Political correctness not a clear-cut issue on college campuses

With the rise of politically correct culture in western society, universities across the globe have been forced to adapt to the ever-growing list of things that might make students feel uncomfortable. While the ultimate goal of this movement is to spread awareness for the oppressed, some have observed that the movement itself tends to do the opposite.

One instance of an adverse effect of the PC push can be seen during the University of California at Berkeley riots, which were orchestrated with the goal to prevent right-wing political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at an event.

Television journalist Tom Brokaw described the students as “childish.”

“They can’t hear somebody who comes and has a message contrary to their own ideas,” Brokaw said.

Political commentator June Lapine also notes that all these protests accomplished was drawing attention to Yiannopoulos’s event: “They tried to block him from speaking to a few hundred people at a university, but by giving him the attention he ended up speaking in front of millions.”

A large crowd walks down Telegraph Avenue to protest against Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley, in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. Because of the protest the event was canceled. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

Though the issue is more complicated than one may think, the debate often falls in two different categories: those who believe political correctness silences free speech on campuses and those who argue that offensive viewpoints have no place in the classroom because they don’t add anything of importance to the conversation.

U.C. Santa Cruz freshman Kiowa Bearfoot says that classes can benefit from political correctness in different ways.

“Not only does it help to create safe spaces for students, it’s plain and simple the right thing to do,” says Bearfoot, who notes that political correctness may contribute to increased social awareness. “By practicing this in class, myself and my peers have grown more conscientious towards others needs and learned to be less exclusionary.”

As stated by the school’s code of conduct, “U.C. Santa Cruz is committed to maintaining an objective, civil, diverse and supportive community free of bias, hate, intimidation, dehumanization and exploitation.”

Most universities across California spread a similar message of inclusion across all campuses, with a focus on diversity.

“I had an awesome class where the professor was progressive and encouraged students of all backgrounds to share their opinions and experiences,” says Sarah Horne, a California State University at Monterey Bay senior.

Horne notes that it’s difficult to have political conversations in the classroom, as they can quickly turn into arguments, and with the divisiveness in the current political climate, it’s not difficult to see why.

“It was so much easier to bite your tongue while the willfully ignorant students repeated the same popular and non-inclusive opinions,” Horne says.

However, some students report that this diversity may be exploited by professors.

CSUMB senior Allie Frease notes that some teachers pressure students to give the response they’re looking for.

“Myself and other classmates feel like we can’t say anything,” Frease says, “because she’ll push until someone says ‘the racist answer’ to prove her point. She picks on either white people or her ‘minority of the day’ that relates best to her point.”

Hate speech and discrimination on campuses are often cited as two reasons why political correctness is vital on a college campus. However, some students note that what constitutes as “hate speech” might be taken too far.

“There’s people out there who are going through serious problems,” one U.C. Irvine student says, “which is why it’s ridiculous to me that these students complain about such trivial problems.”

U.C. Davis second-year Christine Nguyen says, “To me, political correctness is saying, ‘We shouldn’t make up false stereotypes about other people.’”

Nguyen adds that stereotypes that negatively impact minority students can unintentionally find their way into lesson plans: “I think that’s definitely more important in the classroom. Anything that perpetuates untrue biases, especially those that are particularly harmful, really has no place in the classroom.”

Nguyen also notes that students may express biased views, and that it’s important that these views are challenged in the classroom, adding, “A classroom is a place where we search for truths, either by challenging our own prejudices or by searching for different point of views.”

During a town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, President Obama described liberal students as “coddled.”

“I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want a guest speaker who is too conservative,” Obama said. “Or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African Americans, or somehow sends a demeaning signal to women.”

Obama went on to indicate that protecting students from viewpoints that differ from their own ultimately leaves them unchallenged by the classes they take. While the battle for political correctness on campus rages on, the question of whether it’s the best course of action in the long-run remains.

-Kylie Yeatman