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Trigger warnings, safe spaces, cultural appropriation. These terms have spread across college campuses like cancer recently, leaving one to wonder what the next illiberal trend will be.

If Harvard and the University or Oregon are good indicators, it will be thoughtcrime.

A concept originating from George Orwell’s 1984, thoughtcrime is exactly as it sounds — thinking socially unacceptable thoughts. While we thankfully don’t live in totalitarian Oceania, America’s college campuses are starting to look more like the work of fiction every day.

Last week, Harvard President Drew Faust announced that, beginning with the class of 2021, any student who joins one of the school’s elite secret societies (known as “final clubs”) will be ineligible for Rhodes or Marshall scholarships. Faust explained that the decision was made to combat “forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with [Harvard’s] deepest values.”


Robby Soave explains the potential Orwellian consequences in Reason:

It’s also stunningly impractical. Harvard’s unofficial clubs are, well, unofficial. They don’t need to keep members’ lists. Many of them are quite private.

The administration now has the difficult and Orwellian task of creating a committee that will enforce the new policy. To be effective, it will have to investigate students it suspects of joining disfavored secret clubs.

Harvard is a private organization, and is entitled to place as many ridiculous limitations on students’ lives as it wants. But it doesn’t get to discriminate against students who join finals clubs while simultaneously touting itself as an institution that respects liberal values. There’s nothing liberal about discouraging free association.

It’s not just private schools beginning the prosecution of thoughtcrime. At the public University of Oregon, Soave reports that the school has created a Bias Response Team to have “educational conversations” with students and staff who say anything perceived as prejudice.

Here’s a slice of a few of the task force’s most egregious infringements on liberty:

  • “A student reported that a professor wrote an insulting comment on their online blog.”
  • “A student reported that a sign encouraging cleaning up after oneself was sexist.”
  • “An anonymous student reported that a newspaper gave less press coverage to trans students and students of color.”

None of these actions are illegal or even controversial. All three are fully protected by the First Amendment.

However, anyone at anytime can be doing something wrong in the Orwellian reality of today’s college campuses — even if they’re unaware of it!

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