In March, the University of Melbourne Student Union ran an “intersectional and student-led workshop around the ways in which privilege and unconscious bias permeate tutorials and seminars…” According to the official report following the workshop, there is a colossal amount of unconscious bias floating around Melbourne University, and which by all accounts appears to be emanating from one particular privileged group; white men.
Workshop attendees reported that the behaviour of such individuals in tutorials and seminars made them feel bad about themselves and to doubt their own abilities. They even employed the term “gaslighting” in order to describe how they felt about the way in which white men interacted with women and non-white fellow students. “Gaslighting” is a psychological technique used by sociopaths and narcissists to manipulate their victims.
The upshot of the discussion was that henceforward men should endeavour to be less like men and workshop attendees came up a helpful list to facilitate the process of emasculation. Before they voice their opinions, for example, men should conduct the type of examination of conscience usually reserved for the Confessional. They need to ask themselves the following question: “Is it to self-aggrandise or to learn and contribute?” Once satisfied that it is the latter, men should then endeavour to speak more like women, in that they should not speak with “absolute confidence” but qualify their statements with “I’m sure that this is a good idea but…” Finally, men should also refrain from partaking in “Australian banter”.
These measures are worrying on a number of levels. They are basically perpetuating the “white male privilege” myth of identity politics which claims that biology, race and gender determine our destinies. Does this mean that if you are born a non-white male, then there is no point in trying to succeed in life because you are set up for a future of failure? Conversely, there is no need to try if you are a white male because your future success is already guaranteed.
This dangerous form of racial determinism is totally at odds with the notion of individual responsibility and the idea that as human beings, we instigate our own actions and are thus morally accountable. It is a long way from Martin Luther King when he said that people should be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. This seems to have been completely forgotten by the current practitioners of identity politics.
These workshops are also a direct assault on “masculinity” and are designed to make men ashamed of being men. By asking men to tone down their “Australian banter” and to “speak more like women”, the University of Melbourne Student Union is simultaneously discriminating against men and patronising women. It is illiberal and totally sexist. The next logical step is that white men will be prohibited from attending particular tutorials and seminars on the grounds that their very presence will cause too much discomfort.
The demand that a certain group self-censors is creating a highly censorious and politically correct culture which is detrimental to the university’s core mission of education. There are already reports that academics are being policed by students and are deliberately refraining from discussing ideas which might offend members of the student body.
In September, Monash University will be the first Australian institution of higher learning to implement a policy of “trigger warnings”, by asking academics to review course content before teaching it. This will ultimately result in fearful tutors deciding that none of their material is suitable on the basis that it could potentially offend everyone in the classroom.
The fact that Melbourne University, one of Australia’s oldest and most respected institutions of higher learning, has not only allowed the student union to conduct this workshop but has also taken it seriously, shows just how politically correct the culture of our universities has become. This is part of a growing movement in Australian universities, largely driven by students, to scrub the campuses clean of words, ideas and subjects which might cause discomfort or give offence, and it raises serious questions about the future of free speech on our campuses.
Dr Bella d’Abrera is the Director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the Institute of Public Affairs.
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