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An open letter to Jonathan Haidt

n your Thursday, March 28, presentation, you spoke about censorship on college campuses resulting from what you labeled as “tribalism” and “fragility.” 

You suggested that students are forming an identity around their minority status and victimhood, while heterosexual white men and conservative students have become the new victims on college campuses. 

To elaborate on this point, you displayed a chart intended to demonstrate the perceived moral crisis on college campuses where heterosexual white men are now deemed “inherently immoral,” while self-identified student minorities are considered “inherently moral.” 

You then said something to the effect of, “I can’t imagine that at New York University (NYU), or Hofstra, you’re still marginalized for being gay.”

You’re right, Dr. Jonathon Haidt. You cannot imagine it, and it’s not because you are “inherently immoral.” It is because we have lived two very different experiences. You cannot imagine the endless litany of difficult situations gay students confront on a daily basis, even in an institution as seemingly queer-friendly as Hofstra.

Homophobia is still very much prevalent. Just as gay students don’t shed our sexual orientation when we arrive on campus, other students don’t leave their prejudices at home on their front doorstep. We do not live in a bubble here on campus. We live in the same world where prejudice still rears its ugly head.

Even at a liberal university in a blue state, queer students face bigotry and hostility for simply showing who we are. I cannot hold my girlfriend’s hand out in public out of fear of being attacked. I face sexual harassment from boys who take it as a challenge to conquer the gay girl.

I am under the constant pressure to stay in the closet. I wear makeup, I dress more effeminate and I make conscious effort to speak in a higher, softer octave. I fear the daily, open expression of my queerness will be a weakness in academic and professional settings, and so I usually hide it. I chose a potential future over living my authentic self.

You argued that the left has painted privileged peoples as inherently immoral. In reality, the opposite attitude – one which perceives minorities as inherently broken, inferior or immoral – is so deeply ingrained in our country that it has seeped into its institutions and laws so that people like me could not be married until three short years ago. To this day, I can be fired from my job, denied an education or kicked out of my home for the way I was born.

Just last year, a woman on a New York City subway nearly died in a homophobic attack which shattered her spine. In 2016, several NYU students were kicked out of a gay bar during an NYU law event for shouting homophobic slurs. According to California State University, homophobic hate crimes are on the rise; New York City alone saw a 6% increase in hate crimes in the past year.

But in painting straight white men and conservatives as victims, you trivialize the experiences that marginalized groups feel. If that is scary, imagine the fear my Muslim friends feel stepping out of the house in a hijab. Imagine the fear my transgender friends feel when merely asking a professor to call them by their true name. If being ostracized for an opinion is hurtful, imagine the turmoil of being harassed simply because you exist.

This is not to trivialize your experiences, only to put them in perspective. Straight white men are not oppressed on college campuses – or anywhere – on the basis of being straight white men, because privilege will never be a vessel of oppression. 

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