Politics has an engrained “divide and conquer” bias that threatens civil society. It causes many people to view themselves and others not as sovereign individuals, but as members of special interest coalitions and warring parties. That mentality makes it easy for power-lusting demagogues to pander and appease and gain control of our wallets and world views. It’s tribalism on a grand scale and it fans the flames of our darker recesses.
Colleges and universities have been fanning those flames for decades. Campus culture has been degraded by an increasing obsession with identity politics – an obsession in which race, sexual orientation, ancestry, perceived victimization, income inequality, “green” initiatives, and “social justice” are topics du jour and meta issues deserving urgent attention.
Recently, the all-women’s liberal arts college Mount Holyoke College (Massachusetts) made headlines when it decided to explicitly allow transgender individuals identifying as women to enroll. “Just as early feminists argued that reducing women to their biological functions was a foundation of women’s oppression, we acknowledge that gender identity is not reducible to the body,” said the college’s president, Lynn Pasquerella, during a recent convocation address.
The policy was advanced by Open Gates, a “student led community organization dedicated to the full inclusion of trans women at Mount Holyoke College.” The student who founded Open Gates told Inside Higher Ed that “there is a lot of work to be done in terms of consciousness raising.”
It’s worth noting that MHC had never banned transgendered applicants. This entire spectacle, which has garnered so much media ink, is the result of a group of students and administrators dreaming up new conflicts, turning non-issues into issues, and distracting an entire campus from real academic work. But at MHC, the term “real academic work” may need some clarification.
The student who founded Open Gates is majoring in gender studies, which MHC’s gender studies department’s website describes as a degree program with a “commitment to uncovering the realities of women’s lives, understanding the nature of women’s oppression, and charting paths to significant social change.” It’s a major that investigates “the very nature of gender” and “other forms of difference and power such as class, race, nation, and sexuality.”
Perhaps the ridiculousness of MHC’s gender studies degree description would be amusing if it wasn’t a serious statement from an actual college department in which students can receive actual degrees. As is, it’s just a frightening representation of much that is wrong with postmodern campus culture, a culture that is rapidly bubbling over into our broader society.