In the aftermath of the absurd controversy over the potential for offensive Halloween costumes at Yale, president Peter Salovey reportedly has apologized to a large group of minority students for the school’s failure to make them feel safe on campus. “We failed you,” Salovey said (according to the notes of students who were present), adding “I think we have to be a better university; I think we have to do a better job.”
From all that appears, there is no evidence that Yale failed to make its minority students safe. Salovey’s remarks weren’t prompted by violence, attempted violence, or threats of violence against minorities.
As best I can determine from various reports, they arose instead from discontent over (1) the fact that one of Yale’s colleges is named after John C. Calhoun, (2) the alleged exclusion of black female students from a fraternity party, and (3) the potential that someone might wear an “offensive” Halloween costume and the lack of enthusiasm by a headmaster’s wife (and maybe her headmaster husband) over censoring costumes.
None of these items has anything to do with safety. None could make a rational person feel unsafe.
Yet Salovey reportedly told the students he had not seen this level of emotion in the 35 years he has been at Yale. Students reportedly wept and pleaded for help from the president.
At the risk of sounding like an old-timer, I will note that in my day, minority students didn’t weep and plead; they shouted and demanded. Somehow, a decrease in meaningful grievances has corresponded with an increase in hysteria.
So Salovey is probably right that the level of emotion at last week’s meeting was unprecedented. But does his apparent inference — that Yale has failed these students — follow?
Roger Kimball thinks so, though not in the sense Salovey does:
American campuses have for many years been treating their charges as childish ATMs: delicate creatures who, though they dispense a small fortune over the course of four years through the proxy of their parents or. . .[by virtue] of financial aid, through the parents of other students, nonetheless must be treated as irresponsible toddlers, protected at every turn from ideas they might find challenging or — the king of words these days — “offensive.”
Colleges have set themselves up as multicultural, sexually and racially exotic hothouses to breed these noxious, neurasthenic but politically correct creatures who are capable of emotional hysteria but not reasoned argument.
To be fair, the process of creating these creatures generally begins well before they get to college. But Kimball’s point stands.
The problem is that there’s nothing Yale can do to make its “charges” feel safe. All the Play-doh, coloring books, and pillows in the world will prove inadequate. So will censoring Halloween costumes. So will speech codes.
So will the specialized mental health services for minority students being demanded at Yale. Indeed, by reinforcing the view that it’s reasonable, if you’re a minority, to feel unsafe over nothing much, they will probably make the students feel less safe. But maybe they can make them feel better about feeling unsafe.
Let’s hope so. For if these kids truly feel unsafe at Yale, heaven help them when they leave the incubator.