Here’s a “lifeboat” exercise for students at an Ohio middle school. The scenario is that Earth is doomed–a spaceship is escaping, but there is only room for 8 passengers out of the original 12 who were selected. Students were required to choose who should go and who should stay, based on such descriptive criteria as:
–“an accountant with a substance abuse problem”
–“a militant Afro-American medical student”
–“a female movie star who was recently the victim of a sexual assault”
–“an Asian, orphaned 12-year-old boy”
Note that these descriptions are mainly about demographics categories and sexual preferences/behavior/experiences, and about attitudes toward these things. There’s a little about occupations, not much about skills, and very little indeed about personality and behavior. We are a long way here from Martin Luther King’s dictum about judging people by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin.
The above may be a particularly egregious example, but this kind of thinking has become quite common in American universities. Administrators, along with substantial parts of the faculties and now also the student populations, tend to view people through exactly this kind of lenses. I’m reminded of the University of Delaware indoctrinator who became rather disturbed when one of his indoctrinees responsed to the question “When were you first made aware of your race?” with “That is irrelevant to everything. My race is human being” and “When did you discover your sexual identity?” with “That is none of your damn business”…and, most significantly, responded to “When was a time you felt oppressed? Who was oppressing you? How did you feel? with this:
“I am oppressed everyday on basis of my undying and devout feelings for the opera”
…which elegantly makes the point that people are more than the sum of their demographic categories, and that the things that result in their “oppression” or “privileging” are often things other than those categories. I greatly admire this young woman’s courage.
This sort of thing may have started in odd corners of American universities, but has now become one of the defining characteristics of those universities, and has substantially spilled out with toxic effects for the entire society.