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Coddling Students on College Campuses: A Frightening Trend

An Interview with Raul Chao, '99, who is currently a Professor at the University of Virginia

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Although the general election occurred a couple of months ago, and although the new president of the United States has now been inaugurated, there continues to be mixed opinions over the results.

One trend has become especially common: the coddling of college students who have come to be known as the “snowflake” generation. The term describes overly sensitive students, typically millennials, who try and avoid any sort of controversial or disagreeable topic. Around the country, several universities have began to cater to the emotional wants of the students.

The criticism of this phenomenon has been directed at the universities, not only the students. For example, this past Halloween, the University of Florida offered counseling for those who were offended by Halloween costumes. The University of Cornell recently hosted a “cry-in” for those feeling fragile after the Trump victory. This is just a sample of the many instances of college students who are unable to handle any sort of adversity.

I reached out to Raul Chao, a Belen Alumni, Class of ’99, who is currently a professor at the University of Virginia, to ask for his opinion on this issue. He first pointed out that he is “knee-deep” in “snowflakes” which have been driving him crazy.

Q: How prevalent is this attitude of coddling students at the university level, and how much does it interfere in your opinion? Do you think media exaggerates?

A:  The attitude of coddling students is rampant at the university level, and it interferes tremendously. In mild forms, coddling robs students of a valuable opportunity to learn through adversity. At the extreme, students see themselves much more as customers of the university, with the professor playing the role of the customer service representative.

Q: How long have you been teaching at UVA? I’d like to get an idea of when you first started seeing the shift towards this trend. Specifically, in students’ behavior/expectations and administration’s attitudes.

A: I have been in academia for 15 years. I was at Georgia Tech from 2002-2007 and have been at UVA since 2007.   I think the trend toward coddling students started sometime around 2006-2007 and has been getting worse and worse over the years.

Q: Do you have any theories about what has led to this trend and why universities seem so willing to coddle students?

A: In my opinion, the biggest factor that has led to the rise of the snowflake is the “apology” culture that we live in today. The common interaction between people in society has changed from one of deep debate about opinion and positions to one of apology. I think this happened because social media created a norm for relationships that tend to be very superficial and fleeting. While many of my students claim to have thousands of “friends”, I can’t help but wonder when was the last time that they actually sat for a few hours talking to someone about a single topic, even disagreeing with that person and listening to his/her arguments. Add to this the narcissism that is implied by social media and the problem becomes even worse. You end up with a bunch of people that can only stand to talk about themselves for about 10 minutes, then they feel the need to move on to the next activity. The problem is that when the majority of human interaction is boiled down to posts, or tweets, or 15-minute podcasts, there is never enough time for depth in relationships or discussions.

Q: From an educator’s point of view, do you feel that this reaction from students is justifiable?

A: To put it plainly, no, I do not think students are justified when they demand to be treated like snowflakes.   The Dean of Students at the University of Chicago put it best when he welcomed the Class of 2020 by letting them know that the university does not condone the creation of “safe spaces.”

Some critics and colleges have fired back. Like Mr. Chao mentioned, the University of Chicago has tried to limit the circumstances. Republicans in Iowa have introduced the “suck it up, buttercup” bill.

According to the Washington Post, “The bill would take aim at state universities that offer election-related sit-ins and grief counseling beyond the resources normally available to students.”

In all colleges, students must learn to toughen up. Life throws whatever it wants at you, and it is necessary to be able to handle that adversity. As growing adults, these students need to realize that not everything is handed to them and goes their way. Personally, I believe colleges need to come to this realization in order to make students ready for life.

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Coddling Students on College Campuses: A Frightening Trend