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Illustration Courtesy of Zelalem Waritu

Calling out Cancel Culture

Cancel culture has negative implications on the well-being of the NYUAD community. We should rethink how we hold students responsible for problematic opinions.

Dec 12, 2021

“I’m not here to be right ... I’m here to get it right.” — [Brené Brown] (
Cancel culture is harmful to students’ well-being and mental health as it currently exists on campus. “Canceling” implies immediate exclusion. It does not allow one the chance to correct their behavior. As such, we need to reassess how we deal with problematic and controversial student opinions as a student body.
Cancel culture started out as a way for people to hold influential figures accountable for politically incorrect actions and words by boycotting them from public platforms and — in extreme cases — even public society. It was a way for the powerless to get justice, given that influential people often get away with misbehavior because they leverage their influence. Now, however, it has evolved into a more counterproductive culture where sometimes, the fear of getting canceled is leveraged as a means to secure a particular discourse.
This is especially precarious for the emotional and mental well-being of individuals in a diverse university such as NYU Abu Dhabi, where people have different understandings of sensitive issues. University is a space meant for open discourse about such issues and experiencing the discomfort of political and social disagreement, which is an inherent part of learning. There are several murky social issues that people try to navigate, but cancel culture promotes “an intolerance of opposing views.”
The harmful effects of this are highlighted in a New York Post article: “You really can’t have a high-functioning democracy without people being willing to engage one another in meaningful ways to hash out their political [disagreements] (” This applies to higher education as well because we are all in a collective process of learning. Given the diverse contexts that inform our views and opinions, we cannot as a community allow the fear of getting canceled to silence those who want to learn and voice their opinions. This risks our discourse becoming both fearful and intolerant, which can lead to stress, anxiousness and toxicity from both individuals and the community at large.
On an individual level, the person being canceled is a student who is potentially emotionally vulnerable, due to the varying levels of intercultural competencies present at this university. Canceling leads to instant social ostracism which does not allow for that person to learn from their mistake or political incorrectness. The fear of isolation can lead to repressed thoughts, ideas and beliefs which can manifest into resentment and apprehension.
If a person gets canceled, the implications of social ostracism and isolation on individual mental well-being can be dire. Human interaction and connection is a basic human need. Psychological studies have depicted that the consequences of social isolation/rejection can be so severe they can manifest in physical pain. The long-term consequences include developing mental illnesses such as social anxiety, depression and in some cases, self-harm or suicide.
The mental health implications can also be viewed through the ensuing shame following being canceled. Brené Brown, a leading researcher on shame, uncovers how shame as a mechanism of correction or justice can lead to [more destructive than constructive outcomes] ( Shame leads to a feeling of inherent shortcoming — one that cannot be overcome because it’s an internalized sense of being wrong.
Instead of critically reflecting on their beliefs, a canceled person could easily resort to dwelling on their anger, bitterness and a sense of injustice because they feel attacked by the whole world. When there is no clear path to redemption or being reintegrated into society, an individual's focus will be on social isolation and they will develop a toxic aversion to the people responsible for their ostracism, rather than undertaking potential corrective measures.
These are reasons enough to consider alternatives such as “call-in culture,” which is checking someone’s politically incorrect behavior compassionately and in some instances even “call-out culture,” where problematic behaviors are pointed out publicly. Calling someone in or out creates guilt, which is a sense of discomfort that can be used to self-regulate.
However, the act of calling out gets conflated with cancel culture which is very different because the latter removes the person from society and hence, forces uninformed silences out of compulsion. Most importantly, it can create an unsafe environment in terms of students’ mental well-being. When someone is called in/out for their politically incorrect or narrow-minded views, however, it leaves a chance for growth, correction and redemption — which is integral to [mental well-being] (”
Of course, certain behaviors, such as hateful or discriminatory remarks, or behaviors dangerous to the physical and mental well-being of NYUAD students, don’t deserve reform or forgiveness, especially not from the recipients of such comments. I cannot provide a guide that determines exactly which behaviors are cancelable because there are many gray areas. However, the crux of my point is that we should be considering the implications of canceling more profoundly. Encouraging open, meaningful discourse about these issues is the most constructive way to preserve the well-being of individuals at NYUAD and the community at large.
Taanya Kapur is a Well-Being Columnist. Email her at
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