The Right to Offend and Be Offended, Higher Ed Edition

Some people think they have a right not to be offended. Especially on college campuses. For whatever reason, an idea exists that if you are offended by something, somebody deserves to be punished, or at the least receive some sensitivity training.

Claremont McKenna is one of the few colleges today that has refused to be a total whore to the "-isms" which often spread this nonsense. Still, in the greater Claremont Colleges, political correctness can wreak havoc.

Two recent examples.

At Harvey Mudd College, one of the world’s premier engineering schools (an undergrad-only competitor to CalTech, Georgia Tech, MIT), the dean of students yesterday sent the following email:

This morning, the following writing was viewed on the white board of an HMC dorm room – "Hillary is a foxy lesbian". It seems that the student residents wrote this message as part of a joke, without thinking about the impact it might have on others. It refers to a prominent public figure.

The message has been erased. Campus Safety has been notified. But those who might be concerned about this incident are encouraged to stop by and speak with us in the Dean of Students Office, the Office of Institutional Diversity, or with a member of the HMC Multicultural Ally Program. Some of the other resources include the Counseling Service, the Office of Black Student Affairs, Chicano Latino Student Affairs and the Queer Resource Center.

In accordance with communications protocol, all Claremont Colleges students were notified of this "incident". Laughable.

In a more publicized incident, at Scripps College, the best women’s college in the West, Dean of Students Debra Wood expressed alarm at the racism and sexism in advertisements for a "White Party". A White Party, of course, means "wear white." Djtimbo The advertisement had a picture of a white male dressed in white with two black females dancing in the background. Wood said the ad "harmed women and African-Americans." Harmed? Huh? Compared to what MTV broadcasts every day? Of course, at the end of her email, she notes:

The Scripps Dean of Students Staff, faculty members and members of the Diversity Coordinating Committee stand by to support members of our community, and support may be found at the Office of Black Student Affairs and Chicano/Latino Student Affairs Center.

For some reason, I think these college administrators just want an excuse to promote the various minority support groups.

A Washington Post blog has more commentary on the Scripps incident. They nominate Dean Wood as "Idiot of the Year."

You can’t make this stuff up.

13 comments on “The Right to Offend and Be Offended, Higher Ed Edition
  • Hi all,

    That flyer is the one that I scanned. I’ve been blogging about this issue in greater detail over at

    I’m glad you decided to weigh in, Ben. To quote a friend of ours, we’re all “foxy lesbians” now.

  • Look, Ben, have you been a member of *any* oppressed minority lately? It seems that you are part of the privileged, since you are apparently a white, wealthy male. If you are a minority or an oppressed group (which women were historically until things started to change in the mid-1970s), stuff like this can be offensive. This reminds me of when my ex-husband hit me. I turned him in for abuse, and his defense was that it was just a “tap” on the shoulder, and if I were a guy, I could take it. In other words, I should have just had a better sense of humor about being abused in front of my children.

  • Jude, I think you’ve taken quite a leap from a “wear white” party (my friends and I threw a “yellow” party when we were in college and didn’t encounter any accusations that we were perpetuating oppression) to domestic abuse.

    Though I don’t know Ben personally, I am going to hazard a guess and speculate that he has, as do I, zero tolerance for the action you described.

    I think the point he is trying to make is that with all the rampant PC nonsense we’re immersed in, people take everything way too seriously. Does anyone remember how to laugh? Even if it is at yourself occasionally?! Are we all so sensitive and fragile that everything we say and do must be fully sanitized?

  • Jude: I find your leap to domestic abuse odd, to say the least. Political correctness on a college campus is different than spousal abuse.

    And no, I’m not a minority.

  • All this angst over notes on boards and ads for parties, but how many of these “deeply concerned” academics employ cleaners, nannies and other domestics from disadvantaged minorities at rates of pay they, themselves, would never be willing to accept?

    Like a magician waving one hand to distract us from what the other hand is doing, the elite in our culture bray loudly about these marginal “slights” while building their own economic success on the underpaid labor of those very minorities they claim to be “protecting from harm”.

  • The biggest problem with the obsession with being PC is that real issues never get discussed. We all tip-toe around the edges and since people are so prone to being ‘offended’, the resentment on both sides seethes and seethes. Till it explodes.

    Also as a society, we are more cagey about some things than about others. As Robin Morgan points out ‘Iron My Shirt’ being shouted at Hillary is somehow deemed funny, but ‘Polish My Shoe’ being shouted at Barack would have prompted a profusion of introspection. It is as if one half of the population (women) being belittled does not matter, but somehow a racial minority’s being offended does. There is no logic – just different degrees of squirm although HRC could have chosen her gender just as much as BHO could have chosen his race.

  • People choose to be offended, and there are many who look for reasons to take offence, and make a scene or draw attention to things that are in reality, trivial.

    People just need to pick thier battles more carefully and chillax….I recommend surfing (conditions were stellar this morning).

  • SO much angst.

    I’m sure the notification system offended people who were neither conscious of the incidents nor aware that they should have taken offense.

    Sometimes, we are so used to walking on eggshells that we can’t possibly imagine patches of shell-free ground.

  • From a marketing perspective one has to wonder, at what point does an ad run the risk of deterring their target audience? They say there is no such thing as bad publicity. I am not entirely convinced. On the one hand the poster seems innocent enough. A “white party” where those attending wear white. Seemingly innocent, right? Unfortunately, in my opinion, the creator of the ad forgot the most basic rule of marketing, which is to know and identify your target audience. In this case, the targeted audience also exists within the realm of higher learning. Higher learning institutions are expected to reflect and implement the highest levels of political correctness. With that being said, although I am certain that the creator of the ad by no means intended to spark a Ben’s Blog Battle, he could have at least taken measures to avoid the backlash by using one Caucasian woman and one African-American woman. He could have also had the women in the background wearing white outfits. This topic is a tough one, but I can see the reasoning and the merit of both sides. Ultimately, I am curious as to whether or not the party was a success and whether the raciness (no pun intended) of the ad and the negative publicity that it received helped or hurt the party. If nothing else, the word about this party most definitely got out!

  • The word about the party got out and over 1,000 people attended.

    It crossed my mind that the Dean’s energetic response might have been a preemptive strike, motivated by a wish to forestall lawsuits being filed by the ‘aggrieved’ parties.

    I’m no fan of zealous PC activism, but surely the party’s organizers might have been more prescient when they chose this provocative, symbolism-laden imagery to advertise the event.

    I find it hard to believe they were really surprised to get such a reaction from administration.

  • Ben,

    If you think the handling of those two events was ridiculous you would enjoy reading the chapter on higher education in “100 People Who are Screwing up America (and Al Franken is #37)” if you haven’t already. Although I think that your and Goldberg’s (the author) reactions to the events was just about as extreme as the reaction of the college administrations you both bring up good points. I wonder though: how much of excessive political correctness, especially at private liberal arts colleges, is catering to the students and families that have spent a wad of cash to attend the school and whose liberal legacy must live on unscathed by seemingly un-liberal shenanigans?

  • Oh geez. Universities and colleges are institutions that gather together the brightest young minds around. If an email is needed to explain the White Party poster, they should really look at who they are accepting.

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