Advice to First-Year Students (Or All Students, Really): Don’t Be So Sensitive.

Guest post by Jess Harvey

In the months of preparation leading up to your first semester of university, an endless amount of advice is being thrown your way.

Your parents are concerned that you’re not going to touch a vegetable in the next 8 months, your older siblings are pumping you up with stories about their own poor life choices post high school graduation, and you’re probably shaking in your Birkenstocks (let’s face it, if you’re going to UVic you own them) at the thought of leaving home for the first time.

One thing nobody prepares you for, however, is that you are going to meet people that disagree with your beliefs, views, and opinions.

I should start by saying that I myself identify as a liberal and a feminist who is accepting of everyone and an advocate for inclusivity. I always try to choose my words correctly to avoid offending anyone and am very compassionate to the diverse struggles faced by individuals whose experiences I couldn’t even begin to relate. This is “I’m scared of offending anyone” talk for “I’m white.”

photo credit: otherthings LISTEN DISAGREE(license)

So, for the sake of not making heads explode, this advice is going to remain as politically neutral as possible. The above disclaimer alone is a perfect example of how sensitive people are these days. I’m writing about people needing to accept differing opinions while, at the same time, remaining terrified that I might offend someone. That said, I’m just going to say it: People these days are too damn sensitive.

In an interview with New York Magazine, comedian Chris Rock said he stopped playing university campuses because students are too conservative, “not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody.” And I couldn’t agree more.

University is a place where young adults come to learn and grow. It is also a place where you will come across a wide array of opinions that differ from your own. These opinions can be hurtful to your beliefs, offend your sensibilities, make you extremely angry, or quite possibly all three. But guess what, through these conflicting differences you will become a better person.

I hate to break it to you, but when you go out into the world it isn’t always going to be a safe space (or, so I hear) where everything you say is accepted, nor will it be a place where you will agree with everyone.

In the current political climate especially, we are seeing an overwhelming number of clashes between differences of views and opinions. When trying to shut down the hatred that others sometimes spew, we ourselves get heated and end up appearing just as fanatical. If you take anything away from your time at university, it should be how to get your point across in a calm manner and have discussions with people that hold dissenting opinions.

When did advocating for something because you believe it is right turn into shutting other’s opinions down simply because you disagree?

John Stuart Mill said:

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” (Chapter II of On Liberty)

Let me bring this passage into the 21st century for you. Essentially, what Mill is trying to convey, is that if we engage with controversial or offensive ideas we will either (1) show the person they are wrong and thus strengthen our own argument  or, (2) if the person with the crazy opinion turns out to have a point, we just did ourselves a service by engaging with them and  broadening our own horizons.

 Yes, I know Mill was kind of a racist (we can’t really expect anything more from white males living in the 19th century it would seem), but if you’re offended by the use of this quote then I regret to inform you, you are being too sensitive. While we can disagree with his views on many things, it doesn’t mean we must dismiss entirely all of the thoughts he had. And we must admit, when it comes to this, he does have a point.

My greatest advice to new or existing university students is that shutting down the opinions of others because they offend you deprives the world of ideas that might be beneficial. There are certain conversations in life that are uncomfortable but will make us better people for having them.

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2 Responses

  1. K says:

    Most useful discussion ever posted on MyUvicLife.

  2. Jaclyn says:

    Thank you so much for this article. This is something that needs to be talked about way more.

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