What does ‘roiling’ mean?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: roiling …

I attended college at the very end of the 1970s. The place my children now attend — my own alma mater — seems vastly changed. As different as grapes are from raisins. I hope I can say that without offending anybody, but I doubt it.

In an insightful May 30/16 essay in the New Yorker, titled The Big Uneasy, Nathan Heller, describes some of the recent changes at the big US Ivy Leagues. Here is part of what he wrote about places such as Yale, Oberlin and Claremont:

During this academic year, schools across the country have been roiling with activism that has seemed to shift the meaning of contemporary liberalism without changing its ideals.

I, too, have noticed this change. I grew up when free expression was the ne plus ultra of a college education. Now, it seems, protecting students from adversity is the larger goal. Heller covers this point sensitively and thoughtfully in his article which made use of the splendid word roiling.

The verb ‘to roil’ means to make (a liquid) turbid or muddy by disturbing the sediment. To me, this captures perfectly the current flavour of campus life: disturbed, murky, unclear. I like the idea of students being free to explore new ideas and to challenge the status quo. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with them being packaged in cotton wool, which is what some of them appear to want.