In recent years, getting agitated about political correctness on college campuses has been the near exclusive sport of beleaguered conservative professors, rambunctious college Republicans, and David Horowitz. It wasn't always so. In the 1990s, egregious examples of P.C. could grab a headline or two in the mainstream media. Gripping book-length exposés were written, like Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education, and many an impressive journalistic career was launched. But today, complaining about P.C. on campus is like complaining about your taxes in April. Perhaps our attention has been turned, necessarily, to more pressing matters such as terrorism and war. It may be difficult in this environment for a book about campus P.C. to get attention. Yet despite its melodramatic subtitle, Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Endangers Every Student, by Anonymous, M.D., deserves an audience.
A great deal of the P.C. decried in the 1990s was of the "emperor has no clothes" variety. Parents might make a mental note of the problem before sending Johnny off to a prestigious university, but they never really believed in its power to hurt him. Certainly now, in the wake of 9/11, there is a heightened awareness of the real dragons that need slaying out in the wide world. Why bother with these petty lords and their meaningless little fiefdoms in the English department? As long as Johnny doesn't major in English everything will be O.K., right?
There is a manly aspect to this kind of dismissive confidence that makes it appealing. It becomes downright seductive when you consider that there is just enough truth in the attitude to make it appear sound. But the problem with seduction is that it conceals unattractive realities. The emphasis in the '90s on the obnoxious and outlandish variety of P.C. at the universities was dangerously misleading. It made for great books, sold lots of magazines, supplied many a punch line for late-night talk show hosts, and drew large crowds at conservative conferences and speeches—but it did not get to the heart of the problem. P.C. is not at its most insidious when it is most vocal, but when it is silent and creeping. As Anonymous, M.D., demonstrates, it is the things that are not said in the name of "sensitivity" that do the most damage to truth and, tragically, to student's lives.
Anonymous, M.D., weaves a compelling narrative of heartbreak and occasional horror as she describes the difficulties of her student patients. They are not selected for their unusual situations, but are very much like the students that everyone reading this review knows. But ordinary students, whose run-of-the-mill social problems might in past eras have been nipped in the bud, now find themselves on the verge of collapse. Indeed, college campuses, like the rest of America, have seen a dramatic increase in the number people being treated for psychological issues, and in the severity of those issues. According to the author, a 2005 survey of campus counseling centers found that counseling hours had nearly doubled and that 91% of the centers reported having to hospitalize a student for psychological reasons. Even worse, of that 91%, 36% reported one or more suicides.
Anonymous is unsatisfied with the usual explanations for these increases, such as pressure for good grades and financial difficulties, for these are nothing new. "I contend that radical social ideologies are also to blame," she writes, "especially when they've spread from the classroom to the counseling center." She argues that the atmosphere of P.C. has muzzled her profession when it comes to offering wisdom to young people. This is best demonstrated when it comes to matters of the heart, a subject on which young people most desperately need the voice of wisdom and experience. But of course this kind of talk is terribly judgmental and narrow; therapists and counselors are strongly cautioned against using it.
According to Anonymous, these prohibitions make it nearly impossible for her to do her job. Moreover, they seem to apply exclusively to physicians in the mental health field. A cardiologist, she argues, feels perfectly justified in offering judgments about a patient's sedentary lifestyle. The truth may hurt, but no one worries that a fat man with hypertension will be offended by being told he should lose weight and exercise. But if a mental health physician has the gall to suggest to a young female patient displaying serious symptoms of depression that she might improve the quality of her life if she changes her casual attitude toward sex—well, that crosses the line. That's a value judgment and not medicine, she is likely to be told. Anonymous begs to differ. "I argue as a scientist," she says, "with biological facts, not biblical ones. Forget Leviticus—as you'll see, my data is from The New England Journal of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
In one example, Anonymous cites a mountain of evidence from surveys and studies in neurology and biology to argue that females are far more vulnerable than males in romantic attachments. The relevant science is widely available to those in the profession, but as far as her patients are concerned, it may as well be koine Greek: it's absent from the literature handed out in campus health centers. Consider oxytocin. Most women who have had a child know that oxytocin is a chemical involved in stimulating childbirth and let-down for nursing. Those who have read into the plethora of baby guides may know that oxytocin's release has been found to be related to maternal attachment. Oxytocin is also the chemical that stimulates milk production; nursing and formerly nursing mothers might even recall that the mere sound of a crying infant or sight of their baby's picture caused leaks. This demonstrates that over time, the release of oxytocin can be "classically conditioned." In other words, one doesn't need the actual event of holding or nursing to send oxytocin surging through one's body; it is enough to suggest it. But what many don't realize—least of all, college-age women and men—is that oxytocin is also released in women during sexual activity. This means that over time it may no longer take actual sexual activity to release this bonding chemical. The mere sight of the man with whom a woman had or is continuing to have sex can send oxytocin racing through her system.
Research also shows that oxytocin increases trust—a fact that many young men have sensed but seldom understood. It is easy to see how, for women, last Saturday's "hook-up" can become an obsession in a matter of weeks. This reaction confuses many young women. They are ashamed of themselves for feeling attached to a man (especially one they know doesn't deserve their attachment), because they have been socially conditioned to believe it makes them weak. Of course, in a way, it does. But it does not mean that they are crazy or that they need to toughen up their sexual psyche to resemble a man's. Certainly there is nothing wrong with them that requires the prescription of Zoloft. It only means that they are females and that their biology—if nothing else—suggests that they would be smart to protect themselves by being very careful about when and with whom they choose to have sex.
The problem is that college campus health and counseling centers assiduously avoid giving out that kind of information. Students are counseled to eat right, exercise, make time for themselves, and to use condoms. As one of Anonymous's patients said to her, "Why, Doctor, why do they tell you how to protect your body—from herpes and pregnancy—but they don't tell you how to protect your heart." Of course, to do this would run counter to the notion taught in most academic departments that women are just like men. And that...well, that just wouldn't be politically correct.