Last month, I was standing at the podium getting ready to give a lecture when I noticed a young woman had her laptop computer out. I was amused when I saw that the outside of her computer was adorned with a bumper sticker that said “TOLERANCE” in big white letters. I ignored her plea for tolerance as I demanded that she put her computer up during the lecture. I simply don’t “tolerate” students who pretend to take notes on their laptops while they are, in fact, surfing the net and posting on Facebook.
But I do seriously wonder whether she – or any other student promoting tolerance - really understands what the word means. It is unlikely that she does given that most of her professors do not understand what it means. Like catatonic schizophrenics, professors often mindlessly repeat words they don’t understand. And, arguably, “tolerance” and “diversity” are among the most repeated and least understood words in higher education today.
To illustrate my point, I am including (below) an email I recently received from a UNCW sociologist we’ll call “Tolerant Rob.” It was the third email I received announcing the showing of a pro-homosexual film at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Inter-sexed, and Allied Center at UNC-Wilmington:
I know that I'm ‘taking a chance’ forwarding this to you all. I know that some are intolerant, unaccepting and ‘not comfortable’ with ‘the gay lifestyle’. But someone has to have some huevos around here and that would be me.
Jimmy Wheeler had hopes and dreams. He was a gifted poet and painter and had a loving family who supported and cared for him. But for Jimmy Wheeler, growing up gay in rural Pennsylvania was too much to take. He was abused regularly at school. He was called awful names. In 1997, alone in a cold room, Jimmy Wheeler took his own life. ‘Jim in Bold tells the story of young James Wheeler and tells the stories of gay youth in this country, from the tragic impact of hatred to the triumphant resilience of youth,’ said Equality Forum’s Executive Director Malcolm Lazin.”