The Corner

Culture

Want ‘Power’ in College? Read a Book.

A Columbia University undergraduate is on the super-super-senior track to graduation because of, you guessed it, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, et al. From the Daily Caller:

Columbia students and faculty gathered Wednesday night for a panel discussion on “Race, Ethnicity, and University Life.” According to the Columbia Daily Spectator, much of the commentary revolved around the idea that minorities on campus simply spend too much time being traumatized by the white-centric content of their classes.

One of the panelists at the event was black Columbia student Nissy Aya. Aya was supposed to graduate in 2014, but instead is only on track to receive her degree in 2016. . . .

Aya attributed some of her academic troubles to the trauma of having to take Columbia’s current Core Curriculum, which requires students to take a series of six classes with a focus on the culture and history of Western, European civilization. Aya says this focus on the West was highly mentally stressful for her.

“It’s traumatizing to sit in Core classes,” she said. “We are looking at history through the lens of these powerful, white men. I have no power or agency as a black woman, so where do I fit in?”

Having done a fair amount of time with Messrs. Plato and Plotinus and Hobbes and Hume, I have precisely none for Ms. Aya or her emotionally stunted ilk. In the classroom, “power” and “agency” are in one’s ability to engage and critique the thoughts of minds other than one’s own.

At this point, I should remark that that has not occurred to Ms. Aya because she has no mind to speak of. But I actually don’t believe that; on the contrary, she does. After all, isn’t implicit in her lament a belief that she has no resources with which to deal with words that discomfit her other than to shut them out entirely? Those of us (rightly) heaping scorn on these students want more demanded of them because we think that, as human beings, they have reasoning intellects capable of handling more. On the contrary, no one evinces a lower estimation of these students’ capacities than themselves.

The cure, of course, is not “self-esteem,” a meaningless emotional cud of which they have plenty; it’s a hard book. Wrestling with a thoughtful author on his or her own terms, unlike plugging one’s ears, is a challenging, ennobling act. College students unwilling to do the former are not simply childish; they are, by their own admission, sad.

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