A graduate student at Antioch University in Seattle has incurred the wrath of her college by criticizing their radical approach to training therapists. Leslie Elliott, who says she considers herself a liberal, is a master’s student in clinical therapy. She grew fed up with a department that she believes has abandoned genuine therapy for extreme leftist dogma, and she says Antioch has responded by attempting to defame her and derail her education.
Antioch’s clinical therapy courses taught Elliott that therapists should serve as agents of social change. Race, in particular, should come up quickly in any counseling relationship. The counselor should map clients along a matrix of intersectional identities to determine whether they are “privileged” or “oppressed.” Minority clients should be taught to see how their minority status may have contributed to their problems. If the client is considered privileged, he or she should be taught to confront their white supremacy. In this intimate relationship, where an individual’s unique needs should dominate, counselors reportedly are told to bury the individual beneath the sloppy platitudes of group identities.
Elliott posted several YouTube videos criticizing her educational experience as a departure from science and good counseling practices. Comments poured in from others who had experienced similar “social justice” takeovers in counseling programs at other schools. Shortly after, she claims the university, without notice, cut her off from all student resources. The university issued a public statement blasting Elliott as a transphobic white supremacist and discouraging anyone from watching her videos. It reportedly created a “crisis team” to help the university cope and work through any trauma that Elliott allegedly caused by disagreeing with its worldview.
Elliott says the school requires that students in the graduate program sign a “civility pledge,” in which they acknowledge their “privileged and marginalized identities and the power that these afford.” Elliott has refused to sign — which may mean that she never graduates from the master’s program that has consumed several years of her life.
This pattern has become familiar. One wonders whether there’s a manual that college administrators consult when someone stands up to the orthodoxy. The pattern follows the three Ds of illiberal groupthink. First, Deflect: don’t engage the dissenter’s arguments; instead, simply spout hollow buzzwords about the college’s commitment to social justice. Second, Demonize: rather than grapple with the merits of the dissenter’s points, label the dissenter a retrograde racist and declare victory. Third, Dote: express your deep concern for anyone reportedly harmed by the dissenter and promise to repair the wounds of any victims exposed to an alternative viewpoint.
To be sure, there are victims here. But none of them was caused by Elliott’s dissension. First on the list is Elliott herself, who joins the growing ranks of Socratic thinkers sidelined and defamed by their schools. Then there are those silenced by her experience, who may agree with her but fear reprisal. And there are the students who leave school unequipped to clash with diverse viewpoints. Finally, there are the future clients of graduate students who are taught to see their clients as pawns in the supposed fight for social change, rather than as individuals with unique dignity and bearing.
It is remarkable that any university has arrived at a place where it considers one dissenting viewpoint to be a “crisis” that an elite team must charge in to resolve. Universities should celebrate dissent. They should be shining beacons of open inquiry.
Too many, however, are sliding into the snug repose of what John Stuart Mill called “the deep slumber of a decided opinion.” But sheltering students does them no favors. Truth does not hide in the cushions of a cozy armchair — it is earned through rigorous debate and honest combat with opposing ideas.
I’m proposing three new Ds to replace Deflect, Demonize and Dote. They are simply: Diversify, Dissent and Debate. By diversifying, I do not mean the bland skin-deep diversity coveted by the academe — I mean true viewpoint diversity. Invite diverse thinkers, invite them to dissent from the norm, and invite the ensuing debate that stretches and strengthens us. To return to Mill, “Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.” It’s past time that colleges once again see dissent as a key to intellectual development, rather than a crisis to surmount.
This op-ed was originally published at The Hill on February 06, 2023.