Bach: Neither Considerate nor Correct

by Jinsung Bach | 4/25/16 5:30pm

Though it is always concerning when societies implement a culture of censorship, more concerning still are the attempts to defend it. Jessica Lu ’18’s April 20 column “Considerate Correctness” is exactly such an attempt, and I must voice my vehement disagreement with her position. A culture of political correctness is not only antithetical to the core values that Dartmouth should uphold, but it also sets a dangerous precedent for higher education across the country.

Lu argued that changing Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority’s spring party theme from Derby to Woodstock was necessary because the original theme had racist undertones that marginalized minority groups on campus. Shockingly, the justification wasn’t that people had decided that it was truly racist, but that some people simply felt like it might have been. “Whether or not the theme of Derby is racist is an important question to ask,” Lu writes. “But it is not the most important issue at play here. What matters is that our peers felt the theme was problematic.”

Here lies the core weakness of Lu’s argument, that people within the student body “felt” the theme was problematic. In her words, whether or not it actually was problematic simply didn’t matter. There was no regard for the realities behind the Derby theme, or its intentions or true impact on sensitivity. What’s more, she argues that the answer to such perceived injustice is to immediately do away with it, without so much as a second thought ­— a “no-brainer,” to borrow her phrasing.

Lu’s appeal to emotion does her own argument a disservice, especially in her anecdotes regarding students of color on campus. Gaze ye, says she, upon the plight of non-white folk! In her view, the case of a student who feels offended by the word “Derby” holds the same moral weight as that of a black man bleeding out at the hands of police brutality. With this argument comes an implicit accusation that anyone who disagrees must be a racist bigot out of touch with modern society.

What this misguided appeal to emotion forgets is that safe spaces, censorship and divisive language are not the right answer to racism. A case like KDE’s should invite discourse and intelligent discussion, not a knee-jerk reflex to ban anything that might be the slightest bit uncomfortable. The changing of the Derby name is symptomatic of a naïve ideal to keep everyone happy and unoffended — an ideal that is incompatible with the rigors inherent to an educational institution of Dartmouth’s caliber. More importantly, it does nothing to change racism in our society — it certainly does no good for Khairuldeen Makhzoomi or any of the other victims of true prejudice that Lu has highlighted in her piece.

“People on both sides should be vocal and unafraid to share their opinions,” notes Lu, and on this sole point I wholeheartedly agree. Nonetheless, she maintains the position that political correctness helps “ensure that vulnerable groups feel safe.” But is this truly the design of a politically correct culture? Perception of injustice does not injustice make, and yet with political correctness it is all too easy to stifle dissenting opinions. It is impossible for such a system, so easily abused and so enabling of poor conduct, to be benign — especially when its momentum is almost exclusively tilted to one side.

It is with rising alarm that I have observed this enabling trend grow at Dartmouth. The Derby fiasco is the most recent casualty of a culture that engenders division. In the name of social justice, it seeks to crush traditions and ideas alike to serve some supposed ideal where nobody feels hurt or insulted by anything. This culture seeks not to challenge or innovate, but instead to cater to emotions and emotions only — even if society must grind to a screeching halt to do so. Such sacrifices have already risked the very integrity of our school, as students fight their own peers and breed even more discontent.

Ours is an administration that applauds this divisive behavior, and openly dismisses dissenting voices as “not being very nice.” It seems that the administration is complicit in such behavior, tacitly supporting its spread while denouncing alternative perspectives as unacceptable. This begs the question, why does our administration submit itself so freely to hurt feelings, with no regard for logic or facts? Why does a school with the history and pride of Dartmouth allow such travesty to happen at our own campus?

The answer is at once beautiful and painful in its brevity: incompetence.

To avoid the embarrassment that comes with controversy, the administration has failed to promote sensible dialogue and has instead pressed forward with ham-handed attempts to tackle issues it has little power to control. In response to sexual violence, it has attacked the Greek houses that form the cornerstone of Dartmouth social life, replacing them with the half-baked concept of “residential houses” that nobody asked for or desired. In response to alcohol-related controversies, it has placed a Prohibition-like ban on hard liquor that is neither enforceable nor necessary. Such changes have rightly incited backlash from an outraged student body.

One must question the financial motives of the administration as well. When controversies at such schools as the University of Missouri have led to a drastic drop in applicants, it is all but impossible to suggest that the administration’s constant pandering to political correctness doesn’t have at least something to do with money. Ironically, such pandering has only bred controversy over questions that were never controversial to begin with, inciting the very drama and controversy it had hoped to prevent.

All this foolishness has achieved exactly nothing to improve Dartmouth’s image. Even as I write these words, tuition and admissions rates continue to rise unsustainably for a school whose national rankings continue to fall. The administration fiddles while Dartmouth burns, convincing itself that it is doing the right thing. What ineptitude have we put our faith in to allow such things to pass?

The culture of political correctness is anything but correct, and the time is long overdue for the administration to realize that.