New Database Documents Campus Cancel Culture

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Cancel culture is endemic on college campuses. Every day come stories of professors, speakers, and students who run afoul of the radical left and suffer the consequences. With the frequency of these incidents, it can be difficult to keep track.

The College Fix, the news site dedicated to providing a conservative perspective on news from campuses across the nation, now offers what it calls the Campus Cancel Culture Database to document many examples.

“If you want to know the truth, if you want to know how America really used to be … come to the database and we’ll list everything that used to be there,” says Jennifer Kabbany, editor-in-chief of The College Fix.

Kabbany joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to talk about the database as well as offer solutions for those getting canceled at their universities.  

We also cover these stories:

  • The number of Americans quitting their jobs has reached record levels, the Labor Department says.
  • To address bottlenecks in the global supply chain, the Biden administration announces that Walmart, FedEx, and UPS will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • The drugstore chain Walgreens announces the closing of five more stores in San Francisco because of organized shoplifting.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript. 

Doug Blair: Our guest today is Jennifer Kabbany, editor at The College Fix and visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. Jennifer, welcome to the show.

Jennifer Kabbany: Thanks for having me.

Blair: Excellent. So, College Fix recently released the Campus Cancel Culture Database, which is described as “a one-stop shop to monitor, chronicle—and remember—the effect of cancel culture on higher education.” How did you come up with the idea to catalog all of these incidents of cancel culture on college campuses?

Jennifer Kabbany: Yeah, great question. So, The College Fix is a daily news website, so we’re constantly reporting day after day, week after week about the shenanigans, the culture wars on college campuses. So we’ve been covering these examples one by one, but as the weeks and the months and the years go by, they just become these headlines that you kind of see and forget, and see and forget.

We don’t want to forget. We want to remember. We do not want to let this Orwellian trend just leave a gaping hole in our shared history. So at the start of 2021, my boss had suggested, he’s like, “Hey, what’s all the art that we’ve lost?” And I said, “What’s all the art that we’ve lost? Yeah. What’s all the paintings, and the statues, and the building names, and the professors, and the student groups, and the disinvitations?” And it just sort of snowballed into this massive project that we felt really was worthy of our time and intention to chronicle, quantify, and remember everything that’s been canceled.

Blair: On college campuses, yeah.

Kabbany: Specifically higher education in this case.

Blair: Right. And so your list counts more than 1,400 incidents of cancel culture that have taken place on college campuses. Does that number surprise you? Is that higher or lower than you expected? Where does that place in your sort of idea?

Kabbany: It’s the minimum because we’re actually a small operation. So we went through all of our archives and we found all the examples of successful cancellations and attempted cancellations, we put them into our database. And then I checked out like-minded groups like the National Association of Scholars or [the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education], and we kind of saw what they’ve done. And we fleshed out our database as best we could, some Google searches, etc.

So what we presented is sort of the minimum amount of what we could find and what we were able to put together here on our initial release. But the beauty of the database is moving forward, it’s going to be crowdsourced, so folks can go to the website and add an entry that we vet before we post it or publish it as part of the database. But essentially, things that we might have missed, things that are happening now, this week. We just had a huge cancellation at MIT two days ago. So 1,400 is the minimum, and it’s just going to grow from there.

Blair: Right. So there’s probably more out there that [have] been lost in time or they’re lost in the ether, but hopefully some of these things will be captured by sort of the crowd as time goes forward. Given that you’ve been listing all of these incidents of cancel culture, would you be able to give our listeners maybe some of the more egregious ones that you found on the list as an example?

Kabbany: Sure, absolutely. In fact, I just recently came up with a list of the 10 most outrageous campus cancellations in the last decade. And a couple of those on the list that stand out to me … one is a Princeton acapella group stopped singing “The Little Mermaid’s” “Kiss the Girl.”

Blair: Oh, no.

Kabbany: And that’s a victim of the Me Too movement, because … apparently, “All you wanna do is kiss the girl,” that now is not allowed anymore, apparently. I mean, it’s the silly stuff like that.

We had another example where an all-female college, all-female college, canceled a production of “The Vagina Monologues,” a very famous long-standing production, because it was not inclusive to women without vaginas. So I hope I’m allowed to say that here. I’m sorry, but this is what we’re dealing with here. So those are just two examples.

We had a lot of examples of people who have gotten in trouble for Halloween costumes that they’ve worn. That was another big one. So silly stuff like that. Couple years ago, a screening of “Zoolander 2” was canceled at a college in Southern California because it mocked marginalized identities. So even comedy is a target in today’s day and age.

Blair: Right. We’ve had some people on the show who’ve recently talked about some TV shows that would be unable to be made today, or who had been canceled simply because the content would be offensive to modern sensibilities.

One of the things I’m kind of curious about is, you’ve done this massive collection of incidents of cancel culture. Is there a pattern or a common theme that you find around maybe the cancelers or the cancelees? What patterns emerge in your research?

