To the editor,
One of the first things I do when I visit another university is pick up their school newspaper to get a feel for the culture that exists on that campus. The newspaper is a reflection of the student voices and is a platform for discussing the things that they find important. This past semester, there have been times when I have felt shocked at what was being voiced in my school newspaper. I would like to respond in particular to Jacob Martin’s recent letter in response to “How do I adult” and “When we’re too afraid to fight back,” because it embodies a collection of attitudes that I find disappointing in some of my peers at Case Western Reserve University. I have two main points that I want to address.
1) “The virus of radical political correctness (PC)”
I would like to call into question the vague nature of Martin’s concern regarding political correctness. Throughout his entire response, he neither defines what he means by political correctness, nor does he cite ways in which CWRU has specifically implemented “an increasingly PC culture” (although he alludes to the Bias Reporting System as being reflective of this culture, without talking about how it does this). By “politically correct” does he mean discussing things in a way that’s respectful and affirming to the identities of others? By “politically correct” does he mean discussing things in a way that steers clear of racist, sexist (etc.) language?
Conflating acts of discrimination with merely “things [people] don’t want to hear” (as per Andrew Breland’s description) is harmful because it brushes off the strong negative impact that discrimination has. Discrimination is rooted in systematic mistreatment and power, and writing people off as being overly sensitive to language fails to situate this discussion within that context. Our academic institution has the responsibility to understand the causes of discrimination in order to foster a community of respect and safety for all members.
This “PC language” creates the space to have discussions in a productive and respectful environment. This leads into my second point.
2) “A bias reporting system is not a bad thing, to be sure, but it should be established after the tough discussions are had.”
I want to emphasize that these discussions are happening. The Bias Reporting System was not implemented on a whim and with no input from the community. Students have continuously been voicing concerns, and the Bias Reporting System grew out of these discussions (again, discussions that are still taking place).
You have these discussions by being respectful. Involving oneself in these discussions requires both careful listening and recognition of people’s experiences. Involving oneself in these discussions requires ensuring that you’re not perpetuating invalidating attitudes by insisting that people who experience discrimination necessarily adopt your perspective on how they should feel.
I completely agree with you; it is time to “grow the hell up.” Growing up and becoming an adult involves educating oneself about privilege and power. It’s time to “grow the hell up” and learn how to have mature discussions while being cognizant of the impact of one’s language. These issues are deep and complicated, and to talk about them we need to make sure we’re listening intently and thoroughly doing our research.