When asked about campus climate, many commentators — at HxA and elsewhere — keep returning to a specific list of major incidents: Charles Murray at Middlebury, Heather MacDonald at Claremont McKenna, and so on. By revisiting these relatively few incidents with such exclusivity and predictability, those concerned about viewpoint diversity on college campuses run the risk of undermining the very problem they hope to solve.
Indeed, some prominent skeptics have begun to argue that there is “no campus free speech crisis” at all. The skeptics believe that partisans are using a few isolated blow-ups to make unjustified claims about university students as a whole.
And frankly, the skeptics have a point: the true blow-ups have been relatively few in number. Thankfully, successful heckler vetoes have occurred on a very small number of campuses. Proportionally, few professors have been outright silenced or forced out for saying something that ran counter to student sensibilities. If one were measuring the campus storm by counting the number of big thunderclaps, things wouldn’t look so bad.
Yet, we at HxA hear example after example (after example!) about much smaller moments that unfold every day in classrooms and on campuses across our nation. There’s the member of a hiring committee who notes that a particular candidate’s politics wouldn’t be a “fit” for the department, or the peer-reviewer who uncharitably scrutinizes a submission because it runs against his priors. We hear about the student who is punished by her peers for voicing a non-dominant viewpoint in class — or shamed on social media for questioning the wisdom of a campus protest. This is not a phenomenon that impacts just those on the right, progressive students are subject to these dynamics as well. Each of these stories is a raindrop, and we believe that the storm should be measured by how much rain there is.
These moments will never be written up in the New York Times. But they are where the problem manifests. Universities aren’t hosting a generational wave of young people who categorically reject free speech. Rather, they’re witnesses to a new campus dynamic, in which enough students feel justified using call-out, shaming, and silencing tactics that others are prevented from freely voicing opinions, asking questions, or exploring ideas. Meanwhile, the faculty have grown increasingly homogenous in their perspectives as well.
The resulting climate undermines two important goals of a university community: learning and inclusion. Learning is undermined because free inquiry is essential for discovery and truth-seeking. Inclusion is undermined because many students–from across the political spectrum– fear ostracism if they run afoul of this new dynamic. It’s impossible to feel a sense of community if you’re always walking on eggshells. This is true for all students.
HxA is launching a new effort to collect and make visible these moments — the raindrops in the storm. Our goal is to collect and share stories that help make clear the range and frequency of challenges students and professors encounter vis-a-vis viewpoint diversity and open inquiry, especially in the classroom. While we realize there is clearly a powerful emotional component to many of these moments, we are particularly interested in hearing about observable behaviors — things people actually said or did. Ideally, in the presence of others.
Please, share your stories. If you are a member of a university community and have witnessed silencing or shaming behaviors in response to good-faith comments or questions, or other forms of active discrimination by students, faculty or staff on the basis of someone’s apparent viewpoints or commitments, tell your story using this Google form, in as few or as many words as you wish. Invite your colleagues and students to share their experiences. While we will be unable to publish every story we receive, we look forward to sharing as many of them as possible (with the writer’s permission).
We have no interest in shaming anyone — no names will be mentioned. In fact, while we will not accept anonymous submissions (for the integrity of the project, it is imperative that we be able to reach out to you to verify submitted stories and to ask clarifying questions), to avoid the potential for slander or reprisal, we expect that most of these raindrops will be shared as anonymized blog posts.
Please reach out with questions or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.