Editorial: Dialogue best way to address campus anger


It's been a bad stretch for college administrators at two schools whose leaders were accused of failing to react to racially motivated incidents on campus.

In California, Claremont McKenna College's dean of students resigned last week three days after the University of Missouri's president and chancellor stepped down. Whatever you might think of the merits of the grievances or the protest, it's healthier in our book for students who feel marginalized to engage and challenge their fellows and the administration than to retreat to the "safe zone" that has become a real or figurative place on so many college campuses.

We're put off, as many are, by the widespread call for "trigger warnings" and the fear of "microaggressions" in college classrooms. There seems to be a desire among many for college to be a stress-free bubble — walled off from the greater society and even from some aspects of human nature — instead of a place for young people to begin to form their adult identities and intellects in the crucible of conflicting ideas and viewpoints.

Still, there's no denying that racial biases exist and must be addressed. At Claremont McKenna College, a photo of college women at a Halloween party surfaced after the holiday. Two of the women wore sombreros, serapes and fake mustaches and held maracas, and CMC's junior class president posed with them. A student protested by making the photo her Facebook cover photo, and two days later the student officer resigned.

Another student wrote a piece for a student publication complaining about life as a Latina at CMC, and emailed it to Dean Mary Spellman. In reply, the dean emailed that CMC is "working on how we can better serve students, especially those who don't fit our CMC mold." "Break the Mold" became a rallying cry for protesters.

Dean Spellman likely was less insensitive than her "CMC mold" line made her look. It was more likely an exceptionally bad choice of words than a betrayal of her conception of the college's natural constituency as "wealthy white kids." In any case, people made mistakes, got called on them and paid consequences.

There's no question that sensitivities are heightened on campus these days. It's better, where possible, for students to work out their differences than for college administrators to decide who can say what. Engagement is good for everyone. Without it, there's no chance of increasing understanding. — The Los Angeles Daily News


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