In a move that should surprise no one who has been watching the utter meltdown of privileged college students this year, a Harvard Law School dean has compared "microaggressions" to sexual assault and violence.
Dean Martha L. Minow, during her winter commencement speech on injustice, asked her students to keep fighting even after they graduate. She made references to apartheid and segregated schools before making the bizarre analogy.
"Taking even seemingly small acts in one's own school can build the culture that prevents violence, bullying, sexual assault and racial microaggressions," she said.
Get that? Violence, bullying, sexual assault — they're all in the same category as microaggressions. Microaggressions, for those who have been lucky enough to miss the outcries of the past year, are words and phrases that offend someone with delicate sensitivities, even when the speaker meant no harm.
For example, several schools provided lists to students of phrases that are considered microaggressions. At the University of California, the list included such debilitating and hateful phrases as "everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough" and "America is the land of opportunity."
Scholars have for centuries tried to document the number of wars started due to the utterance of those very phrases, but lost count due to continued fainting.
The College Fix likened Minow's comparison to "telling students their 'seemingly small acts' can prevent a spouse's snoring."
"They don't know they snore until you tell them," wrote the Fix's Greg Piper. (Emphasis original)
And Dean Minow knows something about racism and oppression on college campuses. At Harvard this year (and every year), precious students were subjected to college leaders with the title of "master," and a seal dedicated to a family who owned slaves back when it was sort of culturally acceptable. The students were also forced to witness the photos of black Harvard professors with black tape over their faces. It's a wonder these students are still standing.
As for the black tape "incident," the school is investigating it as a hate crime, but at least one black professor isn't convinced. Professor Randall Kennedy isn't jumping on the racism bandwagon, believing there are any number of reasons for the tape — including a "hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis."
So while Harvard students try to erase the past because of current sentiments, they have at least one administrator willing to placate their desires (or at least go along with them to avoid a backlash for not being sufficiently supportive).
Does Dean Minow believe microaggressions — which are merely words that are often not intended to harm anyone — are the same as physical violence? Or, and this is my own theory, has violence and sexual assault become so meaningless on campus that they have been devalued?
Stay with me here. We've seen in recent years the devaluing of violence and sexual assault. When words can be "violence," even without any incitement or physical harm, physical violence loses meaning. And when schools adjudicate sexual assault as a disciplinary matter like cheating or plagiarism — and avoid involving trained law professionals at all costs — then sexual assault is no longer the heinous crime it once was.
Either way, Minow's words are troubling and do not bode well for the future of college students and those who will have to work with them.