SOAR’s good intentions abound; unintended consequences loom

Eli Wrathall, Copy Editor

Students Organized Against Racism, commonly known as SOAR, tasks itself with tackling issues of broad racial injustices on campus. According to advisors LoRayne Ortega and Jennifer Mall, the concept of microaggressions represent a less serious but ideal starting point.

According to Webster Dictionary, microaggressions are defined as “comments or actions that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group, such as a racial minority.”

SOAR’s actions are certainly rooted in good intentions. Aiding those at our school who feel isolated and disadvantaged is a noble cause. But the consequences of the actions taken regarding microaggressions, and the potential for unintended consequences must be considered.

At the core of the ideology of microaggressions is the principle that the offended are always right. If one has their feelings hurt, what was said to them must have been objectively offensive, demeaning, or otherwise.

Undeniably, everyone has biases and sensitivities, leading to frequent instances when one takes offense, in regards to objectively inoffensive and perfectly acceptable statements.

Consider the University of California’s list of microaggressions. Many statements or actions are undeniably offensive and purely racist, such as “someone crossing to the other side of the street to avoid a person of color.”

But with many others, one would be hard pressed to craft a logical argument that would defend their presumed offensiveness. For example, when one says “I don’t believe in race,” something that the UC considers a microaggression, they are simply stating a valid scientific fact.

Racism is clearly a true concept, but according to the Scientific American, “the mainstream belief among scientists is that race is a social construct without biological meaning.” According to UC, stating such is a microaggression. That is absurd: how can facts be offensive?

What groups like SOAR accomplish when emphasizing the presumed harm of such microaggressions is provide validity to often fallacious and misguided assumptions of offense. It cultivates a victimhood culture in which many catastrophize objectively inoffensive statements, and jump to conclusions about the intents of the “offender.” In other words, they are encouraging what are considered bad psychological practices.

It’s no wonder why New York University professor Jonathan Haidt, an expert in the field of psychology, is staunchly opposed to the views espoused by SOAR and others.

Those that subscribe to the ideology of microaggressions are frequent perpetrators themselves of harm to others through their flawed thinking. At Yale in 2015, college administrators directed and advised students to wear Halloween costumes that did not appropriate other cultures. A lecturer by the name of Erika Christakis wrote an email to students, expressing her disagreement with the policy, and encouraging “free expression” among the student body.

What followed was a shocking display of intolerance, which can be attributed to the aforementioned ideology. A group of students considered what Christakis said to be a microaggression towards minorities, supposedly culturally appropriated groups. They proceeded to publicly confront and shame Christakis, as well as call for her resignation, and that of Nicholas Christakis, her husband and professor at Yale.

Christakis was eventually forced to resign, an occurrence that shows the tangible harm of those who advocate for the general ideology of microaggressions. How dare Christakis express mildly opposing views, and encourage reasonable discussion of a controversial topic. According to many at Yale, those were fireable offenses.

According to Ortega and Mall, SOAR seeks to deal with the perpetrators of what are considered microaggressions in a non-confrontational way that does not humiliate or punish perpetrators. That is an admirable stance to take.

However, I worry that it is not enough. Instilling an ideology of victimhood, intolerance, and ultra-sensitivity is what leads to the havoc that occurred not just at Yale, but on campuses all around the country, UC Berkeley and Evergreen State to name just a few.

What happens to students taught the ideology of microaggressions who go off to college, and radicalize themselves among like-minded peers? SOAR preaches, and I believe truly seeks, tolerance and respect, but their actions will have unintended consequences.

My world outlook tells me to advocate for a new generation and a world of strong people, not one of self-described victims, often only looking for the next chance to be offended. Our peers need to obtain the mental fortitude to withstand and reconsider many statements that they determine offensive.

Yes, some racial issues are serious ones, but not only is addressing microaggressions not, but doing so is in practice very counterproductive, even dangerous.