Students Protesting on College Campuses Aren’t “Coddled”

The bells of Madonna della Strada Chapel rang. The wind blew in from the lake. And during the Nov. 12 demonstration in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri, Loyola students shouted their own grievances into a megaphone.

“I don’t know about you,” said senior Heather Afriyie when handed the megaphone, “but I pay $60,000 a year [to attend Loyola].”

Applause and cheers drowned out the rest of Afriyie’s sentence, but from what I could gather from videos circulating on social media of the demonstration, her message was clear: For a school that costs as much Loyola does, students should be getting what they pay for.

Last I checked, tuition, along with room and board, costs closer to $50,000 per year at Loyola. But Afriyie’s point still stands.

For many students, getting what they pay for means getting an education that, true to Loyola’s Jesuit mission, emphasizes social justice. But when the school’s demonstration policy limits spontaneous demonstrations, when students can’t speak with the dining hall workers who serve them meals, when students of color face discrimination in their classes — Loyola’s price tag seems sickeningly steep.

You might think anyone who can afford to attend this school has no place to pontificate about privilege or social justice. Indeed, writers in publications across the U.S. have made similar arguments against students at Mizzou and at Yale, where an email about culturally sensitive Halloween costumes led to an ugly confrontation between students and a professor over free speech and safe spaces.

“These are young people who live in safe, heated buildings with two Steinway grand pianos, an indoor basketball court, a courtyard with hammocks and picnic tables, a computer lab, a dance studio, a gym, a movie theater, a film-editing lab, billiard tables, an art gallery and four music practice rooms,” wrote Conor Friedersdorf of Yale students in The Atlantic. “But they can’t bear this setting that millions of people would risk their lives to inhabit because one woman wrote an email that hurt their feelings?”

Friedersdorf isn’t the only one criticizing protesting students, however. Neil Steinberg, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a former Loyola professor, penned a column blasting Loyola students who requested that members of the media stay out of a circle of demonstrators during Nov. 12’s protest.

“The Millennial Generation is famous for one thing: craving praise while shrinking from criticism, just or not,” Steinberg wrote. “It causes you trouble in the workplace. You can blame the media for that, but you really should be blaming yourselves. Everyone else does.”

Even the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board weighed in on the issue of free speech versus safe spaces on college campuses.

“Students are supposed to come to college to be exposed to challenging ideas, not be protected from them,” concluded an editorial published the evening after Loyola’s demonstration.

To Friedersdorf, to Steinberg, to the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board and to anyone who is emailing their friends links to The Atlantic piece published this September called “The Coddling of the American Mind,” I say this: College isn’t about being exposed to challenging ideas.

It’s not about learning. It’s not about any kind of intellectual pursuit.

From middle school through high school, American students hear the same narrative from their teachers, their parents, their school counselors: Get good grades. Build up that résumé. If you do, you can get into a good college, maybe even win a scholarship. If you get into a good college, that’s your ticket to a prestigious job once you graduate. You can start contributing to the American economy, and hopefully you won’t have too many loans to pay off along the way.

In high school, everyone asks you what your college plans are. Once you’re in college, they ask you what your post-college plans are. But no one asks you why you have those plans. No one asks you what you think about the world around you, or why you think that way, or how you want to positively impact the world.

The American education system as we know it today formed in response to increasing industrialization in the economy. Its primary purpose was to produce efficient members of the national workforce. Whatever marketing tactics universities use to attract students today — whether they mention comfortable dorms or a diverse student population — those industrial underpinnings still exist.

In Chicago, students in the City College system can’t pay their tuition because they haven’t received promised financial aid. Illinois’ budget crisis leaves the fate of Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant funding — and the fate of thousands of students’ college educations — up in the air. See, in the end it all comes down to money. Do you have it? Can you pay it? And once you graduate, will you make any of it? Will you spend it?

Students are aware of this contradiction, and they’re calling it out. Their whole lives, they’ve been promised the kind of college experience that movies romanticize, that admissions brochures plastered with smiling Asian, Caucasian and African American faces play up. Work hard, don’t question authority and you can be just like these kids.

Students today aren’t coddled. They’re not enemies of free speech. They’re not narcissistic punks. They’re just asking for what they were promised.

Morgan Christian is the Opinion editor.

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