University of Chicago writes a letter to its incoming freshmen
August 26, 2016 4:52 AM   Subscribe

The University of Chicago does not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces'.

"Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own," the letter said.

The university is preparing students for the real world and would not be serving them by shielding them from unpleasantness, said Geoffrey Stone, chair of the committee, law professor and past provost at the U. of C.
posted by heyho (314 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
The university is preparing students for the real world and would not be serving them by shielding them from unpleasantness

At the same time, the University has a duty to shield them from actual danger. Time for them to up their game on responding to sexual assault in meaningful ways.
posted by mikelieman at 5:02 AM on August 26, 2016 [36 favorites]


Well, there are plenty that do. Let's see how these competing policies affect student achievement and enrollment in the next few years.

At the same time, the University has a duty to shield them from actual danger. Time for them to up their game on responding to sexual assault in meaningful ways.

This is definitely something that all universities should be doing for their students. However, I'm not aware of safe spaces functioning to prevent sexual assault. A safe space for, say, people of color or LGBT people, is not automatically an assault-free zone, and even if it were nobody can spend all their time in one.
posted by Rangi at 5:03 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


https://csl.uchicago.edu/get-help/sexual-abuse-assault/disciplinary-legal-options

I notice that Law Enforcement is literally the last option on that page. Guess they're not...
posted by mikelieman at 5:05 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


As an alum, I'm really disappointed not just by this stance, but also by the way it was taken. I do not expect any school to say "We can guarantee trigger warnings for everyone who wants them, for any topic, and we can promise you that you will always be in a safe space." BUT, nor do I expect an institution of higher learning to "welcome" its new members to campus with this kind of "fuck your trigger warnings, you babies" tone.

That a school which prides itself on its brilliance has taken such a black-and-white, blockheaded stance is telling. There is no nuance in this letter. There is no deep thinking there. There is someone writing this letter, fist pumping and saying "take that" with the kind of fervor usually reserved for sports (not at U of C, natch), and it tells me a lot about that writer.

A good point I saw made last night: one of the most frequent objections to trigger warnings and safe spaces is that students need to learn to "live in the real world." A student who asks for a trigger warning related to rape because she has been raped has lived plenty in the real world. A student who seeks a safe space for people of color because she's sick of constant microaggressions has lived plenty in the real world. Those who view trigger warnings and safe spaces as unnecessary and ridiculous are more often than not the ones who have been spared living in the real world, in all its cruelty, because of their privileged race and gender.

I won't be giving a dime to U of C this year.
posted by sallybrown at 5:06 AM on August 26, 2016 [304 favorites]


I was really heartened by the student responses in the video. They were so thoughtful, and they put their finger on what had been bothering me ( a U of C alumna) about the letter - that it was condescending and maybe a bit hypocritical.

The kids are alright.
posted by maggiemaggie at 5:09 AM on August 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


At the same time, the University has a duty to shield them from actual danger. Time for them to up their game on responding to sexual assault in meaningful ways.

The U of C has one of the largest private police forces in the world. I guess that's where we draw the line about the importance of living in "the real world," eh?
posted by sallybrown at 5:09 AM on August 26, 2016 [28 favorites]


A simple search/replace macro to decode these sorts of statements. Wherever you see "learn to live in the real world" replace it with "learn to accept your lot in life."
posted by I-Write-Essays at 5:10 AM on August 26, 2016 [84 favorites]


Meanwhile, in Britain:
Universities’ use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment cases involving staff and students is allowing alleged perpetrators to move to other institutions where they could offend again, according to academics, lawyers and campaigners.

They warn that the prevalence of harassment is being masked because of the use of confidentiality clauses in settlements, which prevent any of the parties discussing what has happened.

Universities that find themselves at the centre of sexual harassment allegations are accused of prioritising their own reputations in an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace over their duty of care to vulnerable students.
Sally Weale and David Batty, Sexual harassment of students by university staff hidden by non-disclosure agreements, The Guardian (26 August 2016).
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:10 AM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Friend posted this article in response on Facebook. I guess he and I both routinely use "trigger warnings" in the sense of "We give students a heads up about potentially difficult material coming up in the course":

[...]there is something infuriating to me about people who take issue with a professor introducing a text by saying “FYI, this book is about rape” or with a staff member sticking a safe space sign on their door so that young people who come to them looking for help know that they will be supported.

What, really, is the alternative to these scenarios? Should teachers, knowing that some of their students might be survivors of sexual assault, just go ahead and ambush students in the name of toughening them up? Should my resident head apartment be declared an unsafe space wherein those who come looking for aid and comfort will be told to shut the fuck up and deal with it?

I think the questions answer themselves. They also make the stakes of the debate clear. On one side–people who who are comfortable with the world as it is and don’t much care about the experience of others. On the other side–people who want the world, which is terrible, to be just a bit better than it is.

posted by damayanti at 5:10 AM on August 26, 2016 [118 favorites]


Oh my heavens. I already popped a blood vessel arguing with some academics about this on FB yesterday. I don't know if I can handle more today.

My comment was this: "I really don't understand the hostility I see directed against "political correctness" or trigger warnings or other really basic sensible compassionate approaches to decency, diversity and inclusivity. Especially when people say "it's a SLIPPERY SLOPE" or "but where we draw the line!?!!?" as if sensitivity and compassion for everyone can lead to something other than a respect for all human beings. Are people really too mad and lazy and indignant and ego-wounded to try to be better people? No one can be perfect... but we are better people by trying."

And it still got pushback: "But what if it goes tooo faaaarrrrr???" (groan)
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:11 AM on August 26, 2016 [53 favorites]


I'm not happy about this move by my alma mater, even less so when I see the Trump followers flooding comment sections to voice their incoherent support. The University can talk all it wants about intellectual rigor, but if when you find yourself on their side you need to take a step back and reassess.

