Before the recent break, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) announced a “sticker and flyering” campaign to raise awareness of “privilege” and “microaggressions.” The intended effect seems to be to create greater caution, circumspection, fear of saying anything insensitive, wrong, or anything for which one could be condemned, mocked, shunned. Since the boundaries of what constitutes a microaggression can never be clearly defined (that comes with “micro”), increased consciousness will inevitably extend the perceived limits, and ever greater caution will be required. Consequently, “microaggressions” form a gray area, where angels might fear to tread.
So what is a microaggression anyway? Is saying—as stated in the French Revolution’s Declaration of Human Rights and the Citizen—that the best qualified person should get the job a microaggression? Or asking someone where they come from? According to the University of California, both are.
Until a few years ago, students and alumni pretty generally praised Kenyon as a place where you could try out ideas freely and learn. The cheerful brutality of all-student political arguments testified to the truth of that perception. Now if there is one thing I hear students, including progressive ones, talk about freely, it is their fear of speaking freely, the fear of being shunned if labeled as not even conservative but “moderate.”
This new campaign will of course intensify that fear, which is apparently the goal. Unfortunately, while a prudent reticence about everything controversial is an excellent recipe for living in a police state, it’s toxic for a liberal arts college, which is what Kenyon still calls itself.
Fred Baumann, Professor of political science
This letter was edited for length and clarity.