Wake Forest Professor Under Fire for Describing Conservatives as “Guilty, Anxious, and Unable to Handle Stress Well as Children”

The student-run independent The Wake Report has published a story that has gone national about a psychology professor who taught her students that conservatives are “guilty, anxious, and unable to handle stress well as children.” Conversely, liberals are generally “resourceful, independent, self-reliant, and confident as children.” Assistant professor S. Mason Garrison expressed surprise that students “interpreted” the description as “negative” and caused “discomfort.” Apparently, many would take being called “guilty” and “unable to handle stress” as comforting and positive.

What is most striking about the controversy is the astonishment that Professor Garrison expresses about the reaction of conservatives to her online Personality course description as “guilty, anxious, and unable to handle stress well as children.” After changing the language, Garrison told the student reporters:

“I apologize if my statements were interpreted as negatively characterizing conservative students. I was unaware that my comments had caused any feelings of marginalization, and I sincerely regret any harm or discomfort they may have caused.”

It strains credulity to suggest that the disparaging terms were just a matter of interpretation as “negatively characterizing conservative students.”

The response of Department of Psychology Chair Christy Buchanan to The Report was little better. Buchanan stated

“[s]ometimes misunderstandings occur in the course of human interactions, including those that occur in the classroom. I trust that both the department’s and Dr. Garrison’s responsiveness to the concerns brought forth in the current situation demonstrates the department values of and commitment to creating a safe and inclusive experience for all students.”

Buchanan also ignores the obvious bias, and false characterization of conservatives, including many students at Wake Forest. Rather than deal with such political prejudice, Buchanan adopts the same implausible suggestion that this was a “misunderstanding” and matter of interpretation.

It is a common pattern. When faculty on the left say controversial statements they tend to be ignored or rationalized. When conservative faculty make such statements, there is often a very different response from investigations to suspensions to even terminations.

I do not believe that Garrison should be terminated or sanctioned. However, it would be helpful if she or someone at the school would acknowledge the obvious rather than insult not just the sensibilities but the intelligence of conservative students and faculty.

It is also worth noting that the student reporters identified the source that Garrison cited for this clearly dubious claim as an article in the American Journal of Political Science titled Correlation not causation: the relationship between personality traits and political ideologies. However, the study appears to refute the very point made by Professor Garrison. The authors find that “personality traits do not cause people to develop political attitudes.” Indeed, the summary of their paper states:

“These findings cast doubt on the assumed causal relationship between personality and politics. Here we test the causal relationship between personality traits and political attitudes using a direction of causation structural model on a genetically informative sample. The results suggest that personality traits do not cause people to develop political attitudes; rather, the correlation between the two is a function of an innate common underlying genetic factor.”

Thus, not only does Garrison show obvious prejudice in describing conservatives on her slides, but she appeared to distort the actual findings of the report due to a possible confirmation bias confirming her own preconceptions.

136 thoughts on “Wake Forest Professor Under Fire for Describing Conservatives as “Guilty, Anxious, and Unable to Handle Stress Well as Children””

  1. Quite an interesting article, interesting questions, in general, this problem is intriguing, everything is rather ambiguous in my opinion, which has a deeper problematic as a consequence. In such situations, I am reminded of the amazon forest images, which is mercilessly targeted by all sorts of offenders who illegally cut it down, and the situation there is also ambiguous and very multifaceted, which should push the authorities to take action to eliminate this activity.

  2. If you asked me whether it was conservatives or progressives that are “guilty, anxious, and unable to handle stress well”. my guess would be progressives. Aren’t they the ones that take offense at everything, seem angry all the time, and need safe spaces?

  3. I do not care about the Professors remarks – she should be free to say them.

    Just as those would disagree should be free to make their arguments.

    What I find ODD is that contra Turley there IS evidence that anxiety and depression strongly correlate to politics.

    That should not be surprising – anxiety and depression are both caused by and cause strong negative cognitive distortions about the world.

    People are depressed and anxious because they see the world as worse than it is. In a vicious circle people who are depressed then Further see the world as worse than it is.

