I was recently asked to do some psychological commentary about college kids. I had to focus on their apparent over sensitivity and inability to tolerate unpopular opinions; especially when these opinions were considered "politically incorrect". The host asked me, "Should college kids simply be told to just grow up?"
To put this story in its proper context, the question came on the heels after a news story surfaced about pro-Trump chalk messages being written on one of the college campuses. These chalkings created quite a stir. Vocal students asked that these political chalk messages be taken down immediately, because they were considered offensive and oppressive; especially since they were written near what was described as a multicultural campus space.
Those who found themselves on the other side of this philosophical debate, considered these students to be overly fragile, timid and even potentially infringing on these chalker's first amendment rights. So where did I fit into this conversational mix? Glad you asked! While I do understand both positions, my standpoint is more of a psychological analytical one.
Millennial college students are influenced by the technological age they've grown up in. After speaking with one mature millennial recently, she eloquently described her and her fellow peers as "researchers". They have access to enormous amounts of information which influences how they view the world and the people in that world. They are privy to ideas and points of view people from an earlier generation were not exposed to in the same way and definitely not at the same speed.
She was trying to explain why she thought Millennials felt the type of cultural empathy they did. I understand what she was saying. So the positive analysis of these college kids' actions on campus is that in amassing so many views, they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, which is commendable.
Being politically correct is a way to consider how anyone and everyone may experience any one given action. But here's the downside, it's impossible to have an opinion or take a position and not hurt ANYONE'S feelings; as noble a goal this might be.
And here's the other difficulty with any overly politically correct position. While it's kind to be thoughtful, this trend on college campuses is creating a type of "group think" mentality. One that doesn't comfortably allow for a dialogue amongst intelligent people who hold a different point of view or diversified feelings and ideas.
The unspoken, yet loudly heard message is, "if you want to be a good person you have to speak the party line." It's suppressive and also encourages a silencing of ideas which may run counter to the "popular" collegiate point of view.
There are consequences for voicing unpopular opinions and these consequences can be quite punitive and unfair. Paradoxically, this behavior ends up immobilizing change instead of stimulating it.
We need to find ways to allow for every voice and opinion to be heard, not only the opinions of those spewing ideas that are considered culturally popular and correct. It's oppressive!
There needs to be a way, especially on college campuses, where college students can learn how to dialogue about differences in a safe way that is fair for everyone. This requires being able to explore all ideas without some people feeling intimidated or the need to hide his or her true ideological identity. This is the actual discussion that needs to take place on college campuses.
So, should college kids be told to just grow up? Well, they already are growing up. They are just doing it within an overly idealistic and sometimes repressive environment, which ultimately delays their developmental process.
They are learning how to find their voice and discover what and who is important to them. It's a journey that takes time; especially given our current sociological, economic and cultural realities. And some of this "growing up" can only happen when these students leave the safe and embryonic-like environment of the college campus and enter into a world that presents them with multiple difficulties and challenges. A world where prejudices and differences of opinions will exist.
Really growing up requires learning how to use your voice, while allowing other people, especially if they disagree with you, to use theirs. It means doing this without attacking their character. Telling people who have a different opinion from you, to keep quiet on college campuses or anywhere else for that matter is not okay and certainly is not the pathway to becoming an agent of change.