As August approaches, it's the beginning of the end...of vacation, that is. Some of you will be back to school, or your kids will be. In the last several months, we've heard a lot in the news about the so-called "SJWs" or "Special Snowflakes" that have taken over campus culture and made it incredibly difficult for many people to exercise their freedom of speech or thought.
You may have heard recent stories about the protests against Professor Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State College, which is among the most liberal colleges in the nation. When he refused to take part in their "Day of Presence," which required all white professors, staff, and students to refrain from coming to campus, he objected, saying that exclusion based on skin color is racist, whatever the intention. Students cornered him in his office, as you can see from the picture above, got in his face, called him a Nazi, and caused him to be in real danger on campus.
This is not necessarily an American problem. A couple of years ago, for example, radical feminist Germaine Greer had been scheduled to speak at Cardiff University, and while she gave the talk, she was widely protested by students because of her past statements critical of trans women. So it's not just conservatives such as Milo Yiannopoulos or Ben Shapiro that are under fire. Liberal comedian Bill Maher was protested at Berkeley, and even other comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Larry the Cable Guy don't play college campuses any more, because of the hostile and humorless atmosphere that has evolved on many campuses.
So off you or your child goes, ready to take on the world and learn a thing or two on campus! So how will they handle this kind of atmosphere, especially if they are remotely conservative or Christian? How will they make friends or even get a decent GPA if they run into activist professors who grade on personal opinion?
So here are a few little tips, just to help you stay sane and safe during the school year:
1. Pick your battles. Not every fight is worth it, to be honest, especially when you're dealing with someone who is absolutely intractable. Even at Catholic universities, you're going to run into students who don't share your values or your politics, and unless you see that there is a remote chance of swaying their opinion, it's sometimes good to take a step back and let them be wrong. That's not a sign of weakness or lack of conviction, but rather, a sign that some people are extremely closed-minded and need to learn things the hard way.
2. Find a touchstone. We all need a good friend on our side, and if you can even find a friend group that shares your values and your politics, all the better. Getting involved in a conservative club or a prayer group is a great way of finding those friends, and if you have a chance to go to benediction at an on-campus or local church, you're likely to find those individuals. It's so important emotionally to have that foundation, to have those around you who support you and won't unfriend you just because of a disagreement on politics. Similarly, it's important to have people with whom you feel free to discuss, knowing they won't judge you or think less of you for having an opinion.
3. Be realistic about people. Sometimes, we want to think the best of people--as Catholics, we're taught to be kind and loving and to accept all, no matter what. All of this is true, but a strong dose of reality is also needed, because frankly, some people are jerks, and there's no amount of compassion or empathy that will change them one bit. You don't need to give them the cold shoulder, of course, and you should pray for these intolerant fools, but that doesn't mean you have to be best friends with them or let them get away with abuse. Sometimes, people can approach a new situation and naively think that everyone is going to be oh so nice, and that's when they set themselves up to get hurt or disappointed. Better to take people for who they are and decide whether it's worth your time to be around them.
4. Decide what you want from a class and a major. Truth alert! Some professors base their grade on personal opinion. That can also happen on a Catholic campus, so don't be fooled. Thankfully, not all professors do this, but enough of them do that, if you find yourself in their class, you need to make a choice. The last thing you want to do is to sacrifice your values just to get a grade, nor do you want to allow the professor or your fellow students to bully you for your values. So what do you want? That's a decision only the individual can make, but there will come a time when most college students will have to face that decision. Do you fake your way through a class just to get a grade, or do you drop the class altogether? If you genuinely feel that a class will damage your belief system, then you might be better off dropping the class--that was something I had to do, and I have no regrets whatsoever. As you choose your classes, especially as you get into your major, therefore, you need to do some research on the professor, but also on the course content. And if you find that the course content is objectionable, then you have to ask yourself whether you're in the right major. Those are hard questions, but they're real.
5. Take the high road (when you can). Sometimes you're in the middle of a debate with other students or with your professor, and the second you say the smallest thing that differs from their leftist narrative, you may find yourself being called a Nazi or a hater or a racist or a transphobe. The last thing you should do is to reply by calling them a bunch of closed-minded, brainwashed snowflakes, even if that's how you feel. The minute the conversation devolves into ad hominem accusations, it's time to shut it down and walk away, because you're not going to get anywhere with someone like that. These folks usually have lots of slogans and no facts and no understanding of government or economics, and there's no point in shouting at them. Again, sometimes you have to allow people to be wrong and move on. The same rule applies on social media--if you see a conversation that has turned into a string of insults from all sides, don't feed the beast. Just keep scrolling down and choose to look at something positive, like videos of puppies.
6. If you do get into it, be armed with facts. Nothing can be more satisfying at times than serving up a nice big red pill of truth to your detractors, especially when they have nothing but slogans and stereotypes to offer back. There might be times when you can have an actual debate that doesn't end up in a shouting match, so if that's the case, then red-pill away! But do your research and be sure your facts are spot on. Know what their arguments will likely be and be ready to counter. And if you can use the "Rogerian strategy," where you approach with compassion, then all the better. You have to judge for yourself when the right time is to engage, so when you do finally jump into the fray, be ready.
7. Be OK with losing friends. A lot of people lost friends after the 2016 election, as we know. It never feels good to know that someone you cared about no longer wants to talk to you because of your values or your politics. Of course, if they're cutting you off over a ideological disagreement, then they weren't actually your friends in the first place, though that doesn't make it hurt any less sometimes. That being said, you have to be ready to let people go, because there will be more people out there that either share your values or won't judge you for them. Why be miserable when you can be happy with people who will be supportive and genuine? Now if you're in a roommate situation where that happens, that could be tough, and you may need your R.A. to intervene on your behalf. And if that "friend" makes you look like a horrible person, and if your college doesn't support you, there are places to turn to for help, especially if you're being bullied. Organizations such the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) are there to support you when your First Amendment rights are being violated, and they have a lot of resources that can help you.
The purpose of the university is to bring together people from all walks of life to engage in intellectual endeavors and to discover truths about life and the world. That hasn't changed, in its ideal, but it has in practice, so as you head toward college, be realistic and open. Embrace the experience of college, but don't fool yourself into thinking that every professor is right or that every student is there to learn. I know this sounds a bit cynical, but it's the best way to protect yourself and have the best year you can.
witty; cunning; crafty
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