The suppression of free speech on college campuses isn't a new thing, says Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the New York University Stern School of Business and author of The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. In the past, however, it was usually done by professors and administrators rather than students.
Haidt says student-driven speech suppression is a relatively new phenomenon. "It was after the Yale protests that everything really spread, and that was only 13 or 14 months ago," says Haidt, referring to an incident in which students protested potentially offensive Halloween costumes.
For Haidt, students calling for speech codes, trigger warnings, and the like is a reversal of what we had come to expect on college campuses in the wake of the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. "The thing people were not expecting was that the students are the ones who are demanding [political correctness] now," he explains. "Before, it was typically the students who were demanding more freedom."
This can have a chilling effect on speech even as it pushes students to opposite ends of the political spectrum. "At schools," says Haidt, "men feel they can't speak and then they go and vote for Trump."
Reason TV's Nick Gillespie sat down with Haidt at the International Students for Liberty Conference to discuss the rise of political correctness and its cultural implications. They also talk about Heterodox Academy, a website that Haidt helped start that discusses the need for viewpoint diversity within the university system.
Produced by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by McDaniel, Joshua Swain, and Todd Krainin. Graphics by Meredith Bragg.
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This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Jon Haidt: What Greg was beginning to see was that it's the students themselves who are saying, "You can't say that. Stop her from saying that. We need rules to stop him from saying that," and that's what was new.
Nick Gillespie: Hi I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason TV. Today we're talking with Jon Haidt. He is a social psychologist at the NYU Stern School of Business. Jon, thanks for talking to us.
Jon Haidt: My pleasure, Nick.
Nick Gillespie: You obviously have a fantastic academic reputation which proceeds anything we're doing here, but also along with Greg Lukianoff, the Director of FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights and Education, a couple of years ago you wrote "The Coddling of the American Mind" which really brought a lot of the issues you're interested in to a much broader audience. Let's talk about campus PC and where it comes from, because this is the world we live in, it helped empower Donald Trump, he ran for presidency saying, "I was against PC." Define and quantify how we know that political correctness is getting bigger or worse on college campuses, that speech is actually being shutdown, thought is being shutdown.
Jon Haidt: Right. It's hard to find. This is all so new. There's been, I believe, a kind of a moral revolution, a new moral culture emerging on campus but it really is only in the last two years. If any of your viewers graduated from college in 2013, they probably haven't seen it. There was a culture, we can talk about it in a moment, but it's organized around victims of oppression, it's a vertical metaphor of privileged and oppressor people, and victims. This idea that everything is power. It goes back a long way. Students were always at risk of being told, "Everything is power." No. "Everything is money." No. "Everything is sex." We've had these one dimensional moral cultures for a long time, but they were limited to certain departments on campus at certain schools.
But something began happening in 2014-2015 where we just started hearing all these stories. When Greg and I wrote the article, it was just there were all these amazing shocking stories of students.
Nick Gillespie: What's an example of one?
Jon Haidt: One of the ones we tell in the paper that everybody [knows 00:02:17], Jeannie Suk at Harvard wrote about how in her law school classes, students wouldn't let her ... Students were objecting to her saying "violated," like, "That violated the law," because violation, that could trigger a thought of rape and we can't let a student who's been raped think about rape. While there's a certain logic to that, it also, and this was the point of the article, the more you teach people to think that way, that hearing a trigger will reactive, you're actually hurting them when you do that. We're finding more and more professors saying, "Wait, I'm doing just what I've always done but suddenly the students are freaking out and they're reporting me to the dean."
When we wrote the article it was all just anecdotes, but that was in August of 2015. That was before the big blowup. It was really in the fall of 2015, the Missouri protests, and then especially Yale. Again, it was after the Yale protests that everything really spreads, and that was like 13 or 14 months ago, so we don't have the data ...