Friday, March 5, 2021

A Note to My College: Don’t Baby Me

In a recent New York Times article “The Sheltering Campus: Why College is Not Home,” A. Douglas Stone and Mary Schwab Stone accused college administrations of “sheltering” students and thus eliminating the opportunity for them to learn and grow without being “over-managed.”

This should come as no surprise — writers, reporters, comedians and pundits alike seem to criticize the “coddled” and “hypersensitive” nature of college students with almost monotonous regularity. The Stones are simply adding to this discourse.

The article focused on a series of incidents that occurred at Yale University last October after the Intercultural Affairs Committee sent an email to the student body encouraging students to be thoughtful and culturally sensitive in their Halloween costume choices. Erika Christakis, a respected lecturer at Yale, sent a follow-up email to students questioning whether it was the university’s place to attempt to influence students’ personal costume decisions.

Many students responded angrily to Christakis’ email, some even demanding her resignation. She retired from Yale shortly thereafter.

The Stones, who are both either current or former Yale faculty members, defended the views Christakis presented in the email.

They argued that the college experience has been transformed from “a decisive break from parental supervision” to an “extended period of adolescence” due to universities attempting to coddle and exerting too much control over their personal lives.

One of the topics Christakis wrote of in her controversial email was the following: “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious…a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”

Ironically, Erika Christakis herself seemed to call for the coddling of college students by arguing that they should be granted a “safe space” in which they can engage in offensive behavior with impunity.

Christakis’ attempt to delay the point at which students face the consequences of their actions would do more to create a period of extended adolescence than a simple reminder to be mindful of one’s behavior.

If one of the goals of the college experience is to prepare students for life after college, as the Stones claimed, then expecting them to follow a basic code of conduct should be considered beneficial, not detrimental. College students should be prepared to engage with people in respectful, non-offensive ways because this is what will be expected of them in the workplace.

Advising college students to avoid participating in racist behavior is no more infantilizing than advising office workers to avoid sexually harassing their coworkers.

While the Stones lament the fact that college has become a period of “extended adolescence,” their description of the ideal college experience involves exploration, experimentation and preparation for increased autonomy and responsibility, all of which are key features of adolescence.

In addition, they wish to give students “a certain degree of freedom” to do all of the aforementioned things, a proposition that might sound empowering at first, but is actually terribly infantilizing upon closer inspection. We most often give a pass to say and do offensive things to children, who often do not know any better.

While I agree with the Stones that experimentation and exploration are generally good things in college, when I imagine “new ways of thinking about oneself both intellectually and personally,” the image of white students parading around in blackface and feathered headdresses does not come to mind. That is not a “new way of thinking about oneself” — it is racism. It is a failure to challenge one’s own experiences and beliefs, and a total failure to develop “new ways” of thinking about oneself and the world as a whole.

Above all else, the college experience is about becoming educated. This involves moving away from regressive behavior, not embracing it. In fact, regressive is defined as “becoming less advanced and returning to a former or less developed state.”

Why would we want to allow or encourage regressive behavior in college, a place of learning, progress and advancement?

College students are not coddled — we do not want the freedom to do whatever we want and be protected from the consequences. We are asking you to treat us like adults, to hold us to the same standard of respect and courtesy to which you would hold your coworkers to.

We are asking you to hold our peers accountable for their behavior the same way you would hold someone accountable for violating the code of conduct in your workplace. You do us a disservice when you fail to hold us to these standards, which fails to prepare us for life after college.

Olivia Cooley, FCRH ’16, is a women’s studies and Spanish double major from Meriden, Connecticut.


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