Campus Free Speech

Liberal Activism Is Giving Students Panic Attacks, Depression, Failing Grades

Life outside the safe space is even harder, though.



It's exhausting work, being offended all the time. But is activism actually ruining college kids' mental health? A report on the emotional state of Brown University student-protesters—who suffer from suicidal thoughts, sleeplessness, panic attacks, and failing grades as a result of their advocacy—paints a weirdly alarming picture. 

Brown University's inattentiveness to students' demands for greater diversity is slowly killing them, according to The Brown Daily Herald: 

"There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on," said David, an undergraduate whose name has been changed to preserve anonymity. Throughout the year, he has worked to confront issues of racism and diversity on campus. 

His role as a student activist has taken a toll on his mental, physical and emotional health. "My grades dropped dramatically. My health completely changed. I lost weight. I'm on antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills right now. (Counseling and Psychological Services) counselors called me. I had deans calling me to make sure I was okay," he said. 

As students rallied to protest two racist columns published by The Herald and the alleged assault of a Latinx student from Dartmouth by a Department of Public Safety officer, David spent numerous hours organizing demonstrations with fellow activists. Meanwhile, he struggled to balance his classes, job and social life with the activism to which he feels so dedicated. Stressors and triggers flooded his life constantly, he said. 

I don't begrudge students choosing activism over classes. If that's what they want to spend their time on, fine. 

But their anguish seems grossly disproportionate to their situation. The publication of two racially problematic columns does not exactly suggest that Brown is in the midst of a great civil rights crisis. In fact, if this is students' paramount concern, then they are enormously fortunate and privileged people. 

National Review's Katherine Timpf suggests that students struggling to balance their mental and emotional needs with the demands of their coursework might consider giving up on school entirely. One doesn't need a degree to be a full-time activist, after all. 

But there's a problem with that idea: when separated from their precious campus safe spaces, ex-students might encounter some actual injustices in the real world (police brutality, the War on Drugs, warrantless government spying, unauthorized foreign interventions—you name it). And I'm just not sure people who burst into tears every time they encounter some mild pushback on a relatively trivial issue—like an offensive column—are ready to turn pro.