Traumatized students, then and now

I’ve received good feedback on my “Not a Parody” post about Columbia Law School’s decision to postpone exams for students who claim they are traumatized by the “no-bills” in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. One reader writes:

In 1972 I was taking a final exam in a history course at Harvard. I didn’t start to write when everyone else did, because I liked to plan my answers. The professor came over to me and asked if it was because if I was too upset about Nixon’s sending troops into Cambodia. He was a nice man so I tried not to laugh.

The late 1960s and early 1970s was a rocky era on campus. The Kent State killings, friends being drafted, frequent demonstrations, the occasional takeover of administration buildings, etc. Off campus, tens of thousands of Americans (and many more Vietnamese) were being killed in war. And, of course, blacks were systematically being denied their civil rights. A pair of grand jury no-bills would have escaped notice in this context.

The events that shook me the most, I think, were the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy within just a few months in 1968. It seemed to both liberals and conservatives (for somewhat different reasons) that America was unraveling. Radicals, whose ranks I would join by 1969, hoped this was the case.

But through all of this upheaval, I don’t recall anyone ever claiming to be too distressed to study for and take exams. We weren’t that whiny.

I remember a few students who, having concluded they shouldn’t enjoy a “privileged” Ivy League existence while the world was crumbling, dropped out. I also remember calls to shut down colleges. But seeking postponement of exams on a theory of emotional distress? I don’t think so.


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