The argument against trigger warnings and safe spaces is largely built on strawmen and misrepresentations, a fact I'm able to realize in part because of the critical thinking skills I got at the U of C. Of course, Dean Ellison went to Harvard, so I guess I should have lower standards for him.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:15 AM on August 26, 2016 [39 favorites]


For the past few semesters, I have been assigning my intro biology students to read this article about a family dealing with Huntington's disease and different decisions about end of life care. In the link on the LMS, I always include a parenthetical: "(note: this article deals with terminal illness and suicide)". To date, the world has not ended.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:17 AM on August 26, 2016 [44 favorites]


I read something recently (can't remember where but likely linked from here) about the way that the conversation around marginalised groups is being turned around, like they're the ones with immense privilege and just-your-average-dude stands to gain something by them losing that privilege. Like the pernicious narrative around disability and benefits in the UK - you get too much money, you've got too many bedrooms, we want to strip you of these things to reduce your privilege (even though we're secretly the ones with all the privilege anyway).

This feels like part of the same trend. As though the people who benefit from trigger warnings and safe spaces are entitled, privileged babies who don't want to encounter something that might upset them, rather than people who have already been [repeatedly] traumatised by things beyond their control.

These narratives obviously have immense benefit for the people who choose to believe them (usually people with significant privilege themselves) because it allows them to dismiss, disregard and ignore the lived experiences of other people.

It smacks of "I don't want to be disturbed by the possibility of your very real assault because it contradicts my comfortable worldview, so you don't get to have any help or leeway in dealing with it or encountering material that might be traumatic (else I might actually have to confront it)". They get their own trigger warnings, effectively, by policing other people's rights to not be repeatedly re-traumatised and blocking open discussion about the bad things that happen to people. Which also allows those things to keep happening!
posted by terretu at 5:23 AM on August 26, 2016 [72 favorites]


It's a trigger warning about trigger warnings. Be wary; some professors may use trigger warnings! Don't be (too) offended.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:30 AM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


Yeah... backlash against "trigger warnings" is get-off-my-lawnism for people who otherwise wouldn't bat an eyelash at "content advisories" or other "viewer discretion advised" sorts of stuff.

I guess it's good that someone there has decided that being fundamentally disingenuous is a vital part of their mission and has made this abundantly clear
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:31 AM on August 26, 2016 [27 favorites]


Would it have killed the Chicago Tribune to talk to ONE SINGLE PERSON who's in favor of trigger warnings, or who could point out how overblown the "controversy" over them is? This isn't journalism, it's the paper of record serving as a PR firm for the university.
posted by goatdog at 5:31 AM on August 26, 2016 [44 favorites]


Lots of U of C people here!

I have a lot of thoughts about this, but I'm not going to have time to express them well, I'm afraid.

First of all, I am not sure that the letter really affirmed the spirit of intellectual freedom, since it took a pretty hardline stance on how faculty should respond in the classroom to a controversial issue. The University has since clarified that of course individual faculty members are free to issue trigger warnings, but they'll do so knowing that they're defying the most powerful people at the University.

Second of all, my experience is that there are very serious threats to academic freedom that come from right-wing alums who feel that their donations entitle them to dictate what does and doesn't happen in the classroom and other academic forums. It would have been cool if the letter had also acknowledged other threats to academic freedom and affirmed the university's commitment to combatting them. Because right now, it sounds like the University is very committed to defending the institution from marginalized students and not so committed to defending the University from threats that come from people with money and power. I don't actually think that's true, but it's how it looks.

And finally, the optics are terrible. The tone of the letter was bad, as was the fact that everyone involved (Dean of Students Jay Ellison, Dean of the College John Boyer, law school prof Geoffrey Stone, who has been widely cited defending the letter) is a white man, as are the university president, the chairman of the board of trustees, the provost, and let's face it, almost everyone with real power at the University of Chicago. And maybe that's a bigger issue than this stupid, tone-deaf letter, although I also think that the stupid, tone-deaf letter would have been less likely to have been sent in its current form if the power structure at the University were made up of a more-diverse pool of people.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:32 AM on August 26, 2016 [72 favorites]


As an alum, I'm really disappointed not just by this stance, but also by the way it was taken. . . There is no nuance in this letter.

Is there a link to the full text of the letter? I can't read it in the graphic depiction in the Tribune article or linked tweet.
posted by layceepee at 5:33 AM on August 26, 2016


I would consider that declaration to be a Trigger Warning for the entire school.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:34 AM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


This isn't journalism, it's the paper of record serving as a PR firm for the university.

God help us if the Tribune is a paper of record. It slants very conservative, so the way it covered this doesn't surprise me.
posted by sallybrown at 5:34 AM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I suspect they were forced to do this so that their economics department could keep its privileged access to Hell. It's the only rational explanation for so many people getting their nose bent out of shape about being polite and considerate to others.
posted by Kattullus at 5:39 AM on August 26, 2016 [33 favorites]


In my experience, there are actually lots of emotionally fragile people whose sheltered existence makes them unable to have their worldview challenged without descending into disruptive tantrums about being exposed to things like safe spaces and trigger warnings. They really just need to suck it up and learn to live in the real world.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:39 AM on August 26, 2016 [93 favorites]


Also, I have to say that, considering the University of Chicago's history as the hotbed of the "There Is No Alternative" school of hard-neoliberal ideology, their claim to be protecting discursive and intellectual diversity seems a little rich. Then again, the image they create—of passive students being forced to face "ideas and perspectives at odds with their own," as though that difference in perspective was necessarily the product of simple student naivete—does fit in with the bullying tone of TINA.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:43 AM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Protip: If you find yourself saying "so-called", just stop at that point. You've already said that you don't care and can't be made to care.
posted by Etrigan at 5:43 AM on August 26, 2016 [33 favorites]


Also, I have to say that, considering the University of Chicago's history as the hotbed of the "There Is No Alternative" school of hard-neoliberal ideology, their claim to be protecting discursive and intellectual diversity seems a little rich.

