Elegy for Wesleyan

, Mytheos Holt, Leave a comment

Commentary: At the National Tea Party Convention, Andrew Breitbart made an interesting series of remarks about where the persistent liberal victimhood memes come from:

“Bad, racist, homophobic—all those buzzwords that they learned in their freshman orientation class at Wesleyan—are used as weapons to try to destroy you and intimidate you to not speak up.”

Well, funny story. I actually went to Wesleyan, and even though it was three years ago, my freshman orientation will probably remain seared into my cranium for the rest of my life. Not to mention, this year I actually participated in one of the programs as a speaker (the “token conservative,” obviously), so I think I am in a position to say that, with respect to Wesleyan’s orientation program, Mr. Breitbart was, uncharacteristically, wrong. Wesleyan’s freshman orientation program is not at all a program designed to teach students to throw the words “Racist” and “Homophobic” around like candy.

It’s so, so much worse than that.

Which is why, even though school loyalty exercises a powerful hold on any person, I feel a powerful obligation to let readers know just how far gone the Leftmost fever swamp of the Northeastern liberal arts institution that is Wesleyan University actually is. However, I do want to quickly note that, while the orientation program is a nightmare, this is the only institutional element which actively attacks conservative discourse, as most faculty members are surprisingly open-minded. Even so, they may as well not be, because after this orientation, I assure you, anyone who isn’t already armed with the ability to think critically will have swung at least ten miles to the Left.

Not that you could tell looking at this past year’s orientation website, which lists only a few entirely optional vaguely PC sounding events. What is left out of this bare bones schedule is the real meat of the orientation—namely, the student-run events. While a few of these are fairly innocuous (for instance, the part I participated in is nothing but a time when older students get to recall interesting/amusing/difficult elements of their lives, albeit in often scandalously uncensored detail), the vast majority are kept purposely opaque in their purpose for a reason—if most parents knew what was going on, they’d force their kid to transfer preemptively. Moreover, unlike the routine bits of condescension which pass for acceptance listed on the website (such as the “Queer Reception”), which are entirely optional, these student-run workshops on Wesleyan-specific issues are, by and large, mandatory.

And what are they? Well, let’s start with Unspeakable Acts, ostensibly a performance piece designed to inform students about the dangers of rape and sexual harassment. On paper, this sounds like a really noble and crucial element. In practice, it’s a radical feminist nightmare, as students are, with one highly embarrassing exception, treated to a list of masculinity-vilifying, hysterical monologues (which, it is stated at the outset, are not based on real experiences), as well as some truly bizarre performance pieces. One of these in particular is a trial scene wherein a victim of theft is accused of “asking” to be robbed because he was wearing a suit and spending money, in what is apparently supposed to be a (stunningly bad) analogy for how rape victims are treated by defense attorneys. One only wishes that a similarly exacting process of questioning was enacted against Crystal Gail Mangum. But what makes this presentation dangerous rather than just bizarre is that it stops just short of actually lying about the legal definition of sex crimes, instead implying that any unwanted advances can be construed as harassment or rape (including, by the way, what liberals often claim is the perfectly healthy desire of a partner to share intimacy). This might be Catharine MacKinnon’s reading of the law, but it certainly hasn’t passed muster in Court.

The truly insane part of the orientation—and the one that probably inspired Mr. Breitbart’s remark indirectly—is saved for the end, however. Known only by the name BiLeGaTA (which stands for “Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender Asexual”), this program, designed to explain “Queer identities” (yes, they actually use a slur to describe it) is the sort of thing it would be difficult not to turn into a standup comedy routine. Fortunately, it’s also an instructive look at precisely how groups like GOProud should not explain themselves.

For evidence of this, one has only to look at what is actually argued in these sessions. Among the more interesting facts I gleaned from my session of BiLeGaTa were the following:

1. Gender is a social construct.

2. There are at least five genders (what the other three are is not explained), not two, and that’s a conservative estimate.

3. The proper pronoun to use to describe transgendered people is not “he” or “she” but rather “ze.” The possessive form of this word is “hir.” The word to use in formal address (as in “Sir” or “Madame”) is “Ziram.”


4. Anyone who disagrees with any of this, or even questions it, is automatically “heteronormative” or worse, “heterosexist.”

Now, a quick word on this last point, because unlike “Racist,” “Sexist” and “Homophobic,” “Heteronormative” and “Heterosexist” are probably not words with which most people are familiar, so I should probably define them. “Heteronormative” refers to any person or idea which takes the notion of a heterosexual relationship as the “norm,” hence “normative.” It is the more mild of the two designations, seeing as those who disagree with it tend to chalk it up to ignorance/social pressure, rather than outright malevolence. “Heterosexist,” on the other hand, is quite different. It’s like the ultimate form of homophobia, because people who are heterosexist don’t just despise gay people— they actively believe that heterosexual relationships (and heterosexuals generally) are better than their non-heterosexual counterparts. And for any conservative who is unfortunate enough to find themselves at a party with people who went through this program, these are the two words that will be thrown at you ad nauseam. The reason for that is that, while their definitions sound straightforward, really, you can make anything into a heteronormative notion, because it’s so easy to zero in on one single element of any particular idea and claim that it unfairly privileges the male-female relationship. Once the label is applied, of course, all hope of discussion goes out the window, as the label itself is expected to count as a refutation worthy of Socrates himself.

Of course, all of this explains where the paranoid notions about prejudice on the radical Left come from, but they don’t explain how it has trickled up to being such an effective attack tactic. To understand that, you have to understand a few things about how Wesleyan’s radical Left (and I’m sure, the radical Left at a lot of other schools) influences discourse. I say “radical Left” for a reason, because, to the outside world, this probably looks like slightly more insane progressive blather than usual. I can’t stress this enough: these people are not progressives. Comparing progressives to these people is like comparing Joe Lieberman to Rahm Emanuel. They’re miles apart, both politically and in terms of how they advocate for their message. Perhaps the most representative sample of this is an email I received shortly after Orientation was over, decrying the seemingly “conservative” turn the campus was taking. It ran this way:

“Dear Concerned/Marginalized Peoples,

In the last semester, there has been an alarming and overwhelming tide of
racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia on this campus.

-Men of color (especially Black and Latino) being forced to leave
campus/quit school
– [Articles] denouncing homosexuality as a sin, attacking take back the
night, and professing a belief in reverse racism/discrimination/oppression
– A backlash, against students of color calling out whiteness (which is
*fundamentally premised upon RACISM*)
– Rising tide of HATE SPEECH in freshmen dorms that is NO LONGER BEING
REPORTED to the campus via all-campus emails –
– Increased police presence on campus specifically targeting
students/people of Color
– Campus climate of HATE and UNSAFETY specifically for
oppressed/marginalized peoples
– Increased EPISTEMIC VIOLENCE in the classroom
– Reports of racially based assaults”

Where to begin? And why bother? I think the readers can see that everything listed in the email above is either only “reported” or could easily be explained in such a way that the paranoid style of liberal victimhood would be totally unnecessary. Yet this sort of critical thinking is not what students at Wesleyan do, because whatever their professors are like, it is not what they are encouraged to do by their peers. That is the truly invidious nature of the Wesleyan freshman orientation program Mr. Breitbart so wisely denounced—it is more than just a silly series of eccentric programs. Given the power of student opinion and the drive to conformity, any college which institutes a similar program is in effect injecting its students with an intellectual auto-immune disease which will brutally break down their every critical thought.

But I survived it, and because of that, now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Mytheos Holt is a Wesleyan University alumnus and a former intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.