• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.


Three Cheers for Student Protests

We shouldn't complain when students exercise the freedoms we claim to value.

November 8, 2015

Regarding the recent student protests at Missouri and Yale and other campuses around the country, I say…Yay!

I say “yay,” because to my mind, one of the most important parts of the college experience is for young people to make use of their human agency and exercise these freedoms in ways consistent with their own values.

This is the American Way, and I believe in it.

Disagree with their causes all you want (I don’t), but anyone who cares about the work of education should be excited by what’s happening. People from all political stripes complain about politicians and leaders failing to live up to their principles, and here are groups of citizens attempting to hold the more powerful to account for exactly that. Maybe it's a little messy. So what?

If we believe in the American Way, we should not be afraid of people living according to it.

Perhaps the most delicious part of this whole thing is watching putative liberals, who think students are being “coddled,” clutch their pearls over alleged affronts to truth and justice. Don’t these students understand that Yale house masters are the “good guys,” that they have only the best intentions?

Who, exactly, has spent too long being coddled, minority students at Yale, or Jonathan Chait (and his ilk)? Which group really gets to exist in a sinecure protected by political correctness?

(I say this not because I make common cause with conservative criticisms of liberalism but because I seek to challenge at least some of the hypocrisies of my own side. I’ll trade some of Rush Limbaugh’s scorn for the chance to pop the bubble of our own corrosive paternalism. Claim the inmates are running the asylum all you want, but recognize you’re admitting that you’re presiding over an asylum.)

I see a lot of young people – particularly young people in historically marginalized groups - taking risks for their principles. What more can we ask?


If you are threatened by these student movements, you are too fragile, and what you likely fear losing is power, influence, and attention. Maybe you (we) don't deserve these things.

People under 25 should have as much say about the direction of our country as those over 45, shouldn’t they? Isn’t this doubly true given the steaming crap sandwich we’re in the process of handing the next generation?

I’m surprised students have waited as long as they have.

The comfort of the already comfortable should never be a priority of protest, and if that makes us squirm (I’m doing a little myself), so be it. If we’re forced to listen to things we’d rather not hear, such is the price of freedom.

If the edifice of your university is so fragile that it can be crumbled by a strike by the football team, you have even bigger issues than you figured, the chief one being that your football team has leverage over your academic institution.

Kudos to the players at the University of Missouri for figuring this out, and kudos to their coach for supporting their choice.

Choice. Choice. Choice.

There is no greater lesson from education than to know we have choices and when I see students exercising this right, I get excited.

So I say, “Yay!” and ask, what are people so afraid of?




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