There is an important conversation taking place in society about college students and political correctness. How society defines “political correctness” is constantly evolving. Students at universities across the nation are standing up for the issues surrounding cultural insensitivity and racial issues, but some are criticizing them for being “too” politically correct and culturally sensitive. Where are the lines drawn in order to be socially acceptable?
A recent controversy surrounding these issues was sparked when a professor at Yale University, Erika Christakis, sent an email to the Yale community concerning her thoughts on the cultural sensitive nature about costumes on Halloween. Christakis sent this message to the community urging students to abandon typical notions of offense for Halloween costumes. She believes as a society with freedom of speech, anything that impedes this sort of expression through costume, while it may be politically correct, is harming the progressive nature of a university setting. Minority students at Yale disagreed strongly with this opinion, affirming that this sort of outright degradation of their cultures was not to be tolerable and would not enhance intellectual growth.
Yale is not alone in their response from students on these cultural and racial issues. Universities nationwide are experiencing similar issues in respect to this sort of politic correctness of cultures, for example the University of Michigan and the University of Missouri. It raises questions about the big picture pertaining to these issues, are we too culturally and racially sensitive as a society? What does it mean to be politically correct and what does in mean in terms of a college environment? At Marist College, there is an awareness of the issues surrounding cultural and racial sensitivity. President of Marist College, Dennis Murray, sent an email to students at the start of the fall semester addressing some concerns minority students. Murray acknowledged there could be a number of ways in which the campus could be improved, according to these minority students.
Statistical data was presented in this letter as gathered by by the Student Evaluation of Marist Services (SEMS) survey that puts into context diversity at Marist. “Although students of color expressed high degrees of satisfaction with the Marist experience overall, there were specific areas in which improvement is possible, e.g., students’ interactions with people from a race or ethnicity other than their own. A recent SEMS survey showed that, when broken out by ethnicity, student satisfaction with their interactions varies greatly. White students, who account for 80 percent of the undergraduate population, are more satisfied (86.8 percent) than the entire minority population (75.1 percent). Additionally, at 61.3 percent, African-American undergraduates are the least satisfied with interactions with those of another race or ethnicity, followed by Asian students at 75 percent. Hispanic/Latino students, who make up the largest minority population, were the most satisfied ethnicity at 80.2 percent, but they were still less satisfied than white students.”
Further, the letter addressed many of the common issues cultural facing society today. This past September at an Iowa town hall meeting, President Obama commented on the issues of colleges and universities in America being “too” politically correct and in a sense coddling there students. Obama calls for colleges to be a open place for constructive argument about opposing ideas.
Although Marist is making the move comment on these cultural issues in a delicate manner, Murray in his letter urges students to be a part of the conversation. Murray calls for students to be a part of this conversation so that a greater understanding and with this will come progress, “I know we won’t find all of the answers to the problems confronting America on the Marist campus, but I do know that we have experts from a variety of disciplines in our faculty and administration who could lead a thoughtful discussion to make all members of our campus community aware of inner-city challenges and perhaps come up with a set of recommendations to ensure that 50 years from now my grandchildren won’t see these types of situations.”
Some students at Marist commented that they feel that some of these students protesting at universities like Yale are being too “politically sensitive”. These students feel in order to be successful in fields outside of the college walls, it is crucial to still remain sensitive, but there must be a constructive dialect about these cultural issues. Being politically correct does not mean ignoring the racial and cultural issues plaguing society today.
Students also feel that Marist does a good job of protecting the political correctness of culture and religion. There may be a chapel on campus, but it is there only if you want it to be, was the response of several students on the prominence of the past Catholic affiliation on campus. There is the Diversity Resources page located on the Marist website linking to every gender, culture, or religious organizations for students seeking a sense of solidarity in these areas and the Center for Multicultural Affairs is dedicated to supporting the broad cultures represented at Marist.
At his speech in September, President Obama further criticized colleges who will not allow for particular speakers that may be too conservative or too offensive. This semester Marist has had a plethora of diverse speakers aiding in the cultural discussion at the college. The “Understanding Race” Lecture Series, sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, has brought to campus scholar and commentator Michael Eric Dyson hosted Cornel West this semester, one of this country’s leading voices on matters of race.
Political science major Brandon Fleischhacker ’16 summed up his thoughts about political correctness at universities across the country and how Marist has stood up on these matters, “Okay so first off I think that schools nowadays baby their students way to much, and people should just get over themselves and not be so politically sensitive because as far as I’m concerned those people are going to be the ones that fail in any field they try to go after. In order to be politically correct you have to be sensitive to others stigmas whether that is race or religion. I haven’t seen or heard much politics incorrectness [at Marist College] and I think that’s evident in the fact that few complaints are made and nobody has made a big deal about these political issues going on at other schools. I would say Marist controls the political correctness of their students quite well by having professors who do not push views on their students but rather allow students to find their own path of sensitivity and understanding.”
As a part of the liberal arts education at Marist College it is required for students to take three credits of a class that satisfies the “Cultural Diversity Requirement”. Students believe that classes like these do enhance their varying perspectives of the world and is an open forum for discussion about cultural issues. “The goals of this requirement are to expose students to diverse ethnic groups and/or geographic regions with their distinctive customs, politics, and religious beliefs, and to foster in our students an appreciation and understanding of cultures beyond their own.”
While many schools in the United States today are facing issues with their own definition of politically correct, Marist is succeeding in theirs.. Schools who are too concerned about being politically are missing the conversation to be had amongst students about these issues with room for cognitive growth as intellectuals.