Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to underscore the importance of “challenging and uncomfortable ideas” by sharing a few of his own with some fresh-faced college grads.
In a commencement speech at the University of Michigan Saturday, the billionaire businessman assumed the role of cranky Boomer telling coddled Millennials to toughen up. He said it’s important to know how to cooperate, listen carefully, think critically and resolve conflicts through reason.
“The fact that some university boards and administrations now bow to pressure and shield students from these ideas through ‘safe spaces,’ ‘code words,’ and ‘trigger warnings’ is, in my view, a terrible mistake,” Bloomberg said to a chorus of cheers. “The whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations – not run away from them.”
His next pearl of wisdom — dismissing micro-aggressions as “exactly that: micro!” — was not so well-received.
“[I]n a macro-sense, one of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space because it creates the false impression that we can insulate ourselves from those who hold different views.”
An number of U of M students, particularly minorities, disagreed with Bloomberg’s perspective, according to sophomore Amber George.
George, who saw video of the speech, resented what she said was Bloomberg’s implication that colleges “baby” their students.
“We’re at a university where we should feel safe. The university should advocate for that instead of saying ‘suck it up,'” she said.
George said some of her friends were upset by the speech as well, with one even writing university President Mark Schlissel to share his thoughts.
The University of Michigan in particular has a poor track record of handling campus sexual assault, and is lacking in diversity, George notes. The undergraduate student body’s already small black population in particular has dipped from 7 percent to 4.6 percent in the past decade, according to university data.
“There are people who are afraid to come out and say something on [sexual assault] and a safe space helps people like that,” George said. “To say we should get rid of [safe spaces] undermines people like that.”
“We shouldn’t be afraid to want change,” George added. “There are people throughout history who laid down their lives to fight for change. We as young people shouldn’t be discouraged to change the way things are.”
Later on Saturday, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, President Barack Obama ribbed Bloomberg for his “controversial” views — which the former mayor had certainly reinforced at U of M by calling virtually everyone in the 2016 presidential race “demagogues.”
“A combative controversial New York billionaire is leading the GOP primary and it is not you,” Obama told Bloomberg. “That has to sting a little bit.”