On March 9, the La Verne Police Department reported that they had arrested a former ULV student for falsifying threats made to herself and others, for electronic impersonation, perjury, and for filing a false police report. The race-based attacks the student had reported forced the University to cancel classes last year and devote substantial resources and time to addressing the alleged events.
How did we come to be in this situation? Why would anyone wish to cast themselves as a victim, especially when it entailed threatening and falsely implicating other students in a hate crime? Unfortunately, not only on our campus but on college campuses nationwide, we’ve created a perverse incentive structure which rewards victimization. It is referred to by sociologists as “victimhood culture”; a way to receive bountiful attention and near–unquestioned moral authority (lest the critic be called racist, sexist, etc.).
Universities contribute to this by encouraging the elements of victimhood culture; sensitivity to minor spurns or slights, a tendency to not handle conflict forthrightly, and pursuing a cultivated image as a victim who deserves help. They do this not only by too quickly conferring legitimacy to allegations, even if those allegations are absurd, but by encouraging auxiliary ideas like “trigger warnings,” “microaggressions,” or a need for “safe spaces.” These ideas encourage students to react as victims, not as self–sufficient, resilient adults.
This is not a critique of any particular groups or students on campus, or of the faculty or administration; this is a broad cultural issue, one that has been fostered with good intentions, namely the protection of students. The results have instead been a culture which assumes the worst from poor remarks or comments, which feels the need to insulate itself from difficult ideas, and which desires to be a victim irrationally.
While the issue is cultural, we can influence it for the better. First, we ought to remove our requirement that faculty attend mandatory diversity training, or training that deals with unconscious biases. While implemented with the right intention, studies have shown that such training often has the opposite intended effect, and that the implicit bias tests they are based on are unreliable. There are other needed corrections, but this is a good start. As a culture, and a student body, we ought to work on developing resilience to difficult issues, to combating racism on campus candidly, and to not perceiving ourselves as victims.