At the University of Connecticut two students recently shouted racial and ethnic epithets that were not directed at any specific individuals. Nothing in what has been reported about the incident indicates that the students intended physical harm to anyone.
Nevertheless, students at the university claimed that one of the uttered epithets, an especially ugly one plainly derogatory of African-Americans, had caused them to feel “unsafe” at the university. Believing themselves physically threatened, along with members of the faculty they demanded formal punishment of the two students.
In the opinion of the protestors, the epithet that robbed them of their safety confirmed their conviction – which evidently is also that of the president of the university, Thomas C. Katsouleas - that the University of Connecticut is rife with prejudice and bigotry redolent of the “institutional racism” and “white supremacy” that are presumed to be endemic not only on college and university campuses but in American society as a whole.
One must bear in mind the slender reed on which this contention is based. Two students at a university with a total enrollment of 32,000 uttered words that were heard by virtually no one. Moreover, the epithets demeaning other minorities neither President Katsouleas nor the students nor any of the faculty supporting them considered sufficiently objectionable to condemn.
If one takes the protesting students at their word, President Katsouleas should explain to the people of Connecticut, who underwrite the cost of an eleven-member “team” in his administration devoted exclusively to fostering “diversity and inclusion,” how any students at UCONN could possibly believe themselves to be “unsafe.”
At the same time, it seems appropriate to ask how many more African-Americans on the faculty, how many more academic courses devoted to racial diversity, and how many more “guidelines” for rooting out and punishing the perpetrators of “hate speech” - as demanded by the UCONN NAACP - would be sufficient to ensure the students’ safety? Years ago, when racism was common, this function was performed easily enough by campus police.
However hateful, the epithets uttered by the two students reveal very little about bigotry in the university itself, and exactly nothing about racism in America – other than that mounds of additional evidence are required to prove their ubiquity.
Indeed, the nation-wide affirmative action preferences that discriminate in favor of minorities supposedly victimized by such racism would seem to disprove its existence. Surely the racists who presumably are in charge of America today would not put in place policies that benefit people they consider racially inferior. But since that is precisely what they have done, they cannot be racist.
Are there racists in America? Of course. In a population of 330 million, how could there not be? Is America racist in its institutions, its values, and its aspirations? Absolutely not.
But students indoctrinated in the pathological hatred of America afflicting college faculties today have no way of even considering assertions such as these because they are told that anyone who believes that America is not a racist country is either a racist himself or is simply a fool.
The result is the ridiculous conviction that ideas alone can be physically injurious, and that any adverse emotional effect they might cause is intolerable.
But students who are rendered emotionally discombobulated by speech that disturbs them - to the point where university administrators feel compelled to assuage them by acquiescing to demands that are unwarranted - ignore the reality that being offended is a part of life.
In fact, there are circumstances when the offense one feels is beneficial. At a university, where students encounter ideas that are new and unfamiliar, this experience, while initially unsettling and even disturbing, can be the first step to enlightenment and the acquisition of knowledge. Only when offensive views are aired can students conjure arguments refuting them. But this cannot happen when college students are treated as helpless children incapable of responding responsibly to adversity.
The contrast between students unable to endure mere words and the men and women in our armed forces, who risk their lives for our country, is a stark one.
Sadly, it also speaks volumes about the immaturity of far too many students at the University of Connecticut, and about the infinite capacity of their enablers on the faculty and in the administration to believe that membership in one particular race or ethnicity confers moral virtue based on victimhood, while membership in another renders one a bigot and a racist.
Jay Bergman is Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Scholars.