Kabbany: A pattern that I’ve found has been almost chronological. So back in 2010, 2011, 2012, a lot of it was focused on cultural appropriation. That was the big-ticket item back then. And so we saw Greek life parties being criticized. We saw Halloween costumes being criticized. We saw “all you can eat” taco bars deemed defensive.

So [those were] the kind of things that we were seeing. That was the emerging trend with the culture appropriation. And then over time, people took this idea of being offended and really just ran with it.

Roughly, I’ve been asked, ” … The term cancel culture, when was it coined?” And it’s hard to pinpoint, but I’m going to say 2017-ish, somewhere around then when we started deciding that every little thing that we didn’t like offended us [and] should not exist.

And popular culture went around and it really took off—speeches, disinvitations. I mean, to a certain extent, it’s always been around, but it became acceptable to cancel people, to cancel student groups, student events. We see pro-life flyers in 2015, ’16, 2017, pro-life flyers and crosses ripped up, vandalized. Groups like [the Young America’s Foundation] and Turning Point USA, I mean, they literally can’t [set a] table out on their quad without people coming and flipping over their table, or trashing their stuff, or yelling in their face.

We had, obviously, the drama of Milo Yiannopoulos in 2017 with the Berkeley protest … and there was also some big drama at Yale a few years back. So it all sort of continued to snowball. And then more recently in the wake of George Floyd’s death, what we saw was campus administrators trying to prove that they are actively anti-racist.

How do you show you’re actively anti-racist in the wake of George Floyd? You remove statues, you cover paintings, you rename buildings. And over the last 18 months, since the death of George Floyd, that has been going nonstop. At least one example a week comes down. And more recently, kind of interesting, I’ve seen now anybody who’s been involved in the eugenics movement—that’s a very kind of more recent target, but now that’s the next on the list.

Certainly, there were victims of Me Too. [Rudy] Giuliani’s being canceled. I mean, [Bill] Cosby, he was canceled at every single college or university. So it’s really a rainbow of reasons, themes, but essentially, it all boils down to, “I’m offended. You did something wrong. Goodbye.”

Blair: Right. It’s interesting you mentioned the crosses. I’m going to date myself, but back when I was in college around 2015-ish, I went to a Catholic school in Portland, Oregon. And I remember that there would be crosses up for anti-abortion pro-life movements, and people would just brazenly go and take them down. And it would just be culturally acceptable for that to happen. That was sort of the beginning of that. But on that note, as I mentioned, I grew up in a blue state. Did you find that there were any geographic themes in this list, like this was happening more in red states, this was happening in blue states, rural places, urban places? What was the sort of geographic themes of the list?

Kabbany: Sure. So certainly, the coastal elites have a strong grasp of cancel culture. They’re very good at it. You can do a keyword search in our database. So if you keyword search Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, any of the Little Ivies, I mean, there’s just plenty of examples of these elite coastal, private, uppity, preppy universities really clamping on free speech, much more so than, I think, the state schools. But you have schools like UCLA and UC Berkeley, which have two dozen entries a piece easily. So public universities are not immune, but they are more beholden to the First Amendment than some of these private schools.

So definitely, you’re going to see sort of that red state, blue state geographic distinction. But … it’s not like UT Austin. Plenty of examples there where you think, “Well, hey, Texas. You can get away with anything in Texas.” Not at UT Austin.

Blair: Interesting.

Kabbany: So you still see it. You’ll still see it at University of Minnesota, University of Michigan. Yeah, that’s another big one. So, it’s happening because what’s going on is these colleges and universities, they may be in a red state, but they’re a blue dot in a red state, they’re a blue stronghold in a red state. And so things that normally might not pass muster with the community standards, definitely they get away with it on campus.

Blair: Right. Well, I’m interested that you mentioned a blue dot. So one of the things that popped out to me while I was reading the information about the database was that you include cancellations from both the right and the left. I mean, slightly biased here, but my gut instinct is that this really happens more on the left canceling the right than the right canceling the left. Is that a true instinct with your research, or where does this sort of play out?

Kabbany: Certainly, there are examples of the right engaging in cancel culture, and we would really be remiss not to include those. So we did. And a lot of times, it’s an example of a professor that really says something so outrageous and it shows their bias. But at the end of the day, they still have free speech too, and what students can do is look them up and not take their classes. I mean, that’s part of their free choice, but we definitely wanted to include that. But by and large, and I’m talking 90%, 95% of the examples are coming from the progressive left, absolutely.

Blair: Right. So in terms of the ways that we’ve discussed somebody can be canceled, I know we’ve mentioned that people can be disinvited from campus. They can have their things torn down. People can scream in their faces. Is there a pattern about the most effective way that somebody’s been canceled? Does one method of cancellation pop up more than any of the other methods?

