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Diverse Conversations: What We Should Tell Our College Students, Instead of ‘Toughen Up’

042016_counselingIn a piece for The Washington Post, Ferentz Lafargue, director for the Davis Center, which explores positive social change at Williams College in Massachusetts, pushes back against the mentality that protecting college students from hate speech and discrimination “coddles them.”

Lafargue’s comments come on the heels of two canceled speakers on the campus that had unpopular views. The first, conservative Suzanne Venker, who has voiced her opinion that feminism has failed, and the second, John Derbyshire, a mathematician who once wrote for the National Review until his writing revealed him to have racist views. Venker’s appearance was canceled following student backlash, and Derbyshire’s was canceled by the university president himself.

Lafargue applauds the university’s actions in both cases. He counters that allowing such speakers at the expense of college students does not prepare them for the real world. It implies that wanting to change those attitudes is wrong.

In the piece, Lafargue writes:

The real culprits—on campuses and in the real world—are the persistent effects of homophobia, income inequality, misogyny, poverty, racism, sexism, white supremacy and xenophobia. When students refuse to accept discrimination on college campuses, they’re learning important lessons about how to fight it everywhere.

Larfargue’s spot-on analysis got me thinking a little more about the role of college campuses in changing the future “real world” that exists after students earn their degrees. Instead of telling these students to toughen up, perhaps we should tell them these things instead:

Your words matter

Whether you are speaking out against injustice, or belittling a peer, what you say makes an impact on the larger world. This goes for verbal words that come directly out of your mouth and those that are written—in emails, in texts, on social media, and more. Use those words to lift others up and to further causes that benefit society and beyond. You do not need to tolerate the words of another that offend you—ever. Know who you are and speak those truths into existence.

You don’t deserve discrimination

Hate, intolerance and judgment are not just acceptable parts of life. They are wrong, plain and simple. Just because they exist, and have since the dawn of time, does not make them a part of your life that you must simply deal with and move past. You cannot change the way a particular person thinks or acts but always recognize that the fault is with them, not you. It’s not your job to adjust to a world that discriminates you unfairly nor is it ever your doing.

Progress is hard, but worth it

The road to positive change is full of obstacles. Sometimes working toward that change is downright disheartening. This doesn’t mean to just accept the status quo. It means to work even harder to push back against the negative viewpoints and deep-rooted belief systems that are holding that progress back. It’s not an easy task to steer a ship in a new direction, especially one that goes against the current, but it’s necessary to get to a new place. Never stop fighting the good fight. Eventually, with persistence and optimism, you will win.

Youth is not a disadvantage

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your lack of years lessens your importance. Your viewpoint matters just as much, if not more, than those whose opinions are more about hardened lines than true progress. Use your voice and all of that youthful passion to blaze new trails. Your inexperience in the ways of the world makes you an asset to it because your choices are based less on outside influence.

You are safe here

At least while you are on this campus, and a student at this school, we will have your best interest at heart. Nowhere in our university mission does it say that we strive to toughen you up for the real world by allowing you to be attacked, verbally or otherwise. You matter to us. You are protected. You are a priority.

We can’t coddle our college students by insisting they demand fairness. Let’s stand behind them as they continue the good work to progress past discrimination and backward thinking. Let’s believe together that the next iteration of the real world ushered in by our best and brightest will be an even better one than what we see today.

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