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Die Student
The reigning culture of victimhood on campus
Mariné Bothma.

University campuses are known for shaping social norms, however, this shaping is not necessarily always an improvement. In recent years, a new “victimhood culture” has emerged from post-modernism as a powerful new force that threatens the liberal nature of campuses as well as the importance of learning to thrive in uncomfortable situations.

The problem is that South African students blindly accept these movements and in turn university institutions cave quickly to student demands without approaching it with reasonable scepticism.

Rather than acquiring sufficient evidence for wrongdoing before punishing a student, university administrators are expected by students to condemn the accused based on an accusation alone.

Reading Campbell and Manning, it becomes clear that the values of the victimhood culture are thus incentivising an illiberal turn in students and academics alike, who label political disagreement as violence while responding to scepticism toward that victimhood status by others with great emotion and anger.

The consequences

In his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson, describes the consequences of what looks to be this exact victimhood culture. He says that when people have a low opinion of their own worth or when they refuse to take responsibility over their lives, they tend to choose a new acquaintance, of exactly the kind who proved to be problematic in the past.

People who see themselves as victims don’t believe that they deserve any better and so they don’t go looking for it. They become used to being a victim and grow comfortable with always having an excuse.

The problem is that South African students blindly accept these movements and in turn university institutions cave quickly to student demands without approaching it with reasonable scepticism.

The only change occurs when they continue searching for new ways in which they might be oppressed in order to climb the victimhood ladder. This is sometimes disguised as a term called “intersectionality”, that attempts to postulate how you are by nature less privileged, merely because of the colour of your skin or the combination of your chromosomes.

This is where I am constantly being shut down in my attempt to convince women that they are capable of anything despite of their sex.

Dr. Peterson makes an interesting reference to Sigmund Freud’s “repetition compulsion”, which describes an unconscious drive to repeat the horrors of the past, to formulate those horrors more clearly, to attempt more active mastery or simply because no alternatives beckon. Students who promote victimhood are loud and outspoken, yet lack any form of logical reasoning. It is interesting to see how such a culture manifests itself in a space that is supposed to be producing anti-fragile, robust graduates who are ready to enter the workplace.

People who see themselves as victims don’t believe that they deserve any better and so they don’t go looking for it. They become used to being a victim and grow comfortable with always having an excuse.

First years have to sit through long orientation sessions where they are mostly lectured on their privilege, lack of cultural sensitivity and microaggressions.

Rather than treating emotional discomfort and lack of political agreement as an opportunity to grow and debate, students are in turn being taught to be extremely focused on not saying or doing anything that might be deemed as offensive, since it is almost elevated to the same level of threat as physical harm. 

Narrow-mindedness

Victimhood cultures favour the narrow-minded moral obsession that it is your identity as a victim that gives you status. What follows then is a system in which the moral status ladder can only be climbed by individuals who, by nature, possess certain kind of characteristics.

Those who are not so fortunate to be born with those characteristics have the option to then portray themselves as weak by claiming others’ behaviour toward them oppressive or violent. The others are left with the most rational option there is and take ownership of their responsibilities.

Victimhood culture incentivises bad behaviour and universities are becoming slaves to the demands of their students.

Victimhood culture incentivises bad behaviour and universities are becoming slaves to the demands of their students. It indoctrinates students with the belief that they do not have the responsibility to take ownership of their lives, it limits the right to freedom of expression and above all, produces weak and fragile graduates who will most likely not be capable of surviving in the real world.

I have become used to this culture on my own campus, and the absurdity is only increasing.

  • Mariné Bothma (20) studies law (LLB) at Stellenbosch University and is a member of the SRC. Sy comes from Ermelo in Mpumalanga.
  • This article reflects the personal views of the student and not those of Stellenbosch University or this university's SRC.
  • This opinion piece has also been translated into Afrikaans. To read the Afrikaans version, click here.
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