Students at Western Washington University have reached a turning point in their campus’s hxstory. (For one thing, they’re now spelling it with an X—more on that later.) Activists are demanding the creation of a new college dedicated to social justice activism, a student committee to police offensive speech, and culturally segregated living arrangements at the school, which is in Bellingham, up in the very northwest corner of the state.
Students have the right to push for robust changes to campus conditions, of course. But if administrators care about free speech at all, they will ignore these calls to create an almost cartoonishly autocratic liberal thought police on campus.
WWU’s student-activist community—the frightening-sounding Assembly for Power and Liberation—made their demands public last week. The document begins by noting that the activists crashed a Feb. 12 Board of Trustees meeting in order to demand “accountability for the violence enacted on this campus,” and were subsequently surprised that none of the trustees accepted an invitation to come to an assembly meeting to “take accountability.” Pro-tip, students: If you ruin other people’s meetings, don’t be surprised when they skip out on yours.
The most substantial of the activists’ demands is a call for a new college that would essentially train students to become social justice warriors (a term often applied derogatorily by critics of leftism that nevertheless seems appropriate here). WWU must meet the needs of this new “College of Power and Liberation” by immediately hiring 10 faculty members—subject to the approval of student-activists. Finding the money to do all this is solely the responsibility of WWU’s administration, “whose accountability to students should be expressed through their fervent advocacy for students’ needs at both the local and state levels,” according to the activists, who want an extra $50,000 to throw a kick-off party for the new college. Another $45,000 will go toward paying students to do “de-colonial work on campus,” whatever that means.
Activists have also demanded the creation of an Office for Social Transformation, which would employ 15 students—young Robespierres in training—for the purposes of monitoring “racist, anti-black, transphobic, cissexist, misogynistic, ableist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and otherwise oppressive behavior on campus.” (Anti-Semitism, one notes, is curiously omitted.) These students will be granted terrifying powers to discipline faculty members who commit microaggressions. Professors—even tenured professors—can and will be placed under investigation if they are accused of maintaining insufficiently safe spaces within their classrooms.
These measures are hailed as “progressive” by the activists—because what could be more progressive than committees of liberal extremists conducting thoughtcrime investigations?
The third serious demand is for the creation of new residence halls geared around specific cultural identities. Students claim the goal is for people from different backgrounds to live together and make new connections. But if this were true, no new dorm arrangements would be necessary—different people living together is what happens at college by default. Reading between the lines, it sounds like student-activists actually want the opposite: They want to create residential safe spaces built around certain exclusive group identities.
The result of such arrangements would be a form of de facto cultural segregation that one might expect students would oppose if they were actual progressives. In any case, these communities will be policed by residential advisors tasked with the specific goal of creating social justice activism programs. As with the proposal for “oppression studies” in the dorms at American University, it seems like the idea is to turn the campus into a zone of liberal ideological conformity from which there is no escape.
Keep in mind that WWU is already an extremely liberal campus with a number of social justice-oriented activities: it has a department of Education and Social Justice, a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program, a Queer Resource Center, a Social Issues Resource Center, and an Ethnic Student Center.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. These programs undoubtedly have much to offer, and contribute to the rich intellectual culture of the university. But there must come a point at which adding more and more far-left instructional options actually detracts from the campus’s intellectual diversity. Besides, the student-activists don’t want to just add more options—they want to push them on everybody.
At the heart of this effort lies a bizarrely totalitarian ideology: Student-activists think they have all the answers—everything is settled, and people who dissent are not merely wrong, but actually guilty of something approaching a crime. If they persist in this wrongness, they are perpetuating violence, activists will claim.
The list of demands ends with a lengthy denunciation of WWU’s marginalization of “hxstorically oppressed students.” The misspelling is intentional: “hxstory,” I presume, was judged to be more PC than “history,” which is gendered, triggering, and perhaps violent. It’s easy for me to laugh at these clumsy attempts to make language obey the dictates of political correctness—but I laugh from a position of relative safety, since I am not a WWU professor.
On the other hand, if a member of campus were to insist on the proper spelling of the word, would he or she (or xe) have to answer to the Committee for Social Transformation?