I have lost all respect for Mary Baldwin University. The Staunton-based liberal arts institution is training its students to be emotionally fragile, intellectually incurious and totally unprepared for dealing with the world outside of their little higher-ed bubble.
Three years ago, the university scheduled a project in its Hunt gallery entitled, “Relevant/Scrap.” The art exhibit, which opened Nov. 7, included silhouetted depictions of Richmond’s Confederate statues. The artists’ intention, as explained in a Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial today, was to “use art-making processes to create an aesthetic experience of the problematic challenge of re-imagining the spaces where the monuments to the Confederacy currently reside in Richmond.”
An Instagram account titled “Y’all racist at Mary Baldwin” was launched to call attention to the exhibit, and students took their concerns to a weekly meeting of the Student Senate on November 6, reports WHSV. The following day, the exhibit had been removed. Although the artists said they had been misinterpreted, they acceded to the removal.
In a statement explaining the decision, the university said:
“In accordance with our values as an inclusive, student-centered campus community, we take seriously the concerns about an art exhibition by two Richmond-based artists installed earlier this week… As a result of student concerns and discussions with the artists, the installation has been removed as of last night.
Not only did the university remove the exhibit, it committed to holding a series of “listening sessions” giving students “an opportunity to share their feelings in response to the exhibit and their hopes for inclusive community.”
In its editorial today, the Times-Dispatch wrote, “We’d argue that they should instead hold ‘learning sessions’ and use the moment to teach students that free speech isn’t always pretty or comfortable, but it is one of the main pillars of our society and it’s the thing — singular — that makes the United States the most open, accepting nation in the history of the world. … Suppressing speech is the prelude to ignorance, and ignorance, willful or not, is the prelude to the decline of our great society.”
I agree whole-heartedly with that sentiment, but I would say more. First, the cancellation of the exhibit was an act of craven cowardice. University administrators are so terrified of anyone branding them “racist” that they’re willing to abandon all other values. Just pathetic.
What is racist about showing silhouetted images of the Confederate statues in an exhibit about the debate about… Confederate statues? Exposure to a mere image has become an emotionally triggering event, regardless of the context in which that image is shown?
If the images in the aborted exhibit are racist, then the term “racist” has absolutely no meaning and is simply used as a cudgel to bludgeon the weak-minded into submission. At some point the term will be so overused, misused and discredited that it will cease to have any effect.
But more importantly is the effect of the Mary Baldwin capitulation has on the students themselves. The action reinforces their emotional fragility. But emotional fragility is not a trait that will be rewarded in the real world. The action reinforces intolerance of other views. But intolerance of other views is not a recipe for success in the workplace (except in partisan party politics, and perhaps at Google).
I seek out different views. I make it a practice, for example, to tune into “Morning Joe” on MSNBC every morning even thought I find many of the views expressed there to be not only wrong-headed but highly offensive. I do so for a multiple reasons. First, I want to know what liberals and progressives are thinking and saying. Second, want to hear facts and arguments that are neglected by conservative media outlets — I want to avoid having blind spots. Third, every once in blue moon, I hear something that gives me pause and makes me think, wow, they might have a point there.
How ironic it is that an academic institution, presumably dedicated to expanding intellectual horizons and teaching young minds to think critically and analytically, would shut out objectionable symbols and viewpoints while elevating “feelings” over intellect. Sheltering students from the real world — what an educational value proposition!
I can’t imagine why any parents would want that kind of education for their child. But apparently, there’s a market for that kind of education. Mary Baldwin’s freshman enrollment of 400 this year set a record for the institution. I wonder if parents have a clue what’s happening.