Political correctness at Mac: My journey toward understanding

Is Macalester College too PC? God, did I think so. From my first day on campus, I was bombarded with request after request to provide my personal gender pronouns and to unfailingly inquire after those of others, even though for the vast majority of students I encountered this proved unnecessary. I looked on in mingled amusement and exasperation as a student government candidate was stopped midspeech and reprimanded, albeit politely, on his colloquial use of the archaic anti-Romani slur “gypped.” I felt self-righteously indignant when informed that Macalester calls its freshmen first-years, the term “freshman”’s being apparently offensive to all nonmale students .

But what I at first failed to take into account is that this comprehensive approach to political correctness actually plays a vital role in producing a positive campus environment and enlightened students to fill it.

Picture a high school English class. You spend hours slaving away over research papers, essays, poetry readings and whatever else your teacher chooses to throw on the pile. You think to yourself: “When in the work force will I ever need to write three essays in two hours? Or explain what Famous Poet meant when she said, “the smash of glass is like crinkly bears fondling my lower back?” But after some reflection, you intuit that the work you’ve been assigned engenders a general increase in creative and analytic thought, that your skill as a writer improves with each labored word, that when your boss says “analyze this,” “compare these” or “summarize those,” you’ll immediately recognize the proper form in which to respond.

Now picture your first martial arts class. You spend hours practicing the same strikes and blocks, brutalizing an innocent punchbag until your limbs go numb. You think to yourself: “When will a real opponent ever stand still and let me hit them? In what fight will I ever need to kick someone the same way 10 times in a row?” But after the first few weeks, it begins to dawn on you that the fundamentals you mindlessly practice are being stored in your muscle memory, allowing them to be drawn upon even in high stress situations and allowing you to move on to more advanced techniques.

So why not give Macalester PC the same benefit of the doubt? Macalester administrative staff members (at least those I’ve met thus far) aren’t stupid. They’re well aware that most people are either male-identifying with penises or female-identifying with vaginas, that “freshman” offends only the most sensitive, and that “gypped” hasn’t been used with its original intent since politicians spoke in Mid-Atlantic accents. They’re also aware that the best way to impart a skill is to hammer it home until it can be summoned at a moment’s notice. Martial artists can block punches without telling their arms to move. English students can write anything under the sun at the drop of a hat. And most Macalester students, relentlessly drilled in the art of political correctness, find it a simple matter to treat others with respect, regardless of race, religion, sexual preference or gender identity.

Since orientation at Macalester, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve forgotten to use the proper pronouns of my non-cisgendered friends. I can safely say that homophobic slurs have been erased from my vocabulary. I’ve lost the instinctive apprehension I once felt upon encountering a black man while alone at night, upon seeing a man in a keffiyeh leave his bag in a public locker room. I’ve learned to see my sexual encounters from a new perspective, finally cottoning on to the fact that I’m not being an especially kind or considerate person by asking for consent, but that I’m simply doing what all people, even utterly unpleasant ones, are legally and morally required to do in the bedroom.

The best part? I can do all of this without needing to make a conscious effort. Anyone with two braincells to rub together can logically comprehend that one should treat people the way one wants to be treated. Few, however, have this sense of decency programmed into their reflexive response mechanism, allowing them to positively interact with anyone they meet. But thanks to my time at Macalester, I feel that I’m a step closer to becoming such a person, lucky enough to be a part of a student body where most everyone else strives towards the same.

So, yes, Macalester is incredibly PC. But quite frankly, we couldn’t do without it.