed personal issues: that the campus was not a “safe space” for them; that they were constantly subjected to “micro-aggressions” by an insensitive white majority; and that the campus was not sufficiently diverse or integrated.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of these cris de Coeur, cries of the heart. But if students and administrators want to bring about change, this meeting and future meetings face two serious problems.

First, the people who need to hear these cries—the majority white faculty, staff, and student body–were largely not in the room. For them this was not a safe space to be, a concept that cuts two ways, although I don’t think the attendees at this meeting realize this.

Second, it was not a safe space because there was no true discussion, which is how change comes about in a democratic society. Not once in more than 90 minutes did anyone stand and say “I disagree with what was just said,” or “I have another perspective on that.”

The “discussion” was airless and self-validating. The single exception was an Hispanic faculty member who pleaded for a little humor in assessing true racial slights.

Otherwise, some of the complaints demanded responses that never came. One student said a music faculty member was unaware of the latest musical trends in this student’s culture. The student felt this was a micro-aggression against her. Why didn’t this young woman simply offer, in a friendly way, to visit the faculty member and introduce this new music? A micro-aggression? Please.

Since the university will continue these sessions next semester, they must make a stronger effort to attract students and faculty members with different views. The venue must be a truly safe space for everyone’s free speech. Audience members must not try to suppress the offensive speech they will hear. I constantly remind my students that the First Amendment exists to protect offensive speech. We don’t need a First Amendment to protect speech no one finds offensive.

Read the entire article at Syracuse.com



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