The size of our society’s chairs is now being considered a “microaggression” against overweight people, according to a guide released by The New School, a private college in New York City.
In a list titled “Common Examples of Microaggressions in an Academic Setting,” the guide states: “Seats in the classroom / auditorium / office are too small for many people.”
Other items on the list include: “Students cast as the lead in school plays or dance shows, and models chosen for school fashion shows are all conventionally thin and conventionally beautiful,” and “Being called ‘overly sensitive’ when addressing a microaggression.”
As many of these sorts of guides tend to do, this one takes care to point out that a “Microaggression is not ‘Micro’ in Impact,” because “if it impacts someone, and it’s a big deal to them, it’s not micro.”
The guide goes on to explain that it’s the job of the school community to tackle any and all microaggressions using methods such as reporting them to the administration and/or doing a “check-in” with any perceived victim, which is something that I’m not sure would go over so well in the case of the chair example. (“Hey Jessica, I noticed you are way too fat for all the chairs in class, and I just want you to know that I’m here for you” doesn’t really sound like it would be too helpful or kind.)
Now, I absolutely do not doubt that living in society as a member of a marginalized group presents difficulties, and I absolutely do not object to being sensitive to that sort of thing. What does become a problem, however, is when we set the standard at “if it impacts someone, and it’s a big deal to them, it’s not micro,” because that places any given person’s feelings about a situation above that situation’s facts. It gives students the idea that if something, anything, is bothering them, then it’s the responsibility of other people and institutions to take care of their feelings for them and to respond in a way that matches their emotional intensity, regardless of what the circumstances actually are. It may sound nice, but it is just not a feasible way to approach your life — and the effect of this sort of thinking can be harmful to society as a whole.
No matter who you are, it’s going to be impossible for you to go through life without seeing and hearing things that upset you, and you’re going to have to know how to deal with the little things on your own. Yes, sometimes little things can feel huge, because humans are emotional creatures. But the truth is, the only thing worse than living a life ruled by your emotions is living a life ruled by emotions that you expect other people to take care of for you.
The only thing worse than living a life ruled by your emotions is living a life ruled by emotions that you expect other people to take care of for you.
Of course, it’s very important to encourage people to reach out if they are suffering and need help — no matter what the reason — but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I am talking more about the way that too many people, particularly on college campuses, are using their emotions in a tyrannical way because they’ve had guides like this telling them that they have every right to do so.
Look at Evergreen State College. Student “protesters” — who straight-up verbally abused a professor for questioning a campus request to remove all white people from campus and then verbally abused the college president for apparently not taking their feelings about it seriously enough — were rewarded with excused assignments and administrative requests for lenient grading.
We’ve seen countless conservative speakers bullied off of college campuses for similar reasons, and yet we keep telling these students that their personal sentiments are more important than anyone or anything else. It’s gotten to the point where people are acting paranoid about normal behavior out of fear of potentially upsetting someone: A fitness club’s event at the Claremont Colleges was canceled over concerns that it might not be inclusive to fit people, despite the fact that those people would probably not be in a damn fitness club anyway. A veterans’ fundraiser at American University was canceled without even a single complaint because its Greek system’s leadership was so petrified that someone might consider its title “cultural appropriation” and flip out.
Yes, feelings matter — but they are not all that matters, and it’s way past time for colleges to recognize the harm that they’re doing with their attempts to be helpful.