George Yancey, recalling his own graduate school experience, wrote a very revealing piece about how “unsafe” he felt as a college student. But, as an African American, he didn’t feel unsafe for the reasons filling our news media about today’s college campuses.
Yancey recently revealed that the reason he felt unsafe in college was not because he was an African American, but because he is a Christian.
“I can confidently say that when I was in graduate school, my identity as a Christian was far more under attack than my identity as a black,” he wrote.
“I was repeatedly informed, ” Yancey continued, “that Christians like me were the source of most of the problems in our society, and challenged to leave my Christian identity behind. Like many Christians today, I did not feel safe.”
Yancey, who is now a professor of sociology at the University of North Texas, went to pains to note that as a black man, he is not dismissing the racism that he, himself, has dealt with in his life as a black man, but says that he never felt nearly as much opposition in college for being black as he did being a Christian.
Still, despite the attacks against his deeply held religious beliefs, Yancey insisted that he welcomed the challenges to his faith because, he said, it made him a better Christian.
“At the time it was fairly scary to not feel safe,” Yancey wrote. “But now I am glad that I was not kept safe. As a young Christian in graduate school, I benefited from that lack of safety. Having my ideas and identity as a Christian challenged forced me to rethink some of my previous ideas. Some of those ideas I dropped. Others emerged stronger.”
Yancey said that these challenges made him think more deeply about his faith, and that they strengthened it.
But this, he felt, was exactly the point of college: to have one’s ideas confronted, forcing one to think–and that is something he thinks too many college kids are destroying with their campaigns against free speech.
“Those who are attempting to protect themselves from hostile ideas are missing a fantastic opportunity to grow,” Yancey pointedly wrote. “They have an opportunity to engage in the type of introspection that sharpened and strengthened my ideas. It is scary to confront alternate ideas. I get that. But looking at those ideological confrontations from this side of my growth has made me appreciate them in ways I could not have when I first started graduate school.”
Yancey also said that he wishes professors would stop kowtowing to students and their every wish, but instead use the current supposed anti-free speech climate as a teaching tool–as professors should.
“Instead, professors should be challenging students to sharpen their ideas by confronting opposing viewpoints and thinking through lazy assumptions,” Yancey noted. “Indeed, we do our students a disservice when we fail to do so. Cocooning students away from perspectives they don’t agree with is the last thing we should do if we want them to mature into the charitable citizens needed in a multicultural democracy. We need to generate citizens who can tolerate and dialogue with those with whom they disagree instead of seeking safety for their political and social beliefs.”
Professor George Yancey is the author of several books including So Many Christians, So Few Lions, which looks at Christianophobia in the United States, and Compromising Scholarship, a book systematically documenting political and religious bias in academia.
BCN editor’s note: This article first appeared at Western Journalism.