February 27, 2008
An alma mater 'offended' by the curve
Posted by: Chris
Since I took some potshots at my college alma mater last week for perpetually trailing the curve of societal progress ("An alma mater behind the curve"), I feel obliged to highlight how so many at my law school alma mater are too busy being "offended" to meaningfully contribute toward that change.
The impetus comes from a story about Heather Corliss, a hapless instructor from Boston Children's Hospital who gave a lecture at the Harvard School of Public Health about violence against GLBT youth:
Harvard University students objected to a guest speaker's use of the term "minority" and an apparent lack of concern shown for transgender people during a presentation about the discrimination against homosexual youth yesterday. … Some said calling gay, lesbian and bisexual youth a "minority" is wrong because of the stigma attached to the term.
Corliss said she did not intend for the word to encourage discrimination, and said she did not include statistics for transgender youth in her presentation because those available were not as thorough as those for gay, lesbians and bisexual youth.
It's depressing to see how 17 years after I graduated, the P.C. police in "Moscow on the Charles" are every bit as myopic as they were in the late '80s. I still remember my first night in the law school dorms, at a mixer down a long hallway from my room. I went to the bathroom nearby, not realizing that this half of the hallway was for the other gender. Fortunately, I realized my error and skulked out of the restroom before causing a problem.
"I had no idea that was a girls' bathroom," I said to a few others once I returned to the mixer in the lounge. "Hisssssss!" came the reply from a female student nearby. "No, I'm sorry," I said to her. "I really didn't realize that bathroom was for girls." "Hisssssss!" she said again. "We're women; not girls!"
And so it was for the next three years, and I found myself growing more conservative by the month in response -- the exact opposite impact of my four years on a conservative college campus. As editor of the Harvard Law Record, the student newspaper, I even became something of a lightning rod for P.C. indignation.
The straw that broke the camel's back was an editorial I wrote criticizing the Black Law Student Association -- the third rail for a white student. A big Chicago law firm had been in the news for an outrageous job interview given by a senior white partner to a black female law student. His sick idea of a stress test was to ask her questions like, "Why don't black people go to their own country clubs the way Jews do?"
Months later, representatives from that same firm were scheduled to attend a workplace diversity seminar at Harvard, but the BLSA went ballistic and succeeded at getting them disinvited. My editorial condemned the partner's conduct but also questioned BLSA's response. Wasn't this firm -- more than any other -- in dire need of a diversity seminar?
In response, the BLSA president wrote an angry letter he distributed in the mailbox of every law student. "I look forward to graduating soon," he wrote, "so I will longer have to deal with ignorant white men like Chris Crain." I have to wonder whether he found the real world more or less challenging than the Harvard cocoon. I also have to wonder what Barack Obama thought of all this silliness, since he was a member of the BLSA at the time. I have little doubt that engaging that Chicago firm made more sense to him than the defiant and pointless boycott. (Donnie McClurkin, anyone?)
Perhaps Obama's attempt to transcend identity politics will also rub off on our alma mater, and the good GLBT folks there can get over themselves about being called a "minority."
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