The Corner


Victimhood Culture Engulfs Our Campuses

Once students figured out that declaring themselves to be victims of an evil society gave them a great deal of power, a culture of victimhood rapidly spread across our college campuses. It’s a danger to civility and academic freedom; getting rid of it will be extremely difficult.

That is the conclusion of sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning who have written a very important book entitled “The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars.”

In today’s Martin Center article, Anthony Hennen writes about the book and its implications. He writes,

Victimhood is a culture where an individual’s status as a victim elevates him or her to the moral high ground. Its hallmarks are taking offense in microaggressions, shouting down controversial speakers, and demanding “safe spaces.” The values of victimhood culture are encouraging an illiberal turn in students and academics alike, who label political disagreement and academic freedom as violence. Furthermore, they respond to skepticism toward that victimhood status by others with great emotion and anger.

Campbell and Manning argue that while victimhood can be found elsewhere in society, it is particular prevalent on college campuses because administrators are too weak to oppose it. They fear the wrath of the relatively small percentage of students who play the victim card and will gladly attack anyone who doesn’t go along with them. The majority of students just quietly go along with the manias over diversity, microaggressions, and so on.

Because of that power imbalance, the authors observe, our colleges have become places where only one vision of social justice is permitted. And once “safety” and “sensitivity” become paramount concerns, academic freedom has to be discarded.

What can be done? Some states, Hennen notes, have passed laws defending free speech on campus, but victimhood culture still remains “firmly planted on many campuses.”

Hennen’s depressing conclusion:

Until taxpayers demand politically neutral campuses — or students organize to protest being taught what to think rather than how to think — it is difficult to disagree with Campbell and Manning’s conclusion that victimhood culture is here to stay, at least in the foreseeable future.

I’m afraid he’s right about that.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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