The Sheltering Campus: Why College Is Not Home

Feb 6, 2016

Photo credit: Ivanastar/iStock

By A. Douglas Stone and Mary Schwab-Stone

Erika Christakis used to teach a course at Yale titled “The Concept of the Problem Child,” a discussion of child development and socialization in a historical and modern context. The course was a seminar of 20 participants, and it was popular; she had planned extra sessions this semester to accommodate the hundreds of interested students.

Then came the notorious email — subject: “Dressing Yourselves” — that she sent to students in the residence hall where she and her husband serve as masters. In it, she criticized a detailed memo from administrators advising sensitivity in choice of Halloween costumes and activities. The essential point in the email: The university’s memo infantilized the students. The term, in developmental psychology, refers to a parenting approach that uses a level of assistance and control more appropriate for much younger children; ultimately, such behavior can hinder capacities to develop independence and resilience.

Despite Ms. Christakis’s nuanced argument, an open letter denounced her views as degrading to marginalized people and garnered nearly a thousand signatures, and a video of students confronting and verbally assaulting her husband went viral.

We helped organize an open letter of our own, defending Ms. Christakis’s contribution to campus discourse; it was signed by 88 current or retired Yale faculty members. But as a result of the harsh reaction she experienced, she announced in December that she would no longer teach at Yale, eliminating an important educational option for undergraduates.

While this dramatic incident raised concerns about free speech and civil debate on campus, it is also worth analyzing it from a developmental perspective. After all, universities are the settings for the transition to adulthood for a large segment of American youth.


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9 comments on “The Sheltering Campus: Why College Is Not Home

  • “It is your job to create a place of comfort and home.”

    Where do they get such ideas?

    Perhaps if college course work was ramped up a bit then today’s college student would realize they are not at home and calculus II can be very uncomfortable!



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  • 2
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Despite Ms. Christakis’s nuanced argument, an open letter denounced her views as degrading to marginalized people and garnered nearly a thousand signatures, and a video of students confronting and verbally assaulting her husband went viral.

    I saw that video and found it extremely frustrating to watch. This young woman, no wait… this child was giving a ton of shit to that man who just stood there and took it silently.

    But as a result of the harsh reaction she experienced, she announced in December that she would no longer teach at Yale, eliminating an important educational option for undergraduates.

    This is the worst possible outcome. Not only does it send the wrong message to these “social justice warriors” or “martyrs without a cause” as Bill Maher calls them but it also causes a major prejudice to the students who are deprived of the incalculable benefits of leaning from a highly competent teacher.

    The students and student associations on the campuses of America need to wake up and smell the coffee. Colleges are NOT meant to be “places of comfort”. This is not your parent’s home. Grow up and grow a pair for Pete’s sake.



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  • OP: While [while?] this dramatic incident raised concerns about free speech and civil debate on campus, it is also worth analyzing it from a developmental perspective.

    In what way is free speech connected to individuals’ development? Oh of course, this is a newspaper, no evidence required.

    OP: … universities are the settings for the transition to adulthood for a large segment of American youth.

    This is probably true if the Writer is speaking of a junior college, or of a first year student at a US university – a few may be as young as 17. But it is not true of most. This description fails to recognise that maturity is a scale and that the vast majority of university students are mature enough to pass as adults by the time they’re 18.

    OP: The college years … have evolved into an extended period of adolescence during which many of today’s students are not saddled with adult responsibilities.

    Is this person real? It seems as if the NYT Journo-Robot needs a tune-up. Or maybe the NYT ordered the model with the extra Parental Memory Distortion Field? When we were 18 most of us were adult enough to realize that opportunities to act the fool and get away with it were vanishing very quickly – and lived life accordingly. We also learned the fine art of minimal-responsibility-into-action (including even the most basic human activities like personal hygiene, diet and exercise) and developed ‘not my problem’ fields powerful enough to be classified as comic book superpowers.

    OP: For previous generations, college was a decisive break from parental supervision …

    This is still true for a minority, but I feel I must stress an insignificantly tiny minority.

    I speak as a Father who’s Daughter is, right now, at Uni. For obvious reasons many of my friends have children who are also at a college or university. Most people who go to university are intelligent and this tends to accelerate their understanding of, and reflection on, mature acceptance of actions and consequences – particularly putting themselves in another’s place. Even if this were not true, university itself comes complete with an atmosphere of social and intellectual exploration.

    OP: In the past two decades …

    Oh dear, Robo-Journo is overheating and now only recognises generations immemorial life change as social change in their lifetime.

    OP: … however, continued family contact and dependence, thanks to cellphones, email and social media, has increased significantly …

    I laughed so hard I nearly threw up. Will someone please tell my Daughter that other students call and text and email and tweet and FaceTime, and Facebook-message their parents more often than I used to write and telephone. THIS IS FANTASY!!!

    OP: … some parents go so far as to help with coursework.

