Majoring in Fear 101

HAVE THEY gone crazy?

From reports of the kinds of protest, some college students are auditioning for "The Gong Show."

Today's activists are the minority of college youth, as they always are, and are starved for an inspirational, generation-defining issue.

Over the weekend, journalist and analyst Juan Williams said something that summarized my thoughts. When he was in college, he and his activist friends had explosive issues such as segregation, voting rights, the draft, the Vietnam War to protest.

Millennials, what do they have? Climate change.

Yes, the world is meeting in Paris right now about it, and Bernie Sanders thinks it's more dangerous than ISIS, but isn't it the quintessential example of yelling at clouds?

Climate change just isn't that sexy. Solar power isn't electrifying. It doesn't boil your blood.

But alleged abuse of minorities? That resonates of the '50s.

There is a cachet on many college campuses to being a minority, which includes people of color, women (a numerical majority), people with a variety of gender descriptions and those with real or imagined handicaps.

If you are a minority, it follows that you are likely a victim of discrimination, and if you are a victim, you may be intimidated and that might explain a desire for "safe" spaces on campuses.

FDR's "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" swooshes right over their heads.

One of the most remarkable - disgusting, actually - calls for a "safe" space came from an assistant professor at the University of Missouri - in the department of communication - who called for "muscle" to stop a journalist from doing his job. The price asked for the "safe" area was a First Amendment freedom. We can't permit that.

College kids may have a tough time swallowing this, but they will never be as safe in their lives as they are on a college campus.

They are free to think anything they like and, with minor parameters, they are free to speak and act in any way they like. There are few, if any, repercussions.

As far as physical safety, few places are safer.

Although each incident is horrifying, in the 15 years since 2000, the nation's 7,234 colleges have had 88 gun deaths (including suicides). That's fewer than six a year, out of 20.6 million college students.

If we look at psychological safety, that's where we get into the arena of micro-aggression, trigger warnings, patriarchy and white supremacy.

I don't remember open racism at my (public, urban) alma mater, but that was in the '60s. There weren't many students of color. (I say "open racism" because I allow for some low level of baked-in racism or prejudice, even if it's not acted upon.)

I don't recall open racism at Temple, where I was an adjunct teacher of journalism from the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s. There were many students of color.

Whatever is going on, I can't believe today's campuses are less tolerant than 30 or 40 years ago. Students likely are more sensitive.

Today's students are millennials, and the majority view says millennials are more liberal and tolerant than their grandparents.

When I hear some campus weenies demanding a "safe" space, my first thought is: These are the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation? They are among their friends and peers and they are afraid?

My second thought is to tell them: If you want a safe space, go to your dorm room, sit in a closet with a blanket over your head while you rock back and forth and suck on a pacifier. Is your campus like the general-population yard at Graterford? How timid and fragile are you?

It's worse, really heartbreaking, when I hear minority students - the activists, anyway - demanding a "safe" space for their race only.

This is where we are 60 years after students were bashing down the doors of segregation? Are things so bad that students want to retreat behind those ugly walls?

That idea makes me as crazy as I think they are.

Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

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