The U of C is really split between the econ department (and parts of the law school) and everybody else. At least as an undergrad ten years ago, I barely encountered the econ people. One of the more disturbing things about the times I've seen the school in the news recently (this, some union stuff) is the extent to which it seems like the econ department is ascendant.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:46 AM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


And finally, the optics are terrible. The tone of the letter was bad, as was the fact that everyone involved

'scuse me - "optics"?
posted by Leon at 5:51 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


The way it looks. I apologize for using terrible politics jargon. Not enough coffee to type good this morning.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:52 AM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Thx muchly. Not easy to Google.
posted by Leon at 5:53 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


The original U of C report on academic freedom sparked a huge argument among my friends who are educators on Facebook late last year. This article by Peter Wood at NAS was cited frequently.

If administration and faculty are concerned about students trying to silence opinions they disagree with, that could have been addressed without condescendingly dismissing people's lived experiences. Disappointing.
posted by zarq at 5:53 AM on August 26, 2016


Yeah... backlash against "trigger warnings" is get-off-my-lawnism for people who otherwise wouldn't bat an eyelash at "content advisories" or other "viewer discretion advised" sorts of stuff.

It's even more ridiculous than that. The same bros who will clutter up Reddit ranting about "SJWs and their trigger warnings" will also go apocalypso nuts if someone mentions a plot point in a video game without a "spoiler alert".
posted by bonaldi at 5:56 AM on August 26, 2016 [66 favorites]


If you want to know the University of Chicago's position it's not that hard to find: http://freeexpression.uchicago.edu/sites/freeexpression.uchicago.edu/files/FOECommitteeReport.pdf
posted by alpheus at 5:56 AM on August 26, 2016


Former U of C student body president Tyler Kissinger notes that the administration seems to be bigger fans of "intellectual safe spaces" when they're involved.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:58 AM on August 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


This is the university that recently renamed its admin building after the president who in 1969 expelled 42 students for staging a sit-in.
posted by goatdog at 5:59 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


When I was working as a TA at OSU leading microbiology labs I used trigger warnings, and can't imagine being so self-righteous that I'd make myself less effective as an instructor by not using them. Whenever I would show a powerpoint slide with a gory wound or reference fucked up shit I would always be careful to give students a heads up that thats where we were going as a class. Some students would look away from those slides, and that would be ok. Effective learning is a student centered process that is all about giving students a path for them to follow towards new knowledge and context, not an instructor centered process that is about dragging students through coming to the instructors perspective. Some students are going to want to look away from a picture of the ribboney remains of an arm half blown off by a landmine no matter how cool its lack of infection is, and its ok for them to come to the knowledge that that picture conveys some other way. Similarly, some students are not going to want to have sexual assault discussed in a casual way in front of them, and thats also totally ok.

Effective learning happens on the student's terms anyway, there is no conceivable benefit to playing bullshit gotchya games by not giving students warnings about fucked up shit. The best this letter can be said to be doing is proudly displaying the pedagogical illiteracy of the University of Chicago's leadership.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:01 AM on August 26, 2016 [38 favorites]


Also, considering U of C's shitty history regarding rape and sexual assault of their students, the administration's part in supporting a school culture of rape and the lengths student activists had to go to have victims be treated with dignity and respect (tw: rape/assault, graphic descriptions) one would think they'd be trying their damnedest to protect their students from potential trauma.
posted by zarq at 6:03 AM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


The best this letter can be said to be doing is proudly displaying the pedagogical illiteracy of the University of Chicago's leadership.

This, so much. When I read the letter, I was honestly stunned. It didn't read like a welcome letter from a dean of a respected university, it read like a grumpy old man in the comments section of a buzzfeed article.
posted by FirstMateKate at 6:05 AM on August 26, 2016 [31 favorites]


With this letter, the University of Chicago is doing a great job pandering to the crotchety old fart alumni who are most likely to donate to the school. They're also doing a great job alienating the smart, engaged young students and faculty who actually know what any of the words in this letter mean. They're privileging the past at the expense of the future, and accepting monetary gain today in exchange for intellectual relevance tomorrow.

Bad call, U of C. Bad call.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:07 AM on August 26, 2016 [22 favorites]


From zarq's article:

During Orientation Week she attended the mandatory presentations on campus safety, which included a comedy program called Sex Signals, meant to educate students about rape prevention. Her classmates laughed nervously at the part about anal sex. The student orientation leaders jokingly passed out rape whistles—because who, in the history of college rape prevention, has ever actually used a rape whistle?—and earnestly told first-year students to avoid going south of 60th Street.

This is almost precisely my orientation week experience from 2002 (our orientation leader also told us to avoid the CTA because it was unsafe) and the intervening ten-twelve years are ones in which I'd expect campus sexual assault prevention presentation to get a major overhaul, apparently not.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:09 AM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's great that this went out in the welcome letter, as it lets everyone know what the deal is, in a pretty clear way. College/University is definitely the place where one's ideas should be challenged.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:11 AM on August 26, 2016




I really think the U of Chicago letter is response to DePaul University's recent banning of Milo Yiannopoulos from coming to give a talk. DePaul's president, a Catholic priest, handled it poorly by allowing it at first and then walking it back when he learned just how awful Milo was.

Interestingly, there is a history between U of Chicago and DePaul. DePaul took the students that U of Chicago wouldn't back when it was an openly racist institution. DePaul as an institution prides itself in providing a space for everyone regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation even thought it is a Catholic University. It walks the Christian service talk . Among those were the original Pritzkers, the Chicago based billionaires whose wealth still shapes Chicago in many ways. As Jews they were not allowed into University of Chicago. Now the U of Chicago is less openly racist with regard to its student population these days but it still exists as part of a semi-apartheid enclave on the south side with a privately controlled but publicly sanctioned separate and unaccountable police force and is frequently in conflict with the local communities it is embedded in. They also are now the recipient of alumni donations from the current Pritzker family billionaires while DePaul is not. The U of Chicago even went so far as closing their trauma center at the hospital - one of the only ones on the south side.

In short I think the University of Chicago is an excellent example of the conservative intellectual impulse which has proven again and again to be on the wrong side of history and can never ever admit it to itself. Also they want donations from assholes so they probably feel they have to asshole as well.
posted by srboisvert at 6:13 AM on August 26, 2016 [43 favorites]


It's great that this went out in the welcome letter, as it lets everyone know what the deal is, in a pretty clear way. College/University is definitely the place where one's ideas should be challenged.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:11 AM on August 26 [+] [!]