    Some parents don’t want their kids to succeed at Uni? Oh I get it, US universities haven’t revised their courses for the last 20-30 years. Yeah …

    OP: At the same time, the rise in protective committees and procedures … Instead of promoting the idea of college as a transition from the shelter of the family …

    Wait, what?

    Unis. are treating students like kids, which they don’t like (duh!), and Unis. are not treating students like kids because they don’t offer shelter like family? Hey! NYT, your Robot blew a fuse!

    OP: … universities like Yale have given in to the implicit notion that they should provide the equivalent of the home environment.

    But… you just said … ! [bangs head heavily against wall] … no … it’s not a nightmare it must be real, because it continues …

    Surgeon General Health Warning: Reading newspapers has a direct negative effect on your mental wellbeing. Just say no.

    OP: While we should provide “safe spaces” within colleges for marginalized groups …

    This is a very loose phrase. Why the scare quotes? What is a safe place – a place where my thoughts can’t be interrupted, corrected or reinterpreted? If so, then you need to get your ducks in row NYT Robot because there is no gray area between safe places for thoughts and censorship supporting propaganda.

    OP: … we must also make it safe for all community members to express opinions …

    Why can’t you just say: All must have free speech? What’s so hard about that?

    OP: … we must also make it safe for all community members to … challenge majority views.

    Why not minority views? How numerous are ISIL supporters? They’re in a minority you say. Their ideas must not be challenged then?

    OP: Intellectual growth and flexibility are fostered by rigorous debate and questioning.

    True, but your prescription is for anything but.

    Hey NYT, you can switch the Robot off now. I hope it’s under warranty, it just spouts trash.

    Peace.



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  • Stephen of Wimbledon 197197

    OP: Intellectual growth and flexibility are fostered by rigorous debate and questioning.

    True, but your prescription is for anything but.

    I may be tired and not understanding, but are you reading this piece entirely wrongly, Stephen? It is entirely arguing against the infantilising of students



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  • Hi Phil,

    I don’t know.

    To be honest I found the whole piece very annoying because it managed to be wishy-washy, fact-free, sometimes plain wrong and opinionated all at the same time.

    Plain wrong example:

    Adolescence is a charged time, with rapid hormonal changes coinciding with moral development and emotional energy in need of an outlet.

    Here is a good summary of the facts on this common error.

    Another, fact free, example:

    What is lacking in today’s understanding is the conflict between adolescents’ desire for autonomy and their perception of an unsafe world.

    Is that true – do a significant number of adolescents see the World as unsafe? It’s not my perception as someone who is forced by his social circle to commune with same on a regular basis (and very enjoyable it is too).

    Based on what seems to me to be a specious assumption we then get:

    Hence the desire for their dorms to be surrogate homes …

    This I know to be false. Like me at their age all the adolescents I know are keen to break away from home and re-invent. Typically their ambitions are very limited: reinvent Their World, not The World. But that aside the idea that young adults want to move away from home … in order to rebuild home … is nonsense on a roadside hoarding.

    Hence the desire to … [not] experience intellectual growth

    I can understand that the authors, as academics, have reservations about their students’ motivations – cynicism is alive and well – but this is a conclusion too far. Again, my experience both from my own generation and the current crop of students speaks simply of the next generation taking their turn to discover what it is possible to change (internally and externally) – with all the arrogance and confidence that youth bestows (sigh).

    The NYT piece concludes:

    The encroachment of behavioral guidelines into the social and even intellectual spheres comes at a cost. Every college discussion about community values, social climate and behavior should also include recognition of the developmental importance of student autonomy and self-regulation, of the necessary tension between safety and self-discovery.

    At face value that’s true. It makes me wonder where the authors were when political correctness began to take hold in tertiary education. It also just doesn’t seem to be connected to the foregoing wall-of-text and, if it is, it is the right conclusion arrived at by a route likely to undermine the authors’ desired outcome. At least, the desired outcome if you’re right Phil. The meat and potatoes of this piece left me with the impression that the conclusion is the authors bemoaning a change in social attitudes rather than a substantive critique of recent incursions on free expression. As I say; wishy-washy.

    Peace.



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  • Hi Phil,

    I see what you mean. Perhaps I was being a bit harsh.

    On the other hand; if we go around calling spades ‘soil-heap-creation-implements’ are we assisting other people with their understanding of the job to be done?

    If, in the process, we also wax lyrical about how men in bowler hats used to come and tell us what shape a hole in the ground should be, is that focussing the minds of our pseudo-academic-freedom fighters?

    If we preface our presentation on the basis of provably false premises are we helping our pusillanimous para-politicians to parley with perspicacity?

    Sometimes it makes more sense to just stick your head above the parapet and shout. One doesn’t have to be insulting or in-your-face – there are alternatives to: “Your Mother was a hamster, and your Father smelt of elderberries”.

    Give me plain speaking and facts please.

    I’m going to give up now, to go and make a stew.

    Peace.



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