College Students Have Forgotten How to Fight the System

Fredrik deBoer

I can’t say that I was surprised when I heard that the latest chapter of our perpetual conversation about campus politics was playing out at Wesleyan University. Having spent my childhood there, I knew enough to know that such a controversy was always a possibility. But I must admit disappointment when I heard the particular contours of this latest story. Activists at Wesleyan have pushed the university to defund the Argus, the school’s main newspaper, in response to a commentary that questioned the tactics of the Black Lives Matter movement. The piece in question suggested that the BLM movement was responsible for cop killings, and questioned whether its tactics were actually effective in creating change. Campus activists, in turn, started a petition to defund the paper, which was signed by some 170 students—not a large number, even on a campus of 2,900 undergraduates, but still concerning. I am not disappointed that students have reacted, forcefully, in this way. I am disappointed in how they have reacted, and how much campus life have changed there since my childhood—a change the reflects a broader evolution of college politics that troubles so many.

Even those who agree entirely with the presumed politics of campus activists should be concerned.

The 1990s were a heady time to grow up at Wes, as I did as the son of a professor of theater. The campus was, then as now, known as a haven for proud weirdos, artists, and free thinkers of every stripe. Indeed, from my vantage, the campus was likely even crazier then than it is today. (A perpetual Wesleyan student complaint is that the administration is trying to de-weird the university, a claim that has perhaps been more accurate recently than it traditionally has been.) The campus in those days, like today, was bustling with activists ready to protest at a moment’s notice And yet there were some key differences then as compared to now, and they are not entirely healthy. Even those who agree entirely with the presumed politics of campus activists should be concerned.