Last Thursday, Brown student Mei Novack published Schoolwork, advocacy place strain on student activists in the Brown Daily Herald. In it, she wrote, "Many student activists encounter mental, emotional and physical stress while trying to balance their academic and activist responsibilities."
Her report included examples such as:
“There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on,” David, an undergraduate whose name has been changed to preserve anonymity, said.
His role as a student activist has taken a toll on his mental, physical and emotional health. “My grades dropped dramatically. My health completely changed. I lost weight. I’m on antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills right now. (Counseling and Psychological Services) counselors called me. I had deans calling me to make sure I was okay,” he said.
It reads like satire... but the children at Brown University (Preschool?) seem to genuinely feel this way.
Which is kind of sad, considering:
In other words, the controversial opinions of one student caused so many others to fail tests, drop classes and start taking anti-anxiety medications. Is he not entitled to his opinion -- even if you disagree with it? Even if it offends you? Even if it's factually incorrect?
Do I agree with Maier? Somewhat. I myself have written about the value of cognitive reframing (it's the most powerful psychology hack of all time!). I myself have written about changing the personal meaning of holidays that make you sad. And I had a fun time reading Guns, Germs and Steel.
Granted, none of my posts have focused on the bright side of a man responsible for horrific murders of indigenous people.
And I'm also not on board with him telling "all Native Americans" what they "should" celebrate. But I still see the value behind the concept of his argument... and his column did make me ask myself, How would the world as we know it today be different without Columbus?
But say I were a Brown student and I read this post and I strongly disagreed with it. I would do some research and write a scathing response. I would tear the guy's argument apart, limb from limb.
What I wouldn't do is fail all my classes in order to protest... two columns? The student who wrote them? The newspaper?
It's sad that the newspaper eventually took the article down, because, either way, I want to read it. Either way, I want to understand why someone would want to celebrate Columbus -- even if I don't agree with him.
Or, to use a more recent example -- remember a few days ago, when venture capitalist Marc Andreessen decided to tweet this:
And Andreessen Horowitz partner Benedict Evans replied:
My gut response was, "Wow! What a horrible thing to say!"
But then I thought, "Why would he say that? What has he read that I haven't? What might he know that I don't?"
This doesn't mean I agreed with him. It means I wanted to understand him. So I Googled "the Hindu rate of growth" -- or, as it should be called, "the Nehruvian Socialism rate of growth."
I'm still not thrilled about the tweet, which was objectively pretty insulting to about a billion people. But I'm thrilled that one controversial comment inspired me to learn more about India and its economy. I'm glad I listened to podcasts like this one:
This, to me, is what education is all about. As I wrote in Going to Stanford Doesn't Mean You'll Get a Stanford Education, I've met (however briefly) pretty much everyone who's ever run for president in my whole life. Whether democrat or republican, moderate, progressive or conservative, I have made an effort to learn what I could from everyone who thinks they are fit to be commander in chief. And it has undoubtedly informed (and, sometimes, changed) my political views.
But it seems students no longer want to explore other viewpoints. Instead, they are sacrificing their own futures to make sure they never have to read an offensive op-ed or have a controversial speaker appear on campus. Of course, there are still curious and engaged students, like this one:
Rather than scream and shout and throw fake blood on furniture, floors and innocent bystanders when conservative columnist Milo Yiannopoulos and pro-MRA feminist and author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men gave a talk at the University of Minnesota, this student asked his peers: "Is our liberal ideology SO fragile that we can't let him speak?"
Instead of spending weeks buying fake blood and missing class to practice silly chants... he directly confronted the panelists. He did his research, and he asked them a tough question. Awesome! Maybe he can take over Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski's job and interview Trump next.
But let's get back to social justice concerns at Brown.
Students have been working with deans to pressure professors into giving them extensions on class assignments so that their homework won't interfere with activism "responsibilities":
[One student] had a research presentation that needed to be completed that week. “I remember emailing the professor and begging her to put things off another week,” she said. The professor denied her request.
Well... at least she finished the project on time. UNLIKE this guy:
David turned to CAPS and reached out to deans for notes that extended his deadlines for assignments. These were helpful, he said, but acted only as “bandages” for the underlying causes of stress.
This past semester, David spent class time on his activist work in order to address a time-sensitive issue. As a result, one of David’s professors lowered his grade because he was distracted in class, he said.
And this guy:
Justice Gaines ’16, who uses the pronouns xe, xem and xyr, said... In the wake of The Herald’s opinion pieces, students were called out of class into organizing meetings, and xe felt pressure to help xyr peers cope with what was going on, xe said. Gaines “had a panic attack and couldn’t go to class for several days.”
It is irresponsible for deans to help students self-handicap. College isn't just about grades -- but many top employers won't even consider entry-level applicants who haven't maintained a certain GPA. College is about becoming a real, independent adult. It's about learning to prioritize tasks and assignments. It's about learning to take care of yourself.
It's not about whining to deans so you don't have to take your tests or finish your homework. That's the opposite of what college is for.
The students I feel the most sympathy for are the ones who feel pressured or "obligated" to participate in activism, even at the expense of their job, grades or mental health.
When faced with the decision of completing activist work or studying for an exam, students sometimes feel obligated to choose the former, said Liliana Sampedro ’18. This choice, often made by students advocating for increased diversity on campus, “has systemic effects on students of color,” she added.
As I wrote in Intersectionality is the OPPOSITE of Feminism, many feminists are shamed or pressured into certain social or political beliefs, lest they be rejected by their community. I sincerely hope that every student who has suffered on account of their activism did so of their own free will, and not of a fear of rejection or isolation.
Because, on the one hand, part of being an adult is the ability to stand up to peer pressure. On the other... humans are the social animal. We have evolved to be highly sensitive to rejection, shaming and ridicule from our community.
One last note to today's young people:
Never underestimate the value of another perspective.
The first image in this article shows Students for Justice in Palestine protesting a Hillel- and Brown-sponsored event, Jewish Journeys, featuring actor Michael Douglas and human rights activist Natan Sharansky. The event was intended to focus on the personal stories of the two speakers -- the latter of whom spent nine years in Soviet prisons and forced labor camps.
Rather than run around an auditorium shouting, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and then seeking support from assistant dean Ashley Ferranti when you become "upset by the evening’s events"...
Maybe you could learn something from a man who nearly died in a forced labor camp on fabricated charges. Maybe you could learn something from a man who spent almost five years in solitary confinement -- and who only managed to stay sane by playing chess against himself in his mind. Maybe you could learn something from a guy who spent 400 days locked in a solitary punishment cell, with barely any food and clothes so thin that in the winter it literally amounted to torture.
Or would that make you feel silly about becoming "emotionally distraught" that Hillel sponsored an event on campus? That protesting two stupid op-eds caused you so much stress, fear, depression and anxiety? That you can't do your homework after an "upsetting" evening of hanging up posters?
And don't even get me started on what you could have learned about fighting oppression.
By boycotting that talk and throwing a hissy fit instead, you've denied yourself a great opportunity.
You've missed your chance to ask a Zionist who has spent his life fighting for human rights about his views on Palestinian rights. (Don't worry -- if you really want to, you can check out one of Sharansky's many books. I've been listening to The Case For Democracy: The Power Of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror on audible, and it is insanely interesting.)
But, you know. Good for you for hanging up posters.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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