I realize that simply by saying that you've probably heard of microaggressions, I'm likely committing one.
For the uninitiated, microaggressions are "are statements by a person from a privileged group that belittles or isolates a member of an unprivileged group, as it relates to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability and more." The really innovative thing about microaggressions is that they are often meant in a spirit of inclusion by the speaker. For instance, depending on who's speaking and who's listening, complimeting someone on their hair, clothing, or whatever might count as a covert way of putting him in his place. "That's a really fancy jacket" may really be code for WTF are you doing in clothes that are above your station?
But I'll risk microaggressing you to note that the student government at Ithaca College in upstate New York has just passed a mind-blowing bill that will allow students to anonymously report offensive statements such as "Where are you really from?" and "You don't look disabled." The system will include "demographics" about the aggressor and the aggressee and tag location info too, according to one of the sponsors of the bill.
The Ithaca College Student Government Association passed a bill March 16 to create an online system to report microaggressions, which sponsors of the bill said will create a more conducive environment for victims to speak about microaggressions.
You got that? A system to report microaggressions will lead to more reports of microaggressions. Pretty sure that's what happened in Salem during the witch-trial days.
The bill, sponsored by Class of 2018 senator Angela Pradhan, calls for the implementation of a campus-wide online system to report microaggressions to "make Ithaca College a safer, more inclusive and diverse community for all students."…
The system would also contain a way to distinguish between staff, faculty members and both international and American students, as well as a mechanism to include where the microaggression took place, Pradhan said.
She said the demographic information would be used as data regarding the issue of microaggressions. Currently, Pradhan said there is no data system tracking microaggressions at the college.
The bill does not currently state that the names of people accused of committing microaggressions will be reported. While Pradhan said she believes the names of alleged offenders should be reported, she said there could be possible legal barriers.
So remember, kids, you don't go to college to learn new things and feed your head. You go to college to be subjected to an anonymous system of collecting information about the bad thoughts you have and the misstatements you make, some of which you might not even have intended to be hurtful.
But rest easy, because if you are in fact accused of microaggressing, your accuser "would likely have to reveal their identity" if any charges are pressed (emphasis added). Because we know how well colleges do at handling legal-style proceedings.
The system would allow individuals reporting microaggressions to remain anonymous. However, junior Kyle James, vice president of communications and co-sponsor of the bill, said those reporting a microaggression would likely have to reveal their identity if they wanted to pursue any legal action.
James said in addition to a space to report the particular incident, the online system would track the demographics of those reporting microaggressions as well as those accused of committing them.
I would like to believe that awfulness of imposing such a system is self-evident, especially at a university, which is supposed to be about the free and open exchange of ideas and the production of knowledge (at least in the few spare moments between football games and re-education seminars). In an astonishingly short half-century, we have cycled from a demand for "free speech" on college campuses to the condemnation of speech via anonymous, online, geo-tagged systems that may or may not accord the accused any ability to speak up in their own defense.
Unless your goal is to chill or control speech and thought, this sort of program is a complete anathema to everything that higher education is supposed to promote and cherish. But there you are, another year older and deeper in debt.
Alan Charles Kors, the University of Pennsylvania historian and co-founder of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has long argued that colleges systematically engage in false advertising. That is, they tell parents and prospective students that they offer wide-open educational experiences while in fact harshly limiting and circumscribing all sorts of expression and inquiry.
I'd like to think that if Ithaca College actually implements its microaggression reporting system that it will trumpet that fact in all promotional materials so that new and continuing students will understand that they are not entering a space in which free thought and expression are encouraged but one in which they will be subject to surveillance and secret accusations ripped straight out of mid-century anti-totalitarian novels.
In 2012, Reason TV talked with Kors about campus speech codes, the case for teaching the humanities, and more. Take a look or a listen.