Kabbany: Petitions tend to have a strong impact it seems when they get that petition going. See, the thing is with the petitions, there could be 20,000 signatures, but maybe a small percentage are really from folks, stakeholders on campus. But a university bureaucrat could see a petition with tens of thousands of signatures and kind of freak out and look at it as a PR situation.

Also, Twitter mobs, very effective. You “@” a college, and they get notification after notification after notification of outraged students who feel erased and marginalized and oppressed and unsafe. Then they’re going to have to act because the whole nanny state on college campuses. We must protect these students from real life, apparently.

So those two examples of the keyboard warriors and the change.org petitions are very effective.

Blair: Now, you’ve mentioned that it’s less stakeholders on campus than it is maybe other people outside of the campus. Are you saying that there’s a lot of people that sort of, “Hey, reach out to your friend over in Boston about your school in Texas and get them to sign a petition”? Like this is a sort of external factor as well?

Kabbany: I do. I think a lot of times a cancel culture campaign just gets folks revved up, and they sort of crowdsource their outrage against a particular target. You see that on higher education cancel culture examples as well as, I think, just the mainstream examples where just everybody decides, “This is the target for the day. Let’s grab our pitch forks, and then tomorrow move on to the next victim.”

Blair: That’s kind of brutal. So we have this database, and clearly there is a lot of data and a lot of research that we can delve into here. What is the top line here? What is the lesson that you’d like people to take away when they look at this database?

Kabbany: Well, we definitely felt that the problem needed to be quantified, because again, as I mentioned, it’s headline after headline after headline after headline. You’re reading, you’re reading, you’re reading, and it sort of becomes this malaise of cancellation, and you sort of lose track of everything that’s been canceled.

And by golly, we’re not going to forget it. We’re going to list every single thing that has been erased, memory-holed, censored, disinvited. Because if it just becomes sort of this, looking back, we can’t even keep track of what we’ve lost, then I think it loses impact. No. This is having an extreme effect on our culture, on our shared history, on our commonality. I mean, we are Americans, warts and all. And I think we should embrace that, learn from it, grow from it, rather than erase it and cancel it.

So we want to make sure that we quantify the problem and track the problem so it is not forgotten, and that we can show how big of a problem it is. But secondly, sort of philosophically, I want it to be the opposite of the Ministry of Truth that erases things and changes history. We’re going to stand to thwart that. If you want to know the truth, if you want to know how America really used to be, higher education in our case, come to the database and we’ll list everything that used to be there.

Blair: So it seems like we are in a cycle of cancel culture. Obviously, this database is documenting all of these cases. It’s being very regularly updated, which means that this is not something that’s going away or even reducing in scale. How do we get out of this cycle of cancel culture and outrage? What are some concrete steps that we can take?

Kabbany: I think stakeholders in a campus community—and that’s students, professors, trustees, alumni, donors—I mean, look, be the squeaky wheel and email the president, and be like, “Look, don’t cancel this. Don’t be ridiculous.”

We have a situation, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has this gorgeous large statue of Abraham Lincoln. And did you know for the last five years, there’s been clamoring of the students, including a resolution approved by the student government as well as Black Lives Matter student protesters, to remove the Lincoln statue from campus? Now, granted, this is the same university that removed a racist rock that was roughly 2 billion years old and had been on campus for 10,000 years, what have you. So we won’t go down that rabbit hole.

But the point is, when Chancellor [Rebecca] Blank said, “No, we’re not removing the Lincoln statue,” … it turns out several alumni and donors emailed, like, “Look, take a stand for Lincoln, for goodness’ sake.” And she did. So I think there’s something to be said about pitching in.

I’m a San Diego State University alumnus, and when they wanted to cancel the Aztec Warrior as our mascot, I emailed in as an alumnus and a stakeholder and said, “That was the best part of the football game. The guy comes out, he’s got his warrior staff, and we all cheered and got excited. Come on.” So I think there’s something to be said about putting your two cents in and letting the people in charge of campuses know that there’s another side.

Blair: Excellent. So as we wrap-up here, if our listeners would like to check out the database or more of your organization’s work, where would you recommend that they go?

Kabbany: If you go to thecollegefix.com, there’s a link right in the upper-right hand corner that’ll take you to the database. And keep in mind, there’s so many ways that you can search it. You can just search everything, everything that’s been protested and canceled, or you can toggle and just look at what’s been canceled, or just looked at what’s been protested. If you want to check out your university, you can do a keyword search. Or we even have it broken down by genre, so we have movies, theaters, statues, paintings, buildings’ names, guest speakers.

So it’s a lot of fun to kind of just poke around, and kind of daunting and scary to realize everything that’s been taken away from us or deemed unacceptable. But just have some fun kind of doing those searches and seeing what you can find, and it can be quite a shocking eye-opener.

Blair: Well, great. So our guest today was Jennifer Kabbany, editor at The College Fix and visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. Jennifer, thank you so much for all of your time.

Kabbany: Oh, my pleasure. Anytime.

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