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The Scarlet & Black

The Damage Caused by Mob Mentality on Campus



As students, we are here to develop broad intellectual capabilities rather than simply learn facts or internalize ideas. This implies that the greatest value of this education is more than just a well-rounded class schedule it is a certain form of thinking. Most Grinnell students likely already know this, or at least we do at the surface level. Someone has told us at some point about the value of open debate, the value of hearing each other out, the utility of diversity in an educational setting, and the need to understand things from different perspectives.

These ideas are not just empty concepts or corporate slogans; they are critical to an applicable education that goes beyond our four years at Grinnell College. Done right, these methods of education equip every student for leadership to effect change after our four years of college. Unfortunately, it is apparent that we, as students, are not doing an adequate job of facilitating this type of education that goes beyond the classroom. The atmosphere on campus all too often creates a mob mentality which is highly damaging to our education and the goals of this institution.

This mentality can be seen around the campus, within the student body, and between students and the administration. When students choose to speak out, by either writing a Letter to the Editor in The S&B or posting online, they become the target of an aggressive group reaction that has little academic respect for the author’s argument. In numerous private conversations, friends, classmates and acquaintances of mine even those who hold opinions that are mainstream on this campus have expressed concern of speaking about sensitive subjects with peers and professors. This apprehension often originates from a concern of being ostracized, but it also can arise from a simple desire to avoid the emotion and drama which surround sensitive topics.

We must realize that the creation of this atmosphere where controversial subjects must be discussed in private is a form of censorship. We must also realize that it is highly counterproductive to our education. This atmosphere damages every student on this campus. It prevents the direct and intellectually rigorous discussion of important issues, be they relevant to the world or simply this campus. It is therefore the responsibility of every student to, when challenging others’ ideas, do so with nuanced arguments rather than the rhetoric of your group.

This attitude damages the operation of our college on more than just the classroom level. The tendency of this student body to react with hostility by default to the actions of the administration is counterproductive. When we retaliate against the perceived injustice of the administration without any thought or doubt as to their motivation, we invite a proportional response instead of productive interaction. This causes the administration to adopt a riot control mentality: no action will appease the mob, and so they must turn away from negotiation and towards PR and damage control. The goal shifts from solving a problem to containing an incident. Specific bad decisions by the administration deserve specific critiques in response, not a general ideologically-driven lambasting of the entire institution.

We as students must recognize the responsibility we have to our education and the educational environment in which we learn. The College already seeks an incredible amount of student input on many of its important functions. The administration is not a villain to fight, but rather a complex entity with which to work. They are a fundamental component of our college, just like us. We must work with them and all the other students around us to maintain this world-class institution which we find ourselves fortunate enough to attend.

If we cannot make change on the level of this institution, what hope do we have to be a driving force for good on a national or global level? The anxiety which surrounds the most sensitive subjects on campus should not prevent us from discussing them. We all need to take a step back from the ideology which drives us and demand specific and well-reasoned arguments – both from ourselves as well as our peers – and reject the mob mentality which so often pervades our forums of discussion.

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  • M

    Michael KahnMar 20, 2019 at 10:42 am

    Very well said will. Thank you for speaking up.

    Michael Kahn ’74

  • D

    Dave BuckMar 15, 2019 at 9:43 pm

    Great letter. Will
    Dave Buck ’81