Self-Censorship In The Post-Modern Academy

Each week, I seek out the office hours of a philosophy department professor willing to discuss with me complex ethical questions raised by her course on gender and sexuality. We keep our voices low, as if someone might overhear us.

Hushed voices and anxious looks dictate so many conversations on campus here at the University of Virginia, where I’m finishing up my senior year.

A friend lowers her voice to lament the ostracizing of a student who said something well-meaning but mildly offensive during a student club’s diversity training. Another friend shuts his bedroom door when I mention a lecture defending Thomas Jefferson from contemporary criticism. His roommate might hear us, he explains.

I went to college to learn from my professors and peers. I welcomed an environment that champions intellectual diversity and rigorous disagreement. Instead, my college experience has been defined by strict ideological conformity. Students of all political persuasions hold back — in class discussions, in friendly conversations, on social media — from saying what we really think. Even as a liberal who has attended abortion rights demonstrations and written about standing up to racism, I sometimes feel afraid to fully speak my mind.

In the classroom, backlash for unpopular opinions is so commonplace that many students have stopped voicing them, sometimes fearing lower grades if they don’t censor themselves. According to a 2021 survey administered by College Pulse of over 37,000 students at 159 colleges, 80 percent of students self-censor at least some of the time. Forty-eight percent of undergraduate students described themselves as “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” with expressing their views on a controversial topic in the classroom. At U.Va., 57 percent of those surveyed feel that way. Read more»

Emma Camp | “ I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead” | March 7, 2022


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  1. I’m not a seminary student, a learner in reformed theology. I didn’t quite understand the reason for this article. Are you the person meeting with her or the liberal in the article or just providing this article for informative purposes? I honestly don’t want to waste time deciphering. Anyone can read this on New York Times site paying for a subscription. I’m interested in Reformed Theology.

    • JJ,

      Look at the bottom of the quotation. I gave the author’s name and the title of the original article. I’m sorry for your frustration. Sometimes NYT articles appear on Yahoo News for free. It was available the other day when I first saw it.

      Emma is an undergraduate at the University of VA. She’s telling her story about self-censorship, what critical theory has done to the University, which is supposed to be a place of open enquiry.

    • Dr. Clark, I don’t want to put words into JJ’s mouth (or keyboard, in this case), but I think there are people in the 2K world who at least give the impression that Christians should care only about confessionally Reformed theology, not about “cultural” issues like the collapse of the academy.

      I haven’t gotten the impression that’s what you believe — if I understand you correctly, you posit a common grace or natural law moral basis for numerous areas of social concern. Also, I may well be misunderstanding JJ’s concern.

      However, I do think it’s important for 2K leaders to be clear that they don’t believe what some 2K followers believe. The discussion in a different thread on a Christian response to what’s happening in Ukraine is another example.

      I’m not a theonomist and I’m well aware that not every secular or cultural problem has a biblical answer. Even when there is a biblical answer on basic principles, applying those principles in detail is often a matter of practical prudence and less of permanent principles. Still, understanding Reformed theology, at least at an advanced level, depends upon having laymen who have a basic academic foundation. Much of modern education is destroying the foundations upon which the Reformation and post-Reformation churches were able to rely in training their ministers, and at a later era, in training their laymen not only to be able to read their Bibles but also to understand core principles of logic and grammar which are necessary to understand the Bible in a systematic sense.

      I think I understand why you address “secular” or “cultural” subjects such as self-censorship in the modern academy. You are not only a theologian; you are a professor in an accredited graduate school and have professional credentials in the academic sphere which go beyond your ordained credentials in the ecclesiastical sphere. You have legitimate professional competence in the academic world.

      But at least as an outsider, it appears to me there are people in the 2K world who believe that Reformed Christians shouldn’t have any opinions on matters outside the narrow sphere of the church, or who think the Gospel has no application or implications about life outside the church.

      • I definitely agree
        “training their laymen not only to be able to read their Bibles but also to understand core principles of logic and grammar which are necessary to understand the Bible in a systematic sense.”
        and I don’t espouse
        “Reformed Christians shouldn’t have any opinions on matters outside the narrow sphere of the church, or who think the Gospel has no application or implications about life outside the church.”

        I visit websites within reason to learn what is happening in the Church and world. I understand Elders ‘watch’ and for years my ministry has been to intercede and spiritual warfare follows in varied degrees. The correlation of what happens in the unseen realm affecting what’s visible in the seen realm is time better invested. Information from the world serves a purpose in this. God’s word and the Holy Spirit’s guidance doesn’t need it though. Understanding the visceral feelings of culture is hopeless for them and demonic principalities and powers are more than happy to satisfy all the time Christians want to spend on curiosity. Over the years I have learned and experienced Satan’s strategy is to distract from ministry. God has more to teach me and can’t wait.

        Information about the world we live in serves a purpose for practical and spiritual reasons. I apologize for giving the impression it doesn’t matter.

  2. Eye-opening. This is so pervasive that I would be unable to send my child to a college or university, in good conscience. It would seem the options are limited. I am only aware of Hillsdale and City College. I would assume that there are some smaller Christian colleges that remain acceptable. Dr Clark, is there a list or guide for colleges that have not been consumed by cultural Marxism and cancel culture?

  3. Thank you. I scanned through the article quickly and noticed a couple things from that which I accessed. She states herself she’s liberal and don’t know her heart. Self-censorship is an interesting term forming her outlook on self-expression and culture. To me the impact of critical theory, which will probably always be there on campus, is a side story compared to what’s hurting. I notice the authority of feminism has taken root. God is powerful to break a resistant spirit; I pray sooner than later. .

  4. Self-censorship is occurring in other places besides the academy. After reading this article, I came across an interesting article about an online group of 20,000 physicians that were interested in discussing with each other the best ways to treat COVID-19. A physician shares how it rapidly became self-censoring in the same manner as the academy. I am not smart enough to understand all the causes but I cannot help but wonder if it is a consequence of what Dr Clark recently referred to as “liquid modernity.” If there is no belief in objective truth and therefore no desire to seek it, perhaps the only acceptable position is the latest dogma affirmed by the majority, and social standing rests on conformity. This certainly does not bode well for Christian ethics in the public forum.

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