You seem to not know what the function of a trigger warning is.
posted by FirstMateKate at 6:17 AM on August 26, 2016 [22 favorites]


The university is preparing students for the real world and would not be serving them by shielding them from unpleasantness, said Geoffrey Stone, chair of the committee, law professor and past provost at the U. of C.

If you're avoiding trigger warnings, you're not preparing them for anything except a time long ago when we didn't warn people about the content of the things they were about to hear or see. I'm in my 40s, and I've been hearing newscasters warn viewers about the content of newsclips my whole life. I've been warned about the upcoming content in movie trailers for as long as I can remember. The whole concept of telling people in advance about things they might want to avoid isn't some new thing, and it doesn't shield people from unpleasantness, it allows people to shield themselves from unpleasantness if they decide to.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:23 AM on August 26, 2016 [33 favorites]


>we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own

The problem is that our whole society already functions as an 'intellectual safe space', but only for privileged groups, old white fellas for instance. Saying "we don't condone the creation of safe spaces" is the same thing as saying "we don't condone the creation of any ADDITIONAL safe spaces for anybody else; we just tacitly support the continued existence of the DEFAULT safe space for old white fellas."

It's the same as people looking at Affirmative Action and going, "But... my gosh... THAT'S UNFAIR!" It's just an eye-roller at this point... I'm an old white fella and this shit is painfully obvious even to me.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:26 AM on August 26, 2016 [51 favorites]


It looks like they are confusing "trigger warning" with something like "censorship." Warning students of potentially difficult material does not have to mean removing that material from the curriculum. A safe space is not a space scrubbed clean of any potential offense, it is a space built up with compassion and support.

If the university was truly trying to prepare students for the real world they might consider the value of helping students develop skills to face difficult situations in a safe and supportive way. This letter is the equivalent of throwing a kid into a pool and saying "you gotta learn to swim sometime, but we sure aren't going to help you do it."
posted by cubby at 6:31 AM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


No safe spaces on campus, eh? I guess they won't mind if I barge into a board meeting and take a huge, steaming shit on the table, then.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:32 AM on August 26, 2016 [23 favorites]


You seem to not know what the function of a trigger warning is. Eh, everyone's welcome to their own interpretation but I think it's saying that "freshman, be aware that no one is going to censor for you, and you're going to confront perspectives that differ from your own on a possibly regular basis, so you're going to learn how to react to being uncomfortable sometimes."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:32 AM on August 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


The problem is that our whole society already functions as an 'intellectual safe space', but only for privileged groups, old white fellas for instance. Saying "we don't condone the creation of safe spaces" is the same thing as saying "we don't condone the creation of any ADDITIONAL safe spaces for anybody else; we just tacitly support the continued existence of the DEFAULT safe space for old white fellas."

This is part of the general fact that all this stuff about "the real world" fails to grapple with the fact that "the real world" is, in part, what we make it; racism and sexism aren't volcanoes, they exist because of people. Warnings about violent content in movies are part of the real world, because we decided to put them there. The world is shitty to women and minorities, because we've (the ones of us in charge at least) have decided to make it that way. If we decided to change that, it would change! We have changed that in ways, big and small over the course of history. Making the world of college a more welcoming and accepting place will do something to change this "real world" about which people are so worried.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:34 AM on August 26, 2016 [18 favorites]


"freshman, be aware that no one is going to censor for you"

How are trigger warnings censoring?
posted by sallybrown at 6:35 AM on August 26, 2016 [47 favorites]


I thought it was a great letter, and that one of its unstated goals was to set them apart from schools like Emory, DePaul etc. - which it achieved.
posted by Spacelegoman at 6:37 AM on August 26, 2016


Eh, everyone's welcome to their own interpretation but I think it's saying that "freshman, be aware that no one is going to censor for you, and you're going to confront perspectives that differ from your own on a possibly regular basis, so you're going to learn how to react to being uncomfortable sometimes."

I think that's what they wanted to say, sure, but safe spaces and trigger warnings don't censor anyone, and they don't prevent people from presenting controversial perspectives.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:37 AM on August 26, 2016 [24 favorites]


Nina Mashurova, who does event programming at the New York venue Silent Barn, writes about the Barn's "Safer Space" policies in the latest issue of AdHoc [1 page pdf article]

I'm sick of articles saying that "after Orlando, the club is not a safe space." The club was never a safe space. Where are the articles saying "After the fire, the home is not a safe space"; "After the assault, the campus is not a safe space"; "After the violence, your body is not a safe space"?

When people call Pulse a "safe space," they didn't mean it was a structure that could keep out violence, physical or ideological. They meant that it was a place where the people who went there could be their whole selves.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 6:39 AM on August 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


I'm troubled by the viewing of trigger warnings as censorship, given that trigger warnings are woven so deeply into the fabric of daily existence in America and have been for years, as others have mentioned.
posted by palomar at 6:40 AM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


Like, if you think trigger warnings are censorship, do you rail against movie trailers for noting that something contains violence, or against news anchors who warn that sensitive viewers might want to look away from the screen before gore appears? If not, you're not being very consistent in your views, and you should probably examine why you knee-jerk so hard against the idea that people should be allowed to protect themselves in this way.
posted by palomar at 6:42 AM on August 26, 2016 [31 favorites]


Should the benefits of genocide be debated in schools? Should debates about the benefits of racism and sexism be supported in schools? Should people who just want an education to have a job and live be forced to listen to over privileged assholes discuss whether or not other people in the room should die because of their race, gender, or disability, just as a fun "thought exercise"?

I'm genuinely asking- to what extent are ALL ideas important to take up what percentage of space in the indoctrination of knowledge being passed on to youth. Do creationist ideas need to be present in discussions about evolution because they exist and do they need to take up as much time as other studied and evidence based approaches to understanding history?

