The latest incidents occurred when the conservative media outlet Breitbart.com sent their tech editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, to give talks at several campuses. Milo is a well-presented, plain-speaking, homosexual, conservative journalist. Not exactly what you think would be scary to 21st century students, but nonetheless his presence on campus triggered a mental health hysteria amongst left-wing student activists.
Here is what happened at Rutgers University:
Students at Rutgers University were so traumatised by Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos’ visit to their campus that they had to hold a group therapy session, campus newspaper The Daily Targum reports.
According to the paper, students and faculty members held a wound-licking gathering at a cultural center on campus, where students described “feeling scared, hurt, and discriminated against.”
“A variety of different organizations and departments were present to listen, answer questions and show support” to the apparently weak and vulnerable students, who just a few days prior had disrupted Yiannopoulos’ event by smearing fake blood on their faces and chanting protest slogans.
One student at the event told the Targum that they “broke down crying” after the event, while another reported that he felt “scared to walk around campus the next day.” According to the report, “many others” said they felt “unsafe” at the event and on campus afterwards.
“It is upsetting that my mental health is not cared about by the University,” said one student at the event. “I do not know what else to do for us to be heard for us to be cared about. I deserve an apology, everyone in this room deserves an apology.”
A number of organizations were at the event to offer support to the poor, traumatised students. These included Psychiatric Services, the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, and the Rutgers University Police. However, as far as we know, none of the protesting students were institutionalized, arrested for vandalism, or for assaulting the peaceful attendees of Milo’s talk with red paint.
Even more astonishingly campus authorities are encouraging this kind of attitude amongst the students. The "student life centre" at the University of Michigan organised a group therapy session for students to heal from Milo's visit; and the University of California Los Angeles cancelled a similar talk by another Breitbart figure, Ben Shapiro, after students complained that it would be a "threat to their lives" and "would be damaging to their mental health".
A similar outpouring of anguish occurred after Milo's visit to the University of Pittsburgh, where the Rainbow Alliance organised a safe space "for those who have experienced trauma, been triggered, or felt any kind of pain because of the events".
But why? Why would leftist activists hold themselves open to ridicule in this way? I'm not confident I know the exact reason but I can suggest a few possibilities.
First, feminists and POC activists on campus are used to getting ahead by promoting their victim status. This means, first, that presenting yourself as a fragile victim may not have the same negative connotations within their circles that it does elsewhere. It might, too, disrupt the normal processes of building adult resilience and so lead to poor mental health outcomes.
Second, a liberal ideology claims that there is no objective right or wrong, but that value is to be found in the free act of choice that individuals make in defining their own good. Therefore, there is a problem for leftists in seeking to formally impose a one view orthodoxy on campus - it violates their own beliefs. Leftists do have a few ways round the problem. They can claim that the opposing views are not in line with the liberal idea of respecting others in defining their own good via qualities such as respect for inclusion, diversity, non-discrimination etc. In other words, they can use the catchphrase "hate speech" in shutting down views they don't like. However, there is also a history of liberals using the issue of health as a "neutral" and "scientific" standard of determining what is permissible. It is possible that this explains the appeal to campus authorities that "x cannot be allowed because it is detrimental to health".
Third, it is possible that some young women and POC don't find campus a congenial environment, i.e. that they are discomfited by an environment not designed around them, and that this really does create some psychological distress for them.
Whatever the case, it is extraordinary to witness university students carry on in this way: to respond hysterically to the presence of one person holding views different to their own.