College Students Don't Want to Learn: They Want to Teach You About Identity Politics

New documentary about free speech debate at Brown University paints a scary picture.


Brown University
Rob Montz / We the Internet

"We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention." Nothing captures the attitude of the modern college activist as perfectly as this statement, made by Yale University students petitioning the English department for changes to the curriculum (they wanted to read fewer white male poets).

It's the constant refrain of the far-left social justice student: Our minds are made up. The time for discussion is over. We aren't here to be educated. We are here to educate you.

This sentiment was echoed by Jasmine Adams, a member of the Black Student Union at Oberlin College, who recently told a journalist: "As a person who plans on returning to my community, I don't want to assimilate into middle-class values. I'm going home, back to the 'hood of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin."

Adams and her ilk reject the notion that the purpose of college is self-transformation. They haven't come to campus to be changed—they see themselves as the only agents of change matter.

This has dire consequences for higher education. If a small but influential group of students on campus are there with the explicit goal of drowning out and shutting down other perspectives—often with the help of the administration—it's going to make life miserable for students who do wish to learn, and professors who still think their job is to challenge young minds.

The dangers of this new campus reality are obvious in a new, short documentary released by Rob Montz, formerly of Reason TV. Returning to his alma mater, Brown University, Montz finds that campus has become a dangerous place for freethinkers. The film opens with footage from a confrontation between left-wing student activists and a pro-speech administrator. The admin tries to start a dialogue with the group, but the students shout him down, insisting that "heterosexual white males" have already done too much talking, historically speaking. When the administrator points out that he is gay, the student tells him "it don't matter."

I attended a screening of the film last week, and participated in a subsequent Q and A session about campus free speech issues with Montz and Ari Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Eduction. The Federalist wrote up my remarks:

This minority of far-left students hostile to free expression has always existed, said Robby Soave of Reason magazine. What's changed is that in the last five years they've gained institutional power. 

"[Student activists] actually started getting guidance in 2011 from the Education Department that because of harassment law, because of the requirements of Title IX and aspects of the law that funds higher education, administrators have to take students' demands seriously or the institution could lose its federal funding," he noted.

I also elaborated on many of these themes during a recent appearance on the Free Thoughts podcast for Listen here.