In The Atlantic, Columbia professor Jon Cole writes:
Today, nearly half of a random sample of roughly 3,000 college students surveyed by Gallup earlier this year are supportive of restrictions on certain forms of free speech on campus, and 69 percent support disciplinary action against either students or faculty members who use intentionally offensive language or commit “microagressions”—speech they deem racist, sexist, or homophobic.
69% of U.S. college kids think colleges should punish students and faculty for “microaggressions”
I saw this, in turn, because Cathy Young retweeted Noah’s tweet. I was suspicious of the claim – it’s difficult to believe that 69% of college students even know the word “microaggressions” – so I went and checked the survey (pdf link). In fact, students were never asked about “microaggressions.” Here’s what the relevant part of the survey says:
What the students were asked about – deliberately offensive slurs – is the opposite of microaggressions. (As Cathy said when I pointed this out to her.) And conflating “establish policies that restrict” with “punish” or even “disciplinary action” seems dubious.
(For a much more detailed response to Cole’s article, read Don’t Blame the Students on Academe Blog.)
This misleading reporting reminded me of last week, when Miles Goslett, editor of Heatstreet, tweeted:
.@clreid9 on the latest ‘safe spaces’ farce: straight white men are banned from an equality conference.
The link was to an article with the unambiguous headline Straight White Men Banned From Equality Conference; the story was just what you’d expect from its headline.1
And, again, the reporting is extremely misleading. The conference itself included four breakout sessions for (respectively) female, black. disabled, and lgbt members – but also included workshops, training sessions, and meals that were open to all members.2 The first sentence of the article3 gave the impression that conference had used the term “safe spaces” to explain the policy; I was unable to find any official conference statement or materials using that phrase.
Which in turn reminded me of March, when lots of conservative publications – including major outlets like The National Review, The Daily Caller, Foxnews, and Campus Reform – reported that Southwestern University in Texas was cancelling its annual production of The Vagina Monologues because TVM is too white.
All these articles about the canceled show used the same source, an article in the Southwestern student newspaper4 – but that article didn’t say anything about a scheduled production being cancelled, nor did it mention an annual production. I contacted the author of the original article, who confirmed that there had never been an annual production of The Vagina Monologues at Southwestern, nor was there a production that had been cancelled.
It’s as if all these journalists uncritically repeat anything they hear which fits in with their pre-existing biases.
That’s hardly a problem that’s unique to this issue, unfortunately – just think of Rolling Stone and the Jackie story. Journalists would be well advised to start fact-checking campus horror stories rather than just repeating them.
- A followup article published days later did a slightly better job getting the facts straight, without admitting that they’d screwed it up previously. [↩]
- That’s last year’s schedule, but the reporting at Indy100 indicates that this year’s conference is much the same. [↩]
- The first sentence reads: “News that a university lecturers’ union has banned straight, white men from attending their equality conferences in a bid to create ‘safe spaces’ is deeply depressing.” [↩]
- Their website is currently offline, otherwise I’d link the article. [↩]