College campus life seems to be categorized by scandals ridden with social backlash, whether that be a “racist” comment on Yik Yak or the defacement of property. The number of race related incidents at the University of Missouri and Greek groups as a whole, the Yale professor who wrote about wearing offensive Halloween costumes, and even the incident in which a Duke freshman refused to read Alice Bechdel’s Fun home all evoked tremendous response from the college community, both student body and staff. The University of Missouri participated in hunger strikes and a threatened boycott by the football team. Hundreds of people from the Yale community signed an open letter retaliating against the professor’s statement suggesting Yale shouldn’t tell students not to wear offensive costumes. At Duke, even though the noose discovered in a tree was, according to the student, only supposed to be a meeting sign to “hang” out, the community was enraged nonetheless, sparking numbers of editorial articles, open talks, and a revised freshman orientation to talk more about inclusion and acceptance for the incoming class.
Among all of this, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University Dr. Everett Piper wrote an open letter claiming that millennial were too sensitive, citing a student who claimed to be “victimized” by a specific sermon. Piper wrote, “Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims.”
Imagine the backlash this open letter received. At the core of his message, I don’t believe that Dr. Piper is wrong. Our generation is largely, for lack of better word, selfish. Most of us who are able to attend a university grew up without the same financial hardships that our parents experienced. It does not help that most of us have been exposed to and actively utilizing technology that drastically facilitates all aspects of our lives. We are selfish and unwilling to let our problems go unheard.
That is much less a problem than keeping silent about what plagues us.
And even so, open spaces to voice said problems are not readily available everywhere in the country. College campuses, on the other hand, are probably one of the safest places to protest. It is a correlation, not causation. The number of scandals and community backlash that we see on campuses is not necessarily because the student body is young, narcissistic and self-fulfilling victims. We need to remember that the college campus is a place receptive to responses; it is a nonviolent battleground for opinions.
Riper stated that OKWU teaches “you to be selfless rather than self-centered” and wants “you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict.” How do you flesh out any semblance of interpersonal relationship without resolving the personal conflict first? I’d imagine it would be rather difficult for a student who identifies with the LGBTQ community to go about his life building “interpersonal reconciliation” after finding a threatening “death to all fags” message written on his door.
Piper wrote that he believes “the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin.” In an ideal world, the color of your skin would not affect another’s judgment of yourself and we’d all take the time to get to know a person before coming to any conclusions. However, the color of our skin is still incredibly important and relevant, especially when it can be a factor of hate messages, threats, and sometimes, life or death.
The example that Piper bases his entire letter on—a student who complained because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13—is a vastly unrepresentative one. The fact that this is the only example that Piper cites makes his open letter read more as a personal grievance against a student than a universal message to this generation’s college students. As a result, the assumptions that Piper draws completely overlook other incidents on college campuses that have made national news.
The way to address the unease a student might feel after a seeing a Black Lives Matter poster defiled or a threatening message on a door cannot be addressed by, as Piper put it, repenting “everything that’s wrong with you rather than [blaming] others for everything that’s wrong with them.”
College is certainly not a “day care” as Piper put it but it is far from the real world as well. Colleges are a safe ground between the bubbled high school and exposed real world, where we are exposed to the same things as any other adult, but have the opportunities, facilities, and time to comprehend and discuss them on a deeper level, question the relevance to ourselves, and if we so feel, take action. The University of Missouri’s response to the series of race related conflicts represented a kind of unity that can only be associated with a college community—a group of people connected by nothing other than the place they are studying and a cause they share.