Eyal Press has written about his experiences teaching journalism at SUNY-New Paltz recently. Contrary to the most popular university-themed clickbait you might have seen at The Atlantic or The Huffington Post in the past academic year, he finds that complaints about “political correctness” fascistically controlling class discussions and about this so-called “coddled” generation of students to be overwrought. Says Press:
I’d been hired to teach an undergraduate journalism seminar that focused on polarizing, divisive subjects: abortion, immigration, Islamophobia, the gun debate, campus rape. Issues likely to touch sensitive nerves, in other words, and to stir considerable discomfort among my students.
Several of the students in my class felt strongly about these issues. A few chose to write term papers that drew on personal experiences as well as on research and interviews they did. But no one in the class seemed uncomfortable talking about them. Nor did anyone object when I told them that, especially when reporting on issues close to their heart in which they had a personal stake, it was essential to talk to people whose opinions they did not share and to imagine things from multiple points of view, including views that disturbed or repelled them. None of the students called for “trigger warnings” to be placed on any of the books or articles on the course syllabus, despite the fact that several contained vivid descriptions of abuse and violence. When students aired criticisms of the readings in class discussions, the objections were about the quality of the work, not the offensiveness of the content.
This is what I’ve been reporting from my perch at a public Aggie in the West. My students are far from privileged, and as Press reports, the issue they’re most worried about is the debt they’re accruing in pursuing higher education. In a class he visited with 15 students, Press asked how many would be graduating with student debt.
13 of the students raised their hands. If few seemed concerned about “microaggressions,” it’s perhaps because they were too busy trying to keep up with their coursework while earning money in their limited spare time. The very real aggression they experienced was their financial bind.
Read the whole thing. It’s thoughtful and based on serious engagement with current college students. For that reason alone, I’m sure it will get a lot less attention than professor- and student-hating clickbait because it tells us that college campuses are places where faculty and students meet to engage serious issues and work them over thoughtfully and without undue rancor. The vast majority of campuses are populated by students who are far from the privileged Special Snowflakes or parented-by-helicopters stereotype–so Press’s report will doubtlessly go ignored by those who resent the fact that universities still exist in all their (mostly) un-disrupted, unglamorous, peer-reviewed and hardworking persistence.