‘Call-Out Culture’ on Campus

JAPCAT installments are now too plentiful to adequately document. In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf  writes of “The Destructiveness of Call-Out Culture on Campus”, with ‘call-out culture’ being something of a variation on what the Alt-Right experiences as ‘doxxing’. Friedersdorf elicited feedback from college undergraduates on the question “Were College Students Better Off Before Social Media?” He received an overwhelming number of negative experiences with ‘call-out culture’:

[N]o negative aspect of the status quo preoccupied my undergraduate correspondents more than the stresses of call-out culture. They had no problem with objections to violence, or slurs, or other serious transgressions; but fretted that call-out culture now goes far beyond matters like that.

Even the aspiring crisis-communications pro noted that it was also his least favorite quality about college life. “Students get worked up over the smallest of issues,” he said, “which has led to the disintegration of school spirit and the fracture of campus.”

Whatever differences there are in the moral psychology of today’s college students, as compared to their elders, there is little doubt that technology is driving some of the worry about violating social norms, getting called out, and becoming objects of stigma. Social media enables students to be hostile from behind a screen, or to pile on.

Friedersdorf shares several of the students’ responses, such as this one, which shows the level of uncharted anxieties Political Correctness has induced:

I actively try to keep up on opinion articles posted on Facebook and other social media sites, as well as statuses by friends, so that I can be caught up with the trends and not appear to be ignorant or outdated among my peers. One time, around Halloween, I read a piece that a friend posted about a Mexican Tequila-themed party that had happened at a small liberal arts school. A few members of the student government had attended and taken a picture wearing a sombrero. The entire school was so outraged that their student leadership had participated in cultural appropriation that they ridiculed them online and forced them to step down.

Now, reading this article was stressful for me because my roommates and I had planned a tequila-themed birthday party for a friend that same night. Admittedly, my school is less progressive and students tend to not get outraged at things like this as much as other schools, but I was concerned that someone would call us out for cultural appropriation, even though we didn’t call it a “Mexican” party or have sombreros there. We just wanted to drink margaritas and offered some chips and guac as snacks.

This made the party considerably more stressful for me. I was constantly welcoming people and telling them we hoped we weren’t appropriating, and watching out for people who may have reacted badly to the theme. I was making sure that we didn’t play music in Spanish—for some reason I thought that would go over better and make us look less like we were appropriating.

Since then, we haven’t had any tequila-themed parties. I also had always aspired to have a crawl, where each room was themed like a different part of the world (i.e. one room would be Russia and the people would drink white Russians, another room could have tequila and chips and salsa, etc.) but I never pushed that again for fear of being called out as an appropriator.

Another anecdote was with regard to some research I did in Peru a few summers ago. I had received funding to work with a local nonprofit group and do research on educational programs. Although I personally did not feel like I was being very problematic by going down there, and personally thought about this a lot, I didn’t post pictures of myself with any of the kids for fear of coming across as white-girl-who-does-international-volunteering-trip-just-to-take-picture-with-poor-brown-children.

What an awful place college has turned into.

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