The university responded brilliantly …
"Feel the D."
That was the campaign slogan used by two Colorado Mesa University students running for student body president and vice president last semester.
Obviously, the "D" did not stand for "dick," although if you're like us, you may have had that initial thought. Rather, it was an abbreviation of one of the candidate's names.
Nevertheless, the slogan elicited a strong negative reaction from a feminist group on campus and at least a dozen students who complained to the faculty at Colorado Mesa that they wanted to feel no such D, and were “offended or unsettled” by the slogan.
For universities nationwide, complaints like this are nothing new, but in a era of "safe space culture" when hyper-reactive college administrators are quick to protect sensitive students from any controversy or offense, Colorado Mesa University’s response was startlingly refreshing and rare.
How did they react?
They refused to act as censors.
“As I’m sure you would agree, free speech (most especially, political speech) does not require my or anyone’s approval,” wrote John Marshall, vice president for student services, in an April 2016 email reviewed by Heat Street. Students could use the slogan, though “whether or not [it] was/is a good idea and how [they] want to represent themselves is a wholly different discussion.”
Marshall added that Colorado Mesa doesn’t see this approach as novel or exceptional, asserting that “for a whole host of reasons, no one should be more concerned about free speech than a university.”
While many universities have Bias Response Teams in place to handle these kinds of issues, Colorado Mesa does not have one, nor does it plan to. It doesn't need one.
Instead, in place of a Bias Response Team, Marshall says the university encourages students to openly discuss controversial or offensive ideas “rather than trying to man some kind of affirmative consent to someone’s ideology.” Because god forbid people start talking about issues, rather than attacking each other over broaching some imaginary boundary of sensitivity.
Colorado Mesa even received a letter from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education which alerted them to the censorious potential of "free-speech zones," but the university rejected that notion altogether, declaring the entire campus open for free speech and debate. No "zones" where people could express their beliefs; rather, the whole school is a free speech zone.
While Colorado Mesa's free-speech-first approach may be controversial, public records suggest it's working. According to Heat Street, "while other universities received dozens of complaints, Colorado Mesa University reported just five last year, resolved with little fanfare."
In the “Feel the D” case, the students with the suggestive slogan ended up getting elected. Afterwards, faculty invited the feminist group that initially complained to directly approach the student candidates with their concerns, emphasizing that any meeting would be voluntary. The feminists did, and expressed why the slogan was offensive, but they were also asked “to listen to why [the candidates] thought that was funny or appropriate,” Marshall tells Heat Street. “Both walked away with a good outcome.”
“When the proper channels and avenues of communication are provided, it gives us the rare opportunity to express our opinions in a healthy way and to learn from others," an open letter to students from the university read.
The only two situations in which Colorado Mesa actually stepped in and intervened were when they removed a Club Hockey poster that depicted Colorado Mesa’s mascot sodomizing a competitor’s mascot, and when the university asked a student to take down the Confederate flag in his dorm room after repeated reports of racial comments and one instance of two roommates physically fighting over the flag.
So … no butt stuff or Confederate flag, but yes to open conversations about hate speech? Fascinating.
“The issue is, how do we confront new ideas and concepts that are different from what we know and expect,” says Marshall. “We need to help challenge our students. You don’t have a right not to be uncomfortable. We don’t always need to create these ultra-sensitive responses. We want them to think critically and deal with each other with respect and civility.”
Whether you consider the university's policy on protecting special snowflake students to be progressive and correct, or too lax and wrong is up to you. But regardless, there's no denying that their choice to open up discussions that highlight disparate viewpoints is a slap in the face to the PC culture we've found ourselves inundated with lately. Perhaps that slap is needed.
In a world where people are afraid to speak for fear of offending someone, or when someone's intentionally benign comments are twisted into something worse than how they're meant, it seems discussion, rather than scolding, is the best course of action. After all, reality is objective. Each one of us sees the world in a completely different way, and we're not to say what is wrong or right for someone else no matter how much we believe our way to be true. Unless someone is legitimately being physically or mentally hurt, or there's a danger of that happening, we would all do better to try to get to know the people who have alternative beliefs from us, not simply tell them they're wrong and to shut up. Nowhere is that more appropriate than on a college campus. After all, you're paying thousands of dollars to be there. You might as well learn something.
But for those of you that enjoy the gainless bloodsport of enforcing political correctness at every turn for the sake of pushing your own agenda, there's now an app for that! Handy.