Here at Northwestern, like at many universities across the country, the debate about political correctness seems to have seeped into all parts of campus. It comes up in club meetings, classes, dining halls and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down.
The discussion about political correctness at Northwestern University made national headlines with the Title IX investigation of RTVF professor Laura Kipnis last year.
Kipnis published an essay in which she discussed the new student-teacher sexual conduct code and claimed it infantilized students. Many students were outraged by the essay and its lack of political correctness in bringing up allegations of sexual assault made against one of her colleagues. Two students brought complaints against her, though charges were later dropped.
According to a Pew Research Center poll, 40 percent of millennials are okay with limiting speech offensive to minorities. In contrast, 71 percent of American adults surveyed by Rasmussen Reports think that America is too politically correct.
“I suppose I’m out of step with the new realities because I came of age in a different time, and under a different version of feminism, minus the layers of prohibition and sexual terror surrounding the unequal-power dilemmas of today,” Kipnis wrote in her essay, demonstrating the apparent divide between younger and older generations.
The discussion around politically correct rhetoric and policies affects not only sexual relations, but also how sexism and racism manifests on campus.
This divide is shown on Northwestern’s campus, as the Northwestern Political Union held a debate last Monday night to vote on a resolution of whether political correctness hinders learning on college campuses. Not including abstentions, the debate ended with a split vote, representing the recent conflicting opinions on this campus and in the U.S. as a whole.
“At its heart, the new stream of political correctness that is sweeping through college campuses today is essentially illiberal,” said Weinberg junior Lauren Thomas, who argued for the resolution.
“We’ve come from banning slurs to banning saying things like ‘America is a land of opportunity’ or ‘if you work hard you’ll get ahead,” Thomas said. “This is creating a culture at universities where people believe that the actual argument behind an idea is not important – what’s important is whether or not it hurts someone’s feelings.”
Others disagree, arguing that rational and constructive debate is compatible with PC culture, saying that it’s needed to improve discussions.
“Political correctness is important because one side is unequal to the other. It protects minority groups and people who consider themselves oppressed,” said Weinberg sophomore Sean Conway.
“I think the biggest benefit is that it expands the conversation,” said Weinberg junior Wooyoung Lee arguing against the resolution. “Without political correctness, we would still be in our own bubbles.”
Weinberg freshman Harrison Bingham disagreed on the benefits of political correctness.
“College isn’t about being spoon-fed and it’s not about reinforcing the opinions you already have. College is about having those opinions challenged,” Bingham said, questioning aspects of the politically correct rhetoric.
Debate participants discussed recent protests at the University of Missouri. In the past, a number of Northwestern students stood in solidarity with both these protests and the protests at Princeton University by having their own protest here at Northwestern.
“PC culture is the exact thing which is bringing those situations to light,” said Weinberg sophomore Max Rowe.“One of its primary goals is to show us that racism still exists, sexism still exists.”
As a stand against racism, protestors at Princeton called for a statue of Woodrow Wilson to be removed, citing his racist legacy.
Others disagree with Rowe, saying protests like the one at Princeton add to the problem.
“I don’t think you should give ignorant people excuses to feel victimized,” said Weinberg freshman Edmund Bannister on removing historical statues. “It gives fuel for people like Donald Trump who want to say that somehow American culture is being attacked.”
On the other side of the generational gap – and the classroom – professors have to decide how they want to deal when communicating with their students about political correctness.
“I feel awkward giving credence or moment to the debate on political correctness because I think it’s being used by the political right to make a point,” said Medill Professor Jack Doppelt. “It’s now a part of the crass political presidential debate rhetoric.”
Doppelt said that students are still willing to cover contentious issues but are very aware of potential reactions.
“I do see students and myself, in our willingness to cover politically sensitive topics, thinking twice about how we say things and what we say,” Doppelt said.
Those disagreeing with the politically correct movement say that it has gone too far. Comedians like Chris Rock won’t come to college campuses because they say kids can’t take a joke these days.
Comedian Amy Schumer tweets, griping about PC culture.
Put down your torches before reading this so you don't catch on fire.pic.twitter.com/JyRQGvFuX8
— Amy Schumer (@amyschumer) June 28, 2015
Still, Professor Jack Doppelt, who has been at Northwestern for 29 years, praised the University on how it has dealt with the recent wave of politically correct culture.
“I think Northwestern has really seemed to have walked a very constructive, positive line,” Doppelt said, “between not having speech codes, having people generally respect one another, having things not hit the fan and still having plenty of visceral disagreements that people have that they’re dealing with and finding ways to talk about without offending other people.”