Trigger warnings or content advisories are unrelated to that topic so I do think people should consider giving a simple content advisory is not the same as disregarding material or content in a class. This conversation will go better if people at least articulate what it is they have an issue with and don't claim that trigger warnings or content advisories innately preclude discussing a topic or amount to censorship.
posted by xarnop at 6:43 AM on August 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


Yeah this is dumb.

Two questions I wanted to ask of academics here, if anyone would be kind enough to respond:
1) How do you handle a situation where triggering material is central to a major peice of the course, and a student chooses not to engage with it? Do you accommodate and rework the Instruction around that lack of engagement, or do you suggest that maybe the course isn't for them? Is there a third option?

2) Is it common for there to potentially triggering material in a course that would keep students from completing it, or is this more of a hypothetical anyway? (I'm more curious/concerned about required courses than higher level ones; I'm trying to get at this line between personal choice to not engage with material and where not accommodating that becomes discriminatory vs where someone chooses not to engage but then in that choice also chooses to close off certain opportunities to themselves).
posted by daniel striped tiger at 6:44 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I could say a lot about this nonsense, but P. Z. Myers has already said it better, and also includes the letter itself for anyone who wants to read it.
posted by TedW at 6:45 AM on August 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


I want the deans to define content warnings (what I see trigger warnings called now) and safe spaces, as opposed to just using them as an anti-kids-these-days thing.

(Is it true that U of Chicago has never ever cancelled a speaker?)
posted by jeather at 6:48 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


'Safe spaces are another technique for dealing with the consequences of histories that are not over' Sara Ahmed's essay Against Students is a must read for anyone interested in these debates.
posted by melisande at 6:48 AM on August 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


Eh, everyone's welcome to their own interpretation but I think it's saying that "freshman, be aware that no one is going to censor for you, and you're going to confront perspectives that differ from your own on a possibly regular basis, so you're going to learn how to react to being uncomfortable sometimes."

C'mon, man. You've participated in these discussions before, you know that's not what it means. Hell, you've used trigger warnings here yourself, and I can assume you weren't attempting to censor the discussion.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:52 AM on August 26, 2016 [21 favorites]


For years, the BBC's Match of the Day with the day's football highlights has been shown after the Saturday evening news and so, helpfully, just before showing (but not reading!) the scores the newsreader has offered the following warning:

"...so if you don't want to know the scores, look away now."

If we can do it for something as trivial as sportsball, is it really so contentious to do it for topics which really need it?
posted by A Robot Ninja at 6:53 AM on August 26, 2016 [22 favorites]


Should people who just want an education to have a job and live be forced to listen to over privileged assholes discuss whether or not other people in the room should die because of their race, gender, or disability, just as a fun "thought exercise"?... I'm genuinely asking- to what extent are ALL ideas important to take up what percentage of space in the indoctrination of knowledge being passed on to youth.

you misunderstand the point of a university - and I'm really happy that I went to a university that believed that university education was not about getting a job, and that education is only a small bit of what a university is.
posted by jb at 6:54 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


>You seem to not know what the function of a trigger warning is.

Eh, everyone's welcome to their own interpretation, but I think it's saying that


Presenting official university policy to incoming freshmen suggests that, in fact, everyone is not welcome to their own interpretation. The U of C is explicitly saying 'No, not this meaning and not that meaning. We do not accept and will not accept your interpretation of what the function of trigger warnings are, and our interpretation, nor yours, will inform out policy-making.'

'Everyone is welcome to their own interpretation' is not an internally coherent defense of the U of C's position, since it is exactly not the U of C's position.
posted by cjelli at 6:56 AM on August 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


1) How do you handle a situation where triggering material is central to a major peice of the course, and a student chooses not to engage with it? Do you accommodate and rework the Instruction around that lack of engagement, or do you suggest that maybe the course isn't for them? Is there a third option?

This is why you have a trigger warning up front so the student can choose to not engage with the material by not taking the class if they aren't ready to deal with it that semester rather than being blindsided by nasty shit halfway through and everyone being put in a much worse position.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:59 AM on August 26, 2016 [23 favorites]


It's great that this went out in the welcome letter, as it lets everyone know what the deal is, in a pretty clear way.

i.e. it's a trigger warning, and a gratifyingly comprehensive one. Lots of people enter college with only the haziest idea that the institutional administration exists, never mind what it thinks of them and how it will treat them. nice of UChicago to realize that they may be offensive and should let incoming students know a little something about the human contents of the school they are about to attend.

(I am anti trigger-warning as a concept and as a rote phrase, but not really as a practice. and it's because I find it fairly offensive to frame content information about e.g. rape as trigger-related, as though certain depictions or attitudes can only be offensive or upsetting to students who have already been personally assaulted and have very particular psychological traumas, and not, say, to all the others, including but not limited to all other women. it's such a horrifyingly value-neutral presentation of it, like the way you'd post cafeteria warnings about ingredient lists for those with peanut allergies. like rape isn't offensive and upsetting per se.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:00 AM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


Two questions I wanted to ask of academics here, if anyone would be kind enough to respond:
1) How do you handle a situation where triggering material is central to a major peice of the course, and a student chooses not to engage with it? Do you accommodate and rework the Instruction around that lack of engagement, or do you suggest that maybe the course isn't for them? Is there a third option?


Caveat-I teach at a small liberal arts college, so my classes are small and part of what we faculty see as our job there is to bring students INTO difficult material... But that takes an acknowledgement, I think, that some material poses difficulties for particular students.

Re: a student choosing not to engage. This actually has NOT happened to me, and I teach a great deal of difficult, challenging material (sexual violence, racial violence). The "content warning" that I provide at the outset of a course [I choose to do that instead of at the top of particular readings] is intended to help students prepare themselves and understand the emotional challenges many, if not all, of them will face in learning about the history of the U.S. Doing so actually helps students who have individual difficulties because we've already started the discussion about how learning about violence--whether physical, epistemic, or social--involves emotional reactions.

If a student cannot handle *any* of the work in the course, then it would be necessary for them to not take it.

