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Opinion | Smith College and the Failing Liberal Bargain

Still, the most interesting aspect of the drama at Smith has less to do with the details and more to do with the location. To wit, why is it that racial tensions keep boiling over at some of the nation’s most emphatically progressive-minded institutions, whether it’s at Smith, Yale, Northwestern, Bryn Mawr or the Dalton School? Why does the embrace of social justice pedagogies seem to have gone hand in hand with deteriorating race relations on campus?

One answer is that if many students are enjoying a diet of courses on critical race theory, and employees are trained on the fine points of microaggressions, they might take to heart what they are taught and notice what they have been trained to see.

Another answer is that if those who report being offended gain sympathy, attention and even celebrity, more accusations may be reported.

The deeper answer, I suspect, is that the Woke left has the liberal left’s number. It’s called guilt.

The telling line in Powell’s story comes from a letter the Black Student Association wrote to McCartney, Smith’s (white) president, saying its members “do not feel heard or understood. We feel betrayed and tokenized.” Tokenized, most certainly: Behind every affirmative action program at every liberal institution is a yearning for moral redemption — admission to its present ranks is granted in exchange for absolution for past sins and acceptance of its ideological assumptions.

The Woke left doesn’t want to be a party to this bargain. Absolution is off the table. And the liberal ideals themselves are up for renegotiation.

In place of former notions of fairness toward individuals regardless of race, the Woke left has new ideas of “restorative justice” for racial groups. In place of traditional commitments to free speech, it has new proscriptions on hate speech. In place of the liberal left’s past devotion to facts, it demands new respect for feelings.

All of this has left many of the traditional gatekeepers of liberal institutions uncertain, timid and, in many cases, quietly outraged. This is not the deal they thought they struck. But it’s the deal they’re going to get until they recover the courage of their liberal convictions.

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