The nationwide hysteria that has been boiling on college campuses around the country has arrived in Richmond, Virginia. On November 12, around 30 “student activists” crowded the office of Michael Rao, president of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), my alma mater, presenting a list of demands.
The protests at Yale University, the University of Missouri, and various other colleges across the country have been driven not by facts but a kind of paranoid narcissism. Alternately presenting themselves as militant social-justice warriors one moment and shrieking babies in need of “safe spaces” the next, a strident faction of American college students have come under the conviction that our universities are hotbeds of racism, white supremacy, and discrimination. The mob that took over Rao’s office did not disappoint on this front:
Their main concern is a lack of black professors at VCU. They say it’s often difficult for them to deal with educators who don’t understand their cultural concerns or the experience driving their thoughts and world view.
A lack of black professors also means that other students are missing out on a valuable educational point of view.
VCU says 5 percent of its professors are black. Fifteen percent of the student body is black
Coupled with their classroom concerns is a feeling of being an outsider on campus because there is no effort being made to foster a community for black students, they said…
Among the demands are to double the number of black faculty members to 10 percent of the total number of professors by 2017, to have at least one of every three candidates interviewing for a faculty position be black, and to create a position to make sure the policies are being implemented.
As a graduate of VCU, I can affirm with complete sincerity that these “concerns” and “feelings” are absurd and laughable, the product not of legitimate grievances but of excessive and shameless vanity.
There Can Be Few Legitimate Complaints
For starters, the “lack of black professors” at VCU has almost certainly done nothing to alienate any of these students. It is virtually guaranteed that every single professor at VCU is consciously and deliberately attentive to every minority student in his or her classes. Even by public university standards, VCU is extremely liberal, and it is outlandish to assume that the majority of black students on campus have been treated any way other than respectfully and competently by the faculty. (Indeed, any unprofessional behavior on the part of VCU’s faculty is almost certain to lean liberal.)
One could argue that even if black students are treated fairly by their instructors, then they still have a legitimate grievance over the low number of black professors on campus: they need to hear from professors who “understand their cultural concerns” and their “thoughts and worldview.” But this assumes that black professors inherently and inevitably bring a certain worldview along with them. The students seem to believe, in other words, that every black instructor thinks and behaves identically.
This is, of course, perfectly nonsensical: skin color does not determine thoughts, nor is it guaranteed that one’s skin color produces a cultural experience similar to that of another person with similarly colored skin. Indeed, most of my professors at VCU were white, and it’s doubtful many of them understood my “cultural concerns,” much less agreed with them.
Go Take Your Privilege Elsewhere
As for the notion that VCU’s black students feel like “outsiders on campus,” this, too, is nothing more than superficial navel-gazing. Virginia Commonwealth University is, like most public universities in the country, relentlessly and almost maniacally devoted to celebrating as much “diversity” as it can get its hands on, and its highly liberal student body is doubtlessly committed to as much racial inclusiveness as is humanly possible.
The concern that the college is giving “no effort” towards fostering a “community for black students” is itself profoundly narrow-minded and shortsighted. The point of college is not to balkanize oneself by predetermined criteria like skin color but to expose oneself to a much wider and more uncertain world than the one from which one came.
VCU’s student activists are engaging in a petty, shallow identity politics. Spurred on by the histrionic outbursts of students at Yale, the University of Missouri, and elsewhere, they have convinced themselves they are the victims of injustice and wrongdoing when in fact they are among the most comfortable and privileged people on the planet, attending a clean, modern university with an eager faculty and countless resources at their disposal.
Frustrated at the lack of oppression over which they might rebel, they have been reduced to creating their own imagined oppression in order to stage an ego-soaked faux-revolution. They are responding to the signals of a silly victim culture, not reality.
Rao should have told the students in no uncertain terms: “This is delusional. Leave my office at once and go back to the classes you are paying to attend.” Sadly, that kind of commonsense authority is sorely lacking on most college campuses, and VCU appears to be no different.