2) Is it common for there to potentially triggering material in a course that would keep students from completing it, or is this more of a hypothetical anyway? (I'm more curious/concerned about required courses than higher level ones; I'm trying to get at this line between personal choice to not engage with material and where not accommodating that becomes discriminatory vs where someone chooses not to engage but then in that choice also chooses to close off certain opportunities to themselves).

This isn't a hypothetical, but it's not a question a faculty member (or at least this faculty member) can answer. In other words, if someone finds my particular discipline incredibly fraught and anxiety-producing, they will avoid it. I will never see them. A content warning doesn't help them because the very core of my discipline means that we face the terrible guts and blood of our becoming American.

I have friends in Psychology who have designed alternate assignments, however, because the learning that they wanted to have happen around the content area did not need to be channeled through the particular reading/activity they had chosen. When they realized that that reading/activity was alienating a number of students, they adjusted without any loss of the educational goals.

This is a long way around to say something that I think the U Chicago letter misses. When students ask for, beg for help in negotiating challenging learning situations, why aren't we seeing THAT as a sign of resilience and strength? We may chafe at their language (as you can tell from my answer, I avoid the term 'trigger warning' and I really like a colleague's use of "brave space" as opposed to "safe space"), but I fail to understand how those moments when students are standing up to administrators and faculty are somehow perceived as moments of weakness/fragility/whining. We need to do a much better job at listening to students, because they *want* to learn, but they need our help in figuring out how to do that. And isn't that what we're here for?
posted by correcaminos at 7:09 AM on August 26, 2016 [32 favorites]


Two questions I wanted to ask of academics here, if anyone would be kind enough to respond:

what queenofbithynia said. trigger warnings on syllabi are kind of like 'speak now or forever hold your peace'

This letter is dumb. Would the University of Chicago administration rail against trigger warnings if they were going to, say, show Saving Private Ryan to a bunch of vets? Of course not. but when it comes to women and rape (and considering their student body is mostly people 18-22, girls and rape) then they have to hoot and holler about censorship by merely giving a heads up as to whats in the course.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:10 AM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


Two questions I wanted to ask of academics here, if anyone would be kind enough to respond:

I'm not an academic, but have lived these experiences as a student.

1) How do you handle a situation where triggering material is central to a major peice of the course, and a student chooses not to engage with it? Do you accommodate and rework the Instruction around that lack of engagement, or do you suggest that maybe the course isn't for them? Is there a third option?

In one of my French conversation courses, a TA chose an advertisement for condoms that was disgustingly victim-blaming. So much so that I'll give a trigger warning for my paraphrase which follows: there were women's clothes strewn around and the ad text said, essentially, "if you'd brought a condom you wouldn't have to worry about what the guy just did." It was explicitly implicit enough that we all – every single student – understood that the woman had been raped. This was an ad our TA had chosen. It was not central to the course. As a French conversation course, we could converse about trees, raccoons, architecture... why an ad so clearly talking about and minimizing rape?

A couple of us brought this up. Was there another ad we could discuss? "No! This one has been chosen, we all have to discuss the same article!" Well, if it doesn't bother the others – no, it didn't, they replied – could we choose another article for everyone, then? "No!" Why not? "This is the REAL WORLD! Deal with it!"

Always having been one to be direct, I pointed out: "Rape has nothing to do with French. Some of us may prefer a different subject because we've experienced rape and don't particularly want to talk about it. There are all sorts of ads we could discuss."

TA dug herself deeper: "Oh! Come on! If you can't talk about rape in a conversation course then go talk to a psychiatrist, in this class you're going to need to grow up and deal with it! It's not the end of the world!"

Cue deathly silence. No one spoke for the rest of the class. I was battling tears.

2) Is it common for there to potentially triggering material in a course that would keep students from completing it, or is this more of a hypothetical anyway? (I'm more curious/concerned about required courses than higher level ones; I'm trying to get at this line between personal choice to not engage with material and where not accommodating that becomes discriminatory vs where someone chooses not to engage but then in that choice also chooses to close off certain opportunities to themselves).

Yeah, this was a required course for getting a French degree. You had to take a year of 300-level French conversation. Writing a paper on this ad was required to complete the course. We all had to engage.

Translating your thoughts about rape into a foreign language is a special sort of torture when it's triggering because you've lived it. Real Life. Yeah. We fucking get it. No fucking kidding, rape happens? Wow. Who's blamed for it again? Right, the people we tell to deal with it. It's like being shat on, saying "hey I was shat on," people poking you with cattle prods for being shat on, saying, "um well actually I, uh, just wanted to talk about it, I had to clean it up myself, y'know," being smacked upside the head for asking for help, trying to avoid being shat on, prodded, and smacked upside the head by giving fair warning "hey! might be nice if you tell me ahead of time if you're going to talk about being shat on, prodded, and smacked upside the head!" and getting a bucket of ice water dumped on you for... not wanting to deal with everything you've already dealt with. So inclusive. Very motivating. Much learning experience. not. By the way you have to pick up the ice and mop up the water.
posted by fraula at 7:11 AM on August 26, 2016 [57 favorites]


Fraula, I'm so sorry that happened to you. Your story is a perfect example of why we need to listen to students. If I'm asking a student to work with challenging, violent, racist, sexist material, there had better be a well thought out *reason* for that. If I poke students with the sticks of hate, merely to watch them jump and hope that they become more "resilient" and ready for the "real world," I'm just teaching them that the world sucks.
posted by correcaminos at 7:16 AM on August 26, 2016 [16 favorites]


Two questions I wanted to ask of academics here, if anyone would be kind enough to respond:
1) How do you handle a situation where triggering material is central to a major peice of the course, and a student chooses not to engage with it? Do you accommodate and rework the Instruction around that lack of engagement, or do you suggest that maybe the course isn't for them? Is there a third option?

2) Is it common for there to potentially triggering material in a course that would keep students from completing it, or is this more of a hypothetical anyway? (I'm more curious/concerned about required courses than higher level ones; I'm trying to get at this line between personal choice to not engage with material and where not accommodating that becomes discriminatory vs where someone chooses not to engage but then in that choice also chooses to close off certain opportunities to themselves).


