“Give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself.” — Robert G. Ingersoll
Universities have been particular targets for the national increase in hate crimes. Even the U.S. Department of Education’s own data note the alarming increase.
The far left is responsible for a good part of the hatred-promotion, aggressively shouting down conservative scholars and political speakers with whom they disagree. Some episodes have drawn national attention: the Milo Yiannopoulos riot at Berkeley, Middlebury’s Charles Murray shout-down, the Heather MacDonald shout-downs at UCLA and Claremont, and the Ann Coulter debacle at Berkeley.
There have been many more such incidents that failed to get national attention. Shout-downs of pro-Israel events, for example, are now a nationwide tactic, backed by an ideology. And they have impact. The effect of a shout-down anywhere is to discourage similar events everywhere. The shout-downs are intimidating, they are threatening, and they challenge the university administration with an awful choice: violence or silence?
Some of the hate on campus is generated by outside organizations, but much of it comes from university faculty themselves. In a series of three separate studies conducted over two years, a research organization, Amcha, focused on the dynamics of anti-Semitic hate crimes on campus. It found a powerful link between faculty members’ politics – specifically, their support for an academic boycott of Israel - and the worst forms of anti-Jewish hostility, including assault, harassment, destruction of property and suppression of speech. The connection was clear: The more faculty members supporting an Israel boycott, the greater the likelihood of anti-Semitic incidents on the campus.
Nevertheless, the far left is not responsible for all the hate on campus. Hate comes from the far right as well.
Mere hours after a professor unveiled his plan for American University’s forthcoming Antiracist Research and Policy Center last fall, someone hung 10 Confederate flag signs with cotton stalks stapled to them around campus. The signs included the phrase “Huzzah for Dixie.”
Earlier in the year someone hung bananas around the campus with messages directed at the school’s first African American student body president, who was also targeted for harassment by neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.
In January, the Anti-Defamation League reported white supremacist propaganda on campus increased by 258 percent in 2017, affecting 216 campuses across the country. Besides its white supremacist messages, the propaganda frequently attacks minority groups, including blacks, Muslims, Jews, non-white immigrants, and the LGBT community. The effect of the propaganda is to isolate and intimidate minority students, teachers and staff, thereby increasing their vulnerability and emboldening those who would commit hate crimes against them. Aldous Huxley once put it this way, “The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.”
Universities are highly concentrated communities of impressionable young people who have more energy and free time than at any other life stage. They matter. They can change the culture. What happens on our campuses is important for the country at large.
A democracy will remain strong if its citizens push back against those who poison our campuses and our communities with hate. A vigorous democracy will take action to protect free speech, to prevent or punish intimidation, and to reject those who target minorities.
Universities are meant to educate, not inculcate. Universities need to return to their historic role, to reintroduce the values of civil discourse, free inquiry, and respect for human dignity.