Digital

Exclusive online content

Year Zero

By: Lucas E. Morel
November 24, 2015

Ah, the good old days at the Claremont Colleges, when students and professors serious about discussing issues local and abroad took to newsprint, not open-air venting sessions, “to refine and enlarge the public views.” This past summer, I came across a long-forgotten box of student newspapers from my years as an undergrad and grad student in Claremont. I was surprised at how engaged the campus was in discussing controversial issues for weeks on end.

Professor William B. Allen (Harvey Mudd College) reminded us that the truth, not diversity, deserved ultimate respect; and fellow Claremont Graduate School students John Eastman lambasted “civil rights socialism,” R.J. Pestritto called out the “diversity and awareness” mongers for their hypocrisy, and John West questioned the demotion of renowned Professors John Niven and Leonard Levy as co-chairs of the history department to shift the emphasis away from traditional humanities courses towards seminars for professional managers. Of course, Harry Jaffa (Claremont Graduate School) opined about pretty much everything, never failing to provoke the ire of some self-identified grievance cohort.

Oh, yes, then there was yours truly (as undergrad and then as grad student) who addressed the questionable alliances of Nelson Mandela, the practice of homosexuality, and the so-called right to an abortion, the latter of which provoked so many letters to the editor in the ensuing weeks that the newspaper eventually announced they would not print any more letters on the subject!

One surprising episode was Scripps President Nancy Bekevac standing up for the right to free speech for a visiting speaker (a former ambassador to Kuwait), whose address was threatened with a group intending to protest his lecture by walking into the auditorium with a coffin.

Some minority students decided that letters to the editor were insufficient, and began publishing their own paper, Harmony, to contribute in a more extensive way to the campus conversation about multiculturalism. One issue was devoted almost entirely to defend the merits of multiculturalism against charges of political correctness. To their credit, they sought to inform discussion by appeals to reason rather than mere consciousness-raising. This stands in stark contrast to present-day campus activists who issue demands and ultimatums, instead of arguments and evidence. In looking over these old campus newspapers, I was struck by the civility, respect, and good faith exercised by most of those presenting opposing opinions.

A final observation: I wonder if the new campus activists are the logical, perhaps even overdue, result of the shaky reasoning of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. The unanimous decision that ruled racially-segregated public schools violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause argued that racial separation in schools “generates a feeling of inferiority,” and because “the state has undertaken to provide” that education, it is responsible for this feeling of inferiority. And so, campus protestors now interpret visual cues at their colleges (a mural at the University of Kentucky, a statue of Thomas Jefferson at the College of William and Mary, the use of Woodrow Wilson’s name at Princeton University, etc.) and even verbal slights from their peers as products of “the system,” and hence “micro-aggressions” that must therefore be eliminated post haste and made impossible by new diversity programs, officers, and safe zones. How long before we hear that Year Zero or its equivalent has been declared at some college intent on wiping its oppressive history clean?