Thursday, 26 January 2017

Stand up

An interesting piece in Quillette begins by addressing a mandatory orientation event at Princeton University.

"Stand up if you identify as Caucasian.”

The minister’s voice was solemn. I paused so that I wouldn’t be the first one standing, and then slowly rose to my feet. “Look at your community,” he said. I glanced around the auditorium obediently. The other students looked as uncomfortable as I felt, and as white. ¨Thank you,” the minister said finally. After we sat down, he went on to repeat the exercise for over an hour with different adjectives in place of “Caucasian”: black, wealthy, first-generation, socially conservative. Each time he introduced a new label, he paused so that a new group of students could stand and take note of one another. By the time he was finished, every member of Princeton University’s freshman class had been branded with a demographic.

This mandatory orientation event was designed to help us appreciate our diversity as a student body during the first week of classes. But what did it really accomplish? In compressing us into isolated communities based on our race, religion or gender, the minister belittled every other piece of our identities. He faced a crowd of singular young adults and essentially told them that their heritage outweighed their humanity. The message was clear: know your kind and stick to it. Don't risk offending people from other backgrounds by trying to understand their worldviews.

Perhaps one should not generalise too much from such eccentric activities and the effect on students may not be the intended effect. As a theatrical introduction to the limits of Princeton's cultural life it comes across as remarkably unsubtle. 

However the whole piece is well worth reading. The paragraph below sums up both the malign aspects of Princeton culture and the wider problem it so singularly fails to resolve. Not for the first time, this observer is left wondering if universities have had their day.

My teachers and classmates openly referred to Trump’s voters as uneducated bigots throughout the election season, while taking any criticism of Clinton as an attack against women. Anyone who dares to voice a religious opinion is regarded as unintelligent. The fear of being called racist draws our attention to a black woman’s skin instead of her character, and the fear of being called homophobic emphasizes a gay man’s sexuality over his personality. We have been trained to tiptoe around each other and distribute trigger warnings with generosity.


Sam Vega said...

I think universities are safe, but that certain "liberal arts" courses are endangered - and rightly so - because sooner or later someone is going to squeeze the funding. Nobody benefits from these loons except those who are made in the same image. That's fine when the market is expanding and they can find jobs teaching. The real fear is that as the market contracts, more of them will try to find jobs in primary and secondary education.

As for the University as an institution, though, my guess is that grouping young adults residentially and letting them bounce ideas around will remain the best way to get the engineers, scientists, and managers we need.

Demetrius said...

My GG Grandad was a merchant ship's master by his mid 20's going to India and China. He was also fully literate and his mathematical abilities rather ahead of about 98% of the present population, I have a thesis he wrote on navigation by the sun and stars. He left school at 12 to be an apprentice seaman. His wife's uncle was commanding a regiment of Indian cavalry at around the same age which took part in some famous battles. And there are all the others, capable, literate, doing demanding work etc by the time they turned 20. They make my generation look like a lot of slackers and as for the present youngest generation........

Anonymous said...

There is a minister who needs their ears caressed by a hefty lump of wood. But more fool the compliant sprogs at Princeton for falling for it.

wiggiatlarge said...

Multiculturalism is an alibi to demonise Western values, to silence any expression of admiration for our past under the excuse that this disrespects others.

And so ingrained is this philosophy that the result is there for all to see every time something fails to fit in to their narrative, result peak hashtag or protest march, the police bill for all these nonsense marches must be stratospheric, and the achievement nil, identity politics gone mad.

A K Haart said...

Sam - in time I think universities may come under some harsh scrutiny, not only liberal arts courses, but the soft sciences too. We throw those young people together, but it is only the talented few who will ever make a genuine contribution to their chosen field.

Demetrius - my father had no particular qualifications when he left the RN, but he joined the computer revolution and made a good career out of it.

Roger - I imagine the compliant sprogs at Princeton see it as part of the natural order and most don't question it until they grow up. Often not even then.

Wiggia - I agree and I hope Trump gives a voice to the millions who have no wish to be coerced in this way.