So this op-ed by an administrator at Williams College...
I recognize myself in [today's students]: intellectually adventurous, skeptical, newly aware of life’s injustices. They’re also different from me in many ways: less Grateful Dead and Dead Kennedys, much more technology. That’s the important bit. Because for all of the supposed liberating power of their digital devices, they might as well be wearing ankle monitors. Technological connectedness has made it much harder for them to make mistakes and learn from them. Today’s students live their lives so publicly — through the technology we provide them without training — that much simpler errors than mine earn them the wrath of the entire internet. Usually, the outrage is over things they say, for example a campus newspaper editorial that grapples with balancing free speech and appropriate behavior.... [Students] deserve the chance to try out ideas. When they do, sometimes they’re going to botch it — sometimes spectacularly. And that’s why we have learning spaces.
...was a few pages/clicks away from this piece by opinion columnist Frank Bruni:
It used to be that when someone called me an abomination, I was in the presence of a homophobe. But a recent opinion column in Texas State University’s main newspaper damned me for a different reason. I’m abominable because I’m white. The column wasn’t aimed at me personally but at my kind, and the Hispanic student who wrote it began by saying that “of all the white people” he had ever encountered, there were a dozen or so who rose to the level of “decent.” The allowance that 12 of us passed muster was perhaps the most generous passage in a screed that had an unambiguous message for white people, be they “good-hearted liberals” or “right-wing extremists.” “I hate you,” he wrote, “because you shouldn’t exist. You are both the dominant apparatus on the planet and the void in which all other cultures, upon meeting you, die.”
So a few pages/clicks from a call to leave college students alone in their learning spaces — to let them make their mistakes without being dragged into the public square and pummeled — Bruni is ripping apart an opinion piece by a college student published in a student newspaper.
Allowing college students to make their mistakes — they're young and impassioned, etc., give them some room to screw up, weren't you young and dumb once? — would be easier if what happened on campus stayed on campus. But today anything that happens anywhere happens everywhere because everything is online. And Jim Reische, chief communications officer at Williams College and author of "The Importance of Dumb Mistakes in College," acknowledges that this is a problem for college kids who might otherwise be able to step on rakes (and third rails) without being swarmed on Twitter and Facebook:
Thirty years ago, college students could have tried out radical ideas about limiting free speech in print. The results might have been simplistic or doctrinaire. But readership would have been largely restricted to campus, and the paper would have been in circulation for only a day or two. [Now] there is little room for students to experiment and screw up. We seem to expect them to arrive at school fully formed. When they let us down by being just what they are — young humans — we shame them.
There's a step colleges could take that might make it somewhat easier for students to experiment with ideas and grow and learn and screw up without incurring the wrath of the entire Internet: don't put student publications online. It's not a fail-safe plan (other people can upload an inflammatory piece and goad others into piling on), but taking students papers offline would communicate to outsiders that this publication was meant for a campus readership and that the work in it was by students and not meant for worldwide consumption (or condemnation). It would shift the burden of perceived assholery to those who would draw outside attention to the work of a student journalist and sic the entire Internet on some college kid who was only guilty of being young and dumb.