The Closing of the American Mind: Mary Baldwin Edition

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.

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13 responses to “The Closing of the American Mind: Mary Baldwin Edition”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    The Echo Boomers are leaving the ranks of college age students. A comeuppance is coming for higher education. Mark my words … in a few years the halcyon days of 2000 – 2019 will be gone with ECHO Boomers. And then … oh, the snowflakes and buttercups who run our institutions of higher education will be fit to be tied.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      This story of Mary Baldwin University, when combined with the apparent nervous breakdown of the entire Department of English at the University of Virginia, both institutions together representing the top and the bottom tiers of education in Virginia, this story of these two institutions is in its own way just as big a story as the Amazon deal, and I cannot imagine a bigger and more game changing deal for Virginia than the Amazon deal. These two stories are in fact mirror images one of the other, reflecting therein Virginia’s future. And, America’s as well.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Earlier here, just above, I misspoke, saying:
        “These two stories are in fact mirror images one of the other, reflecting therein Virginia’s future. And, America’s as well.”

        What I should have said instead is: These two stories are in fact the opposite sides of the very same coin, reflecting therein Virginia’s two futures. And, America’s as well.”

  2. J. Abbate Avatar

    Might I suggest that wealthy, successful white American males may be the least able to comprehend the “emotional fragility” that may be the consequence of one’s forebears treatment at the hands of those who kidnapped their ancestors from their native lands, forced their labor by whip, rope, rape and torture, and maintained (and still maintain to some degree today) an inherent sense of racial bias, while confessing a cluelessness at the idea that such racism may still exist today.

    A piece of artwork showing photoshots of a statue celebrating a leader of an army defending slavery and the right to keep slaves is viewed differently depending on what side of the slavery issue your family may stand, both historically and today. The fact that many may have little to no empathy for why some may not be able to tolerate such “art” is a demonstration of the very problem we face as a nation today. I do think that as a citizens of a state that was part of the slave South and central to the Civil War, we can work to find the appropriate way to provide a factual history of the South and Civil War without seeming to promote the icons celebrating the Confederacy and all it stood for. What those photos and statues represent depends on one’s knowledge of the time, culture, experience, and familial history

    I have found that meeting and hearing the stories of many of the African American descendants of freed slaves that are current residents in the Union Hill community in Buckingham, VA to be quite informative and inspiring for my own lack of understanding of their treatment in the region and eye opening as to their current predicament in struggling for environmental justice.

    I suggest that through dialogue, such as we have here in Bacon’s Rebellion, we may confront and open up to diverse viewpoints on economics, energy, corporations, capitalism and even to our historical past of racial and cultural injustice and work toward the support of our democratic ideals. I believe there is an appropriate way to view the Confederacy and the history, both good and bad, of the American South. But it is not wrong to expect that view to be framed in a compassionate and understanding manner to consider all that may be impacted from that view.

    1. Hi, Jeeva, I appreciate your participating in the dialogue on this blog. Your voice is truly welcome.

      That said, it strikes me that if African-Americans were as emotionally fragile as some of today’s college youth (whom I do not believe are remotely representative of African-Americans in general), there never would have been a Civil Rights movement. The snowflakes would have spent their lives cowering in a corner. Emotional fragility is not a recipe for success in any society, and certainly not the United States; it only weakens people and perpetuates victimhood.

  3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    The UVA Department of English seem to agree with Mr. Abatte. When writing ” About Us” here’s how the Department describes itself:

    “About Us

    The English Department teaches texts that reflect and permit study of a wide range of voices. In order to do what we do well, we must be a place in which all students—the student who feels endangered because of threats based on gender, sexuality, race, religion, immigration status, body type; the student who has felt unwelcome because of unpopular political views; the student who is feeling isolated; the student who believes in the enabling properties of literature and language, the student who fears power that has been associated with literature and language, the student who is unsure what literature and language mean in a time like ours—feel welcome. All such students, indeed all UVa students, are welcome in our department and in our classrooms.”

    1. I wonder if people with “unpopular political views” — as in favoring Trump — actually would feel welcome in the English Department.

    2. J. Abbate Avatar

      James, I wouldn’t characterize the college student’s stand against the “artwork” so much as “cowering” as actively standing against what that artwork symbolized for their history and culture. Their activism resulted in the artwork being removed, so their work to that end was effective. We may debate what is art and what that particular artwork represents, but we have to agree that the students were effective and passionate. Framing the presentation of that artwork in an event providing a meaningful discussion with the student groups may have opened the door to more fruitful dialogue. I’m in favor of more open dialogue on difficult issues like this, but inclusion and outreach on such issues can be tricky.

  4. The captions I can read in the censored artwork in the picture say “Love Trumps Hate”, “No Monuments to Cultural Genocide”, and “Listen”.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    I thought Mr. Abbate very effectively made some significant points – to include the fact that today’s College Students are actually fairly passionate and assertive about this particular issue.

    And I appreciate his voice here on BR. Welcome and please continue!

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    I don’t know if folks saw this but it’s a fairly detailed discussion of the:

    United Daughters of the Confederacy

    from Encyclopedia Virginia:

  7. Andrew Roesell Avatar
    Andrew Roesell

    Dear Larry,

    What point are you trying to make about the UDC article in the Encyclopedia of Virginia?



  8. Inthemiddle Avatar

    Sorry, Mr. Abbate, but I’m all in with Jim on this issue.

    As a registered Democrat, it’s disheartening for me how quickly the left has adopted Herbert Marcuse’s ancient call to end free speech and to deny any platform to those who disagree with us.

    We used to be the proponents of everyone’s right to express an opinion, however much we might disagree with it. When did we give that up?

    Unfortunately, we are left with lots of empty passion and no ability to discuss our differences. As I’ve mentioned before, we seem to be living in the Network Age, where everyone is mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.

    One of the reasons I enjoy this blog is the opportunity it provides to share disparate views. One might hope our institutions of ‘higher’ learning would want to provide the same opportunity.

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