The Collegian
Sunday, July 12, 2020

New York Times best-selling author delivers viewpoint diversity lecture on campus

<p>The Sharp Viewpoint Series graphic, with author Jonathan Haidt featured center in green. <em>Photo courtesy of the Office of the President.</em></p>

The Sharp Viewpoint Series graphic, with author Jonathan Haidt featured center in green. Photo courtesy of the Office of the President.

New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Haidt, who co-authored the book “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” gave a lecture to faculty members, students and community members at the Queally Center on Thursday night. 

In his speech, Haidt explained the origins of his book and how he believed viewpoint diversity was being threatened on college campuses. 

“There’s a new moral culture that is emerging on many campuses that I think has bad effects on student life,” Haidt said. 

Haidt said he and his colleague, Greg Lukianoff, who co-authored the book with him, had begun to notice the new moral culture emerging on college campuses in 2013 and 2014, when it had appeared as though students were asking for more protections from certain types of speech. 

“2014 was when we saw a rise of the word ‘safe spaces,’” Haidt said. “Trigger warning and microaggression were also rarely used until 2014.” 

According to Haidt’s research, the rise of safe spaces, censored conversations and overprotection of kids until they turn 18 had led to Generation Z college students, who were born after 1995, to report higher levels of depression, anxiety and self-harm as a result of not being able to handle being challenged. 

“What happens when you protect kids from risk [is that] you hurt them," Haidt said. "The suicide rate is up 25 percent for boys, and 70 percent for girls since Generation Z entered the data set.”

Although Haidt said students should be protected from certain types of speech such as racial slurs, he said some of these protections were causing speech to be classified as hate speech even if the intent was not to offend. 

“Microaggressions are defined as being intentional or unintentional,” Haidt said. “Just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s malicious.” 

Casey Murano, a sophomore who attended the lecture, said she thought it was important for students to learn how to express their views without alienating or offending others. 

“I’m definitely not good at speaking my mind,” Murano said, “so I think it was good to hear about how I can speak my mind without alienating anyone else.” 

During a Q&A discussion with Haidt, University President Ronald A. Crutcher said that although encouraging students to have their viewpoints challenged could be difficult, it is a necessary step to create a strong university community. 

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“It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable, but I think it will help to make us stronger,” Crutcher said. 

Crutcher also questioned how students could feel more comfortable sharing their viewpoints in situations in which they may not be the most powerful person in the room. 

“I hear people say, ‘I don’t have the power here, so someone is going to slap me down when I speak up,’” Crutcher said. “What can we say to this?”

Haidt said one solution to the viewpoint diversity issue on college campuses would be to encourage more viewpoint diversity among professors and academic researchers. He said that when academia was dominated by one-sided viewpoints, it could undermine the researcher’s ability to find results that are truthful. 

“We are really bad at finding the truth,” Haidt said. “When everyone is on the left, if a hypothesis is pleasing, it gets waved through easily. But if it’s not pleasing, it’s very hard to get published.” 

Students on some campuses may be resistant to encouraging more viewpoint diversity, but Haidt said that although too much censorship might be well-intentioned, it ultimately would have a negative result for students. 

“Good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure,” Haidt said. 

Contact news writer Bri Park at brianna.park@richmond.edu. Julia Raimondi contributed reporting.

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