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Oppressive Structures and ‘Silencing’ the Student Voice

The College experience is supposed to be about having fun, learning new things, and apparently buying into a system where everyone’s inappropriate jokes should be respected.

In an article published in The Daily Beast on Monday, author Kirsten Powers argues that liberals have made the college experience “silencing.”

Powers states that “Campuses should be places where students are able to make mistakes without fear of retribution.”

While I agree that making mistakes is a huge part of learning, the problem comes when they are at the expense of other people.

For example, I cannot count how many times I have called out a white student on this campus for making a racist joke, and their response has been “lighten up, you know that’s not what I meant.”

While that may be true, that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an adverse impact on other people around them.

Those mistakes are not equatable to giving the wrong answer in calculus. These mistakes make students feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

What Powers names  “silencing,” I call educating people on their racist, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic comments that have no place on this campus.

People come to K from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and we cannot expect everyone to automatically know what offends people and what doesn’t.

In that respect, mistakes are natural. However, its important that when people’s views are “silenced,” they take the time to understand why people reacted adversely, and why they themselves didn’t find their commend offensive.

This reflectiveness is what generates continuous learning: challenging one’s beliefs and listening to stories of others to gain a more well-rounded knowledge of how your views oppress others.

This is where, Powers argues, that silencing comes into play because people “fear” speaking their racist or misogynistic comments.

Sorry, K college students, but if you agree with her I got news for you: If you feel that your feelings are being hurt because people tell you that your “women in the kitchen” jokes are not okay, you should probably re-evaluate how funny those jokes are in the first place.

I’ll give you a hint: not at all.

At the end of the day,  some students may feel hurt by having their problematic views questioned. That said, if by doing that we make this campus safer for students who feel oppressed by those views, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

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Oppressive Structures and ‘Silencing’ the Student Voice