Delegates at March’s National Union of Students’ Women’s Conference received the following tweet: “Whooping is fun for some, but can be super inaccessible for others, so please try not to whoop! Jazz hands work just as well.” This was swiftly followed by another message, advising against clapping. “Some delegates are requesting that we move to jazz hands rather than clapping, as it’s triggering anxiety. Please be mindful!”
Jazz hands, for those mercifully unaware, are a splayed hand movement (often accompanied by clownish gurning) beloved of cheerleaders and mime artists. It is an infantile gesture. Yet apparently such childish signs of approval are the only sorts with which today’s hyper-sensitive university students can cope. Online magazine Spiked! investigated levels of free speech in British universities and branded 40 per cent “Red” for enforcing explicit bans on specific ideas and movements.
Such bans may be sensible, in light of evidence that young British jihadists were influenced at college by radical Islamist preachers. But there is a world of difference between protecting impressionable youngsters from religious brainwashing, and the extreme molly-coddling that has led universities from Birmingham to Exeter to ban songs, such as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, and newspapers, such as the Sun (excluded from 30 students’ unions because of the distress caused by Page 3 nudity), as misogynistic. University College London last year shut down a Nietzche reading group because of the 19th-century philosopher’s putative links to fascism. Oxford University, whose Union has hosted controversial figures from Gerry Adams to Richard Dawkins, recently cancelled a debate on abortion amid claims that it threatened student “mental security”. And long before the NUS conference, Edinburgh University’s Student Association had enforced a policy preventing students from using “hand gestures which denote disagreement” at meetings.
Thanks to such vigilante political correctness across Britain’s universities and the proliferation of “safe space” policies, today’s graduates may leave university without encountering anything to upset or challenge the views they held upon arrival. Such extreme pastoral “care” is a killing with kindness that clearly leaves students ill-equipped for later life. How will they react in the real world, where they might discover that their boss is a right-wing pro-lifer, or where they may walk into a tabloid-selling newsagent with “Blurred Lines” playing on the radio? Mollycoddling into one’s twenties can only make eventual exposure to contradictory opinion brutal, painful and, yes, anxiety-triggering.