A spring saunter through a campus as pretty as the University of Kansas is inordinately charming—tulips, apple blossoms, amorous robins—you know, the whole glorious array. The hundreds of tiny white flags fluttering in ragged rows seemed therefore appropriate, even vaguely comforting, like a patriotic memorial or perhaps a wedding in the offing.
The flags, though, weren’t part of a nostalgic swoon or public fête. What they heralded instead was a calculated scare campaign. Written in the sidewalk in chalk was “3,192,” which was said to be “the number of sexual assault survivors on campus.” To emphasize the point, each flag was emblazoned “1 in 4” because, according to the campus Sexual Assault Prevention Education Center, “Annually 1 in 4 college women (cis) is sexually assaulted. Each flag you see represents a KU student-survivor.”
Identity and political power have allied themselves in the modern academy in troubling ways. Exemplifying this is the new “personal pronoun” overture. I recently had to attend a seminar, as a part of my doctoral studies, on “microaggressions and diversity,” and a discussion leader greeted us with: “Hello, my name is Simon, and my personal pronouns are ‘He, Him, His.’”
This strange, preemptive declaration of one’s preferred gender identity is apparently intended to ward off “microaggressions” from potentially confused colleagues.
I was recently invited to speak about ranching to a group of students at Dartmouth, offering them the kind of curve ball Jeffersonian agrarian pitch needed to keep them on their toes. It’s a decidedly left-leaning school (as they all are), so it’s hardly surprising that the talk was, to put it charitably, ‘provocative.’ The students were enthusiastic and well informed, rising ardently to my challenge to their worldview.
Leaving their passions aside, what shocked me most was how deeply entrenched the myth has become for them that government stands in benign counterpoise to private enterprise.