The American dream – present and accounted for

With the 4th of July imminent, the crowd gathered in Brooklyn on June 30 to take the oath of United States citizenship was excited about their chance to live the American dream.

Reflecting the thoughts of the assembled group, Felix A. Okema, 38, formerly of the Ivory Coast, now a resident of Elm Park, Staten Island, spoke with pride and enthusiasm of the naturalization experience.

“You have a system that opens its doors to opportunity, to others,” Okema said. “You hear people talking about it. It’s real. The vibe, the intelligence, the special blast of the people here — it’s going to make the country better.”


Okema and the rest of the new citizens obviously didn’t get the message from University of California President Janet Napolitano.

She thinks saying the United States is a land of opportunity is insulting, a microaggression.

Earlier this year Napolitano sent letters to UC deans and department chairs inviting them to seminars “to foster informed conversation about the best way to build and nurture a productive academic climate.”

A principal goal of the seminars was to help faculty “gain a better understanding of implicit bias and microaggressions” in their vocabularies and to urge the faculty to purge potentially offensive words and phrases from their speech.

Examples of such offensive speech included the following:

  1. Statements that indicate that a white person does not want to or need to acknowledge race, such as, “There is only one race, the human race.” “America is a melting pot.” Why is this a microaggression? It delivers the message that you must assimilate to the dominant culture.
  2. Statements denying bias, such as saying to a person of color, “Are you sure you were being followed in the store? I can’t believe it.” Why is this a microaggression? It denies the personal experience of individuals who experience bias.
  3. Statements that don’t recognize meritocracy is a myth, such as: “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.” ;“America is the land of opportunity.”; “Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.” Why are statements such as this a microaggression? They deliver the message that the playing field is even or that people of color are lazy and/or incompetent and need to work harder.
  4. Statements implying that the values and communication styles of the dominant/White culture are ideal/”normal”, such as saying to an Asian, Latino or Native American: “Why are you so quiet? We want to know what you think.” Why is this a microaggression?: It delivers the message that Asian, Latino and Native Americans must assimilate to the dominant culture, that there’s no room for differences in America.

Where does this stuff come from? Not from Americans.

A just-released Penn Schoen Berland poll of about 2,000 Americans from June 8 to 19, 2015, commissioned for The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute, revealed that 72 percent of those polled said they are living the American Dream or expect to, 85 percent of are satisfied with their lives and 86 percent are optimistic about the future.

Young people are on board, too. According to the poll, 77 percent of Millennials say they’re living the dream or believe they can. Among African Americans and Asian Americans, that rises to 82 percent and among Latinos to 83 percent.

Napolitano and her ilk are clearly way off base. As the Atlantic concluded, the American Dream is alive and well. It’s the misguided people subscribing to Napolitano’s thinking who are undermining it.

Warning: this post may trigger thinking

Universities apparently have a new mission…protecting students from exposure to speech that makes them uncomfortable. God forbid, we don’t want our academic institutions subjecting kids to provocative ideas that might challenge their preconceptions and destroy their youthful innocence.

On a recent trip to Santa Barbara, CA I spotted a brief item in a local paper about the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). Its Associated Students Senate had passed a resolution to begin the process of instituting mandatory “trigger warnings” on class syllabi.

“Having a trigger warning on a syllabus allows a student the choice to be present and gives a student advance notice of possible triggers and the choice to be present or not instead of having to leave in the middle of a class or lecture,” the Resolution said.

The high level of Students Senate debate at the sun-steeped school overlooking the blue Pacific was exemplified by the supportive comment of Off-Campus Senator Beatrice Contreras, “I’ve been in this kind of situation before — it sucks; we should pass it.”

University of California Santa Barbara

University of California Santa Barbara

The Los Angeles Times opined, and rightly so, that the whole idea is foreign to learning. “Trigger warnings are part of a campus culture that is increasingly overprotective and hypersensitive in its efforts to ensure that no student is ever offended or made to feel uncomfortable,” said a Times editorial.

Still, the concept appears to be gaining ground.

In February, Ohio’s Oberlin College put out guidelines asking faculty to refrain from using in their course materials information or works that would offend students. If professors believed such materials were essential to the course, they were expected to place a “trigger warning” in their syllabus. If students felt the material would be too emotionally difficult, faculty were encouraged to make such triggering material optional.

Faculty were urged to “be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,” to remove triggering material when it doesn’t “directly” contribute to learning goals.

For example, faculty were cautioned that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, a highly-praised novel about the struggles of a man from an Ibo village in Nigeria, may “trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.”

After strenuous criticism within the school and in the media, Oberlin has temporarily suspended the trigger policy, pending further faculty review.

The issue has surfaced at Rutgers University, too, where a student wrote to the university newspaper endorsing notifications to students of material that might trigger discomfort.

“…literature courses often examine works with grotesque, disturbing and gruesome imagery within their narratives,” the student noted. “For instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s critically acclaimed novel, “The Great Gatsby,” possesses a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence. Virginia Woolf’s famous cerebral narrative, “Mrs. Dalloway,” paints a disturbing narrative that examines the suicidal inclinations and post-traumatic experiences of an English war veteran.”

Even the liberal New Republic ran a piece criticizing the trigger-happy trend. “Structuring public life around the most fragile personal sensitivities will only restrict all of our horizons,” wrote Jennie Jarvie. “Engaging with ideas involves risk, and slapping warnings on them only undermines the principle of intellectual exploration.”

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas had the right answer to all this foolishness.

“…a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute,” he wrote in the majority opinion in   Terminiello v. City of Chicago  “It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.”

A university free from challenging or disturbing thoughts is a university free from learning.


Addendum, 11/19/14:

The Microaggression Farce

The latest campus fad, which sees racism everywhere, will create a new generation of permanent victims.