The most common use of a trigger warning is to prepare oneself for something that may be upsetting or triggering of PTSD. By having the warning, students are less likely to be caught unaware or unprepared, for instance, already tired or sad or upset when they sit down to do their homework. Most students, when given a chance to prepare themselves, can deal with difficult things quite well and do not have a problem completing their work or the class.

As several folks noted above, a rape survivor has already dealt with rape and the aftermath of rape; a soldier who survived an IED explosion has already dealt with being blown up and the aftermath of being blown up. They are hardly delicate flowers unaccustomed to dealing with the world--they simply require a mild bit of common courtesy in the part of a warning.

Based on the stories from my friends who teach anthropology, sociology, and political science, the delicate flowers who get their feelings easily hurt by material in class to the point that it impacts their ability to complete the class tend to be privileged people who have never had their privilege confronted before. Like UofC administrators.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:17 AM on August 26, 2016 [35 favorites]


I thought trigger warnings were mollycoddling nonsense until I had a baby and suddenly part of my brain decided to perseverate on any discussion of poor treatment of children. As long as the warnings are just that - warnings - and not censorship, I see their value, now.
I didn't learn that kind of consideration for others at U of C. I learned it the same way I learned most of my other practical social skills, by getting out into the real world after graduation and failing and wondering why I was doing so poorly. I really enjoyed my time at U of C. At a distance of two decades I can see that it was the most shielded intellectual safe space I have ever lived in. They never claimed to teach social graces.
posted by Vatnesine at 7:18 AM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


I take issue with the idea that it's wrong to have safe spaces in college because there are none after college. The hell there aren't. I don't see horror movies, as an adult, specifically because I cannot deal with them. I find movies a very powerful medium and suspense/horror themes are very anxiety-inducing for me. If I have to know what one is about for some reason, I read the spoilers and reviews.

I treat books with rape scenes the same way. If they are important for me to know about I will read outlines/reviews of them. But I will not make myself read the scene as written because I find that traumatic.

I create that safe space for myself, and so does everyone, in their own way, avoid things that upset them or find ways to cope with them safely. We all do that. We all have things we can't really bear to think about, that we deal with via avoiding news stories, or thinking about in bits, or discussing with others, or what have you.
posted by emjaybee at 7:19 AM on August 26, 2016 [25 favorites]


(also I'm not trying to be cute and clever, it is an actual content warning and it was written out of the same motives and considerations that most such things are -- to set and manage expectations, to try to control the tone of the discourse, to keep people from complaining later that they didn't know what they were in for, and to signal to people who are attracted by the same things that the content warning is ostensibly there to let you avoid. But I would like someone to ask the letter writers why they thought it was a good idea to say this all in advance instead of letting students just be surprised by it when they got there. like, why give it away up front? what would they say?)

I read plenty of stuff that disturbed me, yet I felt absolutely no need to demand that my college protect me from having to do so again.

your current ability to read, understand, and respond to stuff that disturbs you does not inspire me with great admiration for your college's pedagogical methods, whatever they may have been.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:20 AM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


This is why you have a trigger warning up front so the student can choose to not engage with the material by not taking the class if they aren't ready to deal with it that semester rather than being blindsided by nasty shit halfway through and everyone being put in a much worse position.

But that's not how it works in the real world: For example, at my university, which serves more POC and poor / first generation immigrant students than most: classes are rationed due to scarcity, and students have signed up weeks in advance, often before knowing the name of the instructor (unless you believe "Staff" is a common surname).

By the time the student sees the syllabus, all other sections are full and their choice at that point is to try to stay in the course, or to drop the course and suffer the consequences (which can be non-trivial: failure to graduate that semester, losing financial aid, etc.)

One could even argue that offering Trigger Warnings in this situation is a further micro-aggression, since the presumption "oh, you can just take another class" is so unrealistic and out of reach for most people, especially those without privilege.

It's not an easy situation.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 7:21 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


[A few comments removed. Dismissive takes about the ephemerality of bumper pads and how It Worked Out Fine For Me, So...are not at this late date interesting or substantial contributions to this topic. If you want to talk about your personal experiences and how that informs your feelings on the subject, find a way to do so in a more thoughtful and engaging way.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:24 AM on August 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


One could even argue that offering Trigger Warnings in this situation is a further micro-aggression

Oh, come on.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:25 AM on August 26, 2016 [32 favorites]


Even if I concede all those points, that's at best an argument that doing things shitty can be worse than doing nothing, which is not a real argument against doing a thing in the first place.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:30 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


how 'bout our parents sit us down at a reasonable age and give us the big, all-encompassing warning that life is often difficult..don't take it personally. You need to hear the good and bad in order to tell the difference.
posted by judson at 7:30 AM on August 26, 2016


much as I hate the in-group language markers and the discourse and the Youth of Today-ness of it all, you could also argue that concern for trigger warnings is a spectacularly positive sign for the average student's expectation of intellectual rigor and devotion to learning. because knowing in advance about offensive content only matters if you somehow believe you actually have to read all the course readings and attend all the lectures unless you have a really good reason not to.

(or substitute "earnest submission to authority" for devotion to learning if you are a cynic I guess. but if you're a teacher it's probably heartening either way.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:31 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


At a distance of two decades I can see that it was the most shielded intellectual safe space I have ever lived in.

This was my experience as well! I'm actually laughing now to think of how sheltered I was at the U of C, and I was one of the least sheltered people around.

One thing I loved about the student responses in the video was that they both had a bit of side-eye to the administration and kind of said "Freedom of expression is great! Do you really think that is what you are doing?"
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:31 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


You do understand that one of the functions of trigger warnings aren't there to coddle students, but to protect people who have been victims of rape and sexual assault about being triggered into mentally reliving that sexual assault/rape. Do you really want to be someone who says that being triggered is a good thing now? That more triggers==better? That victims should mentally relive their victimization?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:33 AM on August 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


It's not an easy situation

No, it's not, but I think if we come down on the side of not causing harm whether we can perceive it or not, we do better.
posted by Mooski at 7:33 AM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


This was my experience as well! I'm actually laughing now to think of how sheltered I was at the U of C, and I was one of the least sheltered people around.

