People are offended for the slightest things. Offense is now a right!

You should be concerned.

It is a problem that has gotten out of hand.

This past week, I attended a national academic training event. The topic was how to handle negative student feedback. Example after example was given of students who responded to evaluations, examinations and feedback with hate and personal attacks against the faculty. They took offense at the slightest thing. The offense or should I say the micro aggression that really stood out was this example: Students felt they needed a “trigger warning” when a medical professor used the word “food.” I am not making this up. Students complained that some in the course struggled with body image and eating disorders. Thus, when the professor used the word “food” they were triggered. The complaint was made against the professor for a micro aggression. She should have provided a trigger warning and been more sensitive to the students.

We should be very concerned about this type of behavior. Yet it abounds on many college campuses. And to make things worse, administrators are giving legitimacy to  these voices. Faculty are scared. Why? Because you don’t know what you don’t know. Who can predict what might set off a student and trigger them? This is an impossible task. And it’s not healthy either. It’s creating an alternative universe in which everyone is offended. What happens when the student leaves the campus bubble and encounters someone in the “real world” who says, “food.” Will  they report them to HR at work or refuse to speak to their families? What is the end goal of this craziness? And worst of all, it stirs up hate. It trains the brain to look for offense. It focuses on the negative with no repair for both parties.

Everyone is offended by something. And social media have reinforced people to lash out in their offenses with no face to face dialogue or consequences. You can spew hate and and be anonymous! The result of this is more and more students who reason with their emotions and don’t know how to dialogue with their faculty. More concerning is they are not prepared for life. This also creates more anxiety and division.

Here are some solutions:

  1. Stop coddling students. One of the arguments I heard in this conference is that students are the victims of an imbalance of power. They are not victims! Yes, there is an imbalance of power. In the academic world, like the real world, students are intended to be leaners and the faculty their teachers. In families, there are imbalances of power–children with parents. At work, there are imbalances of power–bosses with employees. Yet somehow, we learn to talk to each other and work out our differences and problems. Labeling students as victims is crazy. It’s delusional. Sorry students, someone will use the word “food” outside the walls of academia. Then what will you do? Unfriend them? How does this build healthy relationships? How does this build resiliency and coping?
  2. End the anonymous evaluations and feedback. We have an empathy problem in our culture. When students can lash out at their faculty using the ‘F word and personally assault them with their words, something is terribly wrong. This doesn’t create empathy. It creates pathology. When you don’t have to take responsibility for your words and look the person in the eye, it’s easy to be mean and unsympathetic.
  3. Promote COUNSEL culture instead of CANCEL culture. This was a clever phrase used by a seasoned faculty member. If you have a difference with someone, go to them. Talk it out, learn from each other. Don’t cancel them! If you can’t work it out, bring in a third party. By the way, this is a biblical solution. No more hiding behind anonymity. In the real world, you have to face people and take responsibility for your words.There is power in the tongue. It can build up or destroy.
  4. Teach students how to receive and give feedback. Here is where real learning takes place. How do you handle a critical remark, a difference of opinion? There are positive ways to handle and give feedback. Seminars are built around teaching these skills. It begins in families. Parents need to teach their children how to handle a poor grade, be told they need improvement, didn’t make the team, and deal with needed discipline. If you are a parent who takes up the fight for your child rather than teaching him or her to deal with authority figures, stop it. You are contributing to their coddling and not preparing them for their future. Your children don’t grow unless they receive feedback and learn to handle it appropriately. Help them embrace it and learn from it.Teach them how to respond in positive ways.

When I hear seasoned faculty whose only intent is to mentor and teach students become fearful of speaking, something is terribly wrong. Things have gone too far. The children are running the family and now they want to also run their universities. It needs to stop. When dedicated faculty members are hauled in to sensitivity training over the word “food,” something is terribly wrong.

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