    This has been well known about anxiety and depression for more than 50 years. It is the basis of one of the only provably effective treatments for mental health issues – CBT Cognitive Behavioral therapy.

    WE KNOW that if you can teach people to get past their cognative distortions of the world their anxiety and depression improve.

    We also KNOW that people self report anxiety and depression as higher if:
    They are younger,
    They are women
    They are politically on the left.

    Approximately 14% of 60 year old conservative males suffer from anxiety and depression,
    Over 70% of 20 something left women suffer from anxiety and repression – compared to about 22% of 20 something conservative women, and 40% of progressive 20 something men.

    There is ZERO doubt what political ideology leads to anxiety and depression.

    Nor should this be the least surprising. There is little doubt what Ideology falsely perceives the world as going to h311 when it is improving.

    1. Not that I am disagreeing with anything you say, but I find it interesting where are you suggest that depressed people “ see the world as worse than it is”. On the surface, I agree with that, but who determines the state of the world? Who’s to say that depressed people see it worse than it is or that happy people see it better than it is?

      1. Who is to say ?


        Are humans not objectively better off than 300K years ago ?
        Than 300 years ago ?

        If you want we can discuss how we measures for “better off”

        You can also play the everything is subjective card, but even that really does not get you far.

        Society can not exist without a core of shared values – whether those values are subjective or not.

        Further even if objective truth does not exist – relative truth not only does but is an absolute necessity.

        If you have no way of determining whether A is better than B – you have no basis to strive to accomplish ANYTHING,

        Which loops back to the depressed see the world worse than it is. Get depressed enough – and you DIE because you are unable to do the things necescary to continue to live – because you value nothing, including life.

        You have struck on an important point.

        Who is to say ? Each of us says on our own, and the assessment of shared values that results establishes standards, norms that we use to measure.

        That may not result in a objective system, but it results in an important and necescary one.

        Society does not exist without shared values, and we measure against those.

  4. They also like to play the ‘uneducated’ card. But if you look at educational attainment, conservatives outperform liberals in every area except for worthless PhDs in useless subjects such various ethnic and gender studies, politics and a few others completely dominated by liberals. More HS graduates, more some college, more 4 year degrees, as many STEM PhDs. They really are biased, bigoted and completely unaware of how things are outside their bubble.

  5. Jonathan: I read Nam’s student editorial. You say Nam has rejected the “core values of free speech…”. Not exactly. Nam made it clear in her editorial she does support free speech. She says “we’ve made a point of pride to always make a space for listening to ideas, no matter how different they might be from our own”. Her argument is that when it comes to abortion, which she supports, the divide is so great on the issue of abortion “civil” debate is no long possible. Let’s examine that argument.

    In your column you refer to the students who set up the table on campus as “pro-life” who simply wanted to “engage in logical debates about fetal personhood and abortion ethics”. “Pro-life” and “fetal personhood” are apparently predicates you think anyone who would engage in a “civil” debate with the anti-abortion students must accept. That’s the problem. Your Catholicism teaches that life begins at conception. An embryo is a “person” and an abortion is murder. It’s a theological argument not based on science or logic. Those who oppose abortion accept accept Catholic theological doctrine. How does one engage in a “civil” debate with those who base their views on religious doctrine rather than science, logic or even the law? I’ll save the legal arguments for another comment.

  6. I went back to school for a nursing degree later in life and was stunned by the blatant bias of many professors. For example: The Psychology Department had a large sign posted in his office about how to tell the difference between a conservative and a liberal – all negatives for conservatives (such as selfish and money hunger) and all positives for liberals (such as generous and compassionate). One of the core instructors in the nursing program gave the entire graduating class a talk, letting us know we were expected to be for Obamacare and to vote accordingly. I witnessed many, many examples of intimidating or coercive pressure to conform to left-leaning group think, coming from the instructors. The students who thought differently. tended to keep a low profile for fear of retaliation or being though of as an outcast. Sometimes they would thank me privately for speaking up against the bias.

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