Undergraduate Student Government President Rini Sampath issued her State of the Student Body address Tuesday, during which she commended USG’s work on addressing racial inequality at USC as well as Provost Michael Quick’s efforts to create a more inclusive campus environment. Her efforts to highlight issues of diversity run headlong to constant criticism of political correctness on campus.
Opposition to Sampath’s advocacy now and over the past year is a microcosm of a larger effort to depict the curb of racist behavior as an institutional acceptance of privileged whining. In response to the establishment of select safe spaces, the discouragement of microaggressions and the urge to behave in a way that exhibits basic human respect, critics have argued that such measures not only infringe on students’ rights of self expression, but also showcase an underlying sentiment that people are entitled wholesale freedom from insult. Opponents to reform call the desire of the student body to be free of racial aggression a mark of “entitlement.”
Criticism only grows more outrageous. On a larger scale, popular GOP candidates including Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz have jumped on the bandwagon of smearing the eradication of bigotry, claiming that somehow there is not enough time to remain politically correct. Some even go so far as to assert that political correctness — avoiding language implicitly tied to traditions of oppressive dominance — somehow hinders American victory over ISIS.
“I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness,” Trump stated in a debate earlier this election cycle. “And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble.” Whatever trouble could arise from a lack of insensitive remarks remains to be seen.
It’s sad. It’s unsurprising. Most importantly, and most obviously, it’s wrong.
Critics of safe spaces need desperately to recognize that political correctness is not the doublespeak from their Sparknotes edition of 1984. The very idea of political correctness developed over time to discourage slurs and aggressions that come from a place of white supremacy, homophobia and institutionalized sexism. Not only do these ideologies threaten the everyday lives of minorities, but they also serve to push back against the advancements of civil society toward social equality. The need for a safe space does not come from the desire of young, coddled college kids to be constantly comfortable. It comes from the pushback of thousands of men and women suffering from institutionalized oppression against the language and behavior that encourages their inequality and the suppression of their civil rights. The discouragement of microaggressions does not exist to allow students to avoid discomfort — it exists to allow them to avoid subjugation at the hands of continued American prejudice. When one is referred to by a slur, the insult is the least of the individual’s concerns — rather, it serves as a peripheral worry in a world set against them, a world accepting of discriminatory behavior. When society allows such an aggression without backlash against the guilty party, it is accepting the inequality — and all the dangers and barriers that come with it.
However, as the GOP candidates have displayed for us in their constant criticism of political correctness, choosing to forgo the rules of civil society is incredibly attractive. From the perspective of the enfranchised and the dominant, a world in which nobody has to be aware of the internalized prejudice they have created over years of living in a divided and silently oppressive society must appear delectably attractive. After all, if safe spaces are nonexistent and one is in a position to be able to use a racial, homophobic or sexist slur in order to devalue somebody — without having to use any substantive knowledge about that person or their behavior — why not? Why shouldn’t we? Freedom of speech, right?
There is nothing about the college experience that includes learning how it feels to be continuously disrespected. That is not a “learning experience” offered by university life. It is not a part of growing up. This is not a part of the career world. Nobody needs it. And nobody deserves it.
Lily Vaughan is a freshman majoring in history and political science. Her column, “Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.