One good sign is that it seems like the student body is more engaged on these issues than it was when I was there, when I had significantly more conversations and thoughts about people who'd been dead for five hundred years than I had about people who hadn't. I loved the U of C, and I'd hate to lose all of the rarefied nature of the place, but some engagement with contemporary social concerns is a good thing.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:37 AM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Trigger warnings are not censorship, they're not coddling. They're a label. Trigger warnings are about allowing people to make informed consent about what content they are going to engage with. This should not be a controversial topic.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:37 AM on August 26, 2016 [23 favorites]


So has anyone asked this dean for some examples where trigger warnings or safe spaces are actually coddling students? Like is this really a problem of any significance? Are hordes of students getting easy As and being accomodated to (as opposed to just having a chance to make sure they are well rested before doing the homework that deals with an article about rape)?

To mean the entire section of the letter is a straw man. There's no significant use of trigger warnings that is decreasing academic quality. Teachers aren't getting in trouble. I imagine you couldn't even find a tenth as many cases of a teacher getting in actual trouble (with sanctions) for not warning a student about course content as you could find teachers NOT getting meaningfully sanctioned for repeated bad behavior like harassment.

So to call it out in a welcome letter is signalling "yes we are assholes, deal with it, you're all coddled, we take harassment so lightly we even think trigger warnings are silly, shitty stuff might happen to you at our university and we don't care",
posted by R343L at 7:38 AM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


@JustinSandefur:
"We do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."

Seems @UChicago is shutting down its economics dept.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:38 AM on August 26, 2016 [75 favorites]


I'm not a fan of this letter, but I don't think the ideas behind it are really all that terrible.

The dean calls out three things, which are all problematic in their own ways, and says that the university doesn't support them but doesn't give any of the reasons why, so people are reading their own into them.

Trigger warnings: It's not about censorship. Trigger warnings are all fine and good but different people are triggered by different things, and well meaning professors will miss triggers and not give warnings. If the University has a blanket policy supporting trigger warnings, it sets itself up for complaints/suits/protests over some adjunct forgetting that Revenge of the Nerds has a rape scene it in.

Of course, it would be better to say that trigger warnings are not guaranteed, or even not say anything about trigger warnings at all than come out and say "we do not support so-called trigger warnings"

Speaker bans: I've never been a fan of these. I, personally, probably wouldn't go see Milo Yiannopoulos speak but if people want to listen to his nonsense, I don't think people who don't like him should have the power to stop him. Protest-fueled pressure on administrations to cancel speakers like Milo just seems like the polite version of what happens when Anita Sarkeesian can't speak because of bomb and other security threats.

Safe spaces: This one suffers from definition failure. There's a difference between: this lounge is a safe space, no anti-LGBT speech is allowed here, and: this department is a safe space, we won't publish or consider research that might have racist implications. I feel like the letter is reasonable to the extent that it stands against the latter, but folks are (reasonably) reading it to be standing against the former.

Anyways -- the impression that I get is that they've had a couple years of freshmen of the tumblr generation coming in and vocally expressing their chagrin at missing lack of trigger warnings and flexing their young adult muscles by protesting speakers. On the other side, they have their mostly white male donors, and a bunch of white male freshmen who feel like they are being "oppressed" and "silenced" by the SJWs. So, the admin sees that there are a couple of good points to be made (speaker bans, intellectual censorship) but decides to throw out other common anti-SJW bugbears (safe spaces, trigger warnings) with the bathwater. And you get this mess of a letter.

Can't these schools use some of their athletics departments money to run stuff like this (and the stupid Stanford alcohol "info" site) by a consultant or two?
posted by sparklemotion at 7:38 AM on August 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


(Actually I imagine actual cases of teachers getting in real trouble for not providing trigger warnings can be counted on one hand.)
posted by R343L at 7:39 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


U of C should have asked the GOP how well catering to the "anti-PC" bigot brigade has worked out for them.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:39 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Chicago has historically liked to present itself as a self-consciously "tough" campus, which in the 90s was something the UGs often took up as a point of pride. Hence the "Hell does freeze over" t-shirts, or the excitement when the U of C was named one of the least fun campuses to attend in the USA (down there with Oral Roberts U). In reality, that often meant porting the worst aspects of graduate study to the undergraduate context (the U of C is primarily a graduate school), so you would have badly-isolated students experiencing massive amounts of stress with little to no help from the administration. This "we don't coddle the students" rhetoric is...exactly what I'd expect from the U of C. (Which, given its treatment of Hyde Park space, should really not be talking about "no safe spaces.")

Like the angst about those terrifying gender studies majors (who are, in practice, a teeny portion of the college population), the angst about trigger warnings is entirely out of proportion to the purported "threat." Even when I was an UG, back in the mists of time, faculty who asked us to watch Blade Runner or Clockwork Orange had the courtesy to tell us where there might be icky stuff, so we could look away if we wanted. That's exactly what most people mean by a trigger warning!
posted by thomas j wise at 7:40 AM on August 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


Can't these schools use some of their athletics departments money to run stuff like this (and the stupid Stanford alcohol "info" site) by a consultant or two?
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you don't know very much about the University of Chicago. Let's just say that the Econ department may very well be running the show there, but the athletics program is definitely not.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:41 AM on August 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


But that's not how it works in the real world: For example, at my university, which serves more POC and poor / first generation immigrant students than most: classes are rationed due to scarcity, and students have signed up weeks in advance, often before knowing the name of the instructor (unless you believe "Staff" is a common surname).

By the time the student sees the syllabus, all other sections are full and their choice at that point is to try to stay in the course, or to drop the course and suffer the consequences (which can be non-trivial: failure to graduate that semester, losing financial aid, etc.)


This is definitely a real problem, but it's something that can actually be solved relatively easily by including the generalized warning in the course description in addition to or instead of the syllabus. Course descriptions generally go up at the same time as the course is announced and are supposed to function as... well, what they say on the tin; important things that let students know basically what to expect out of a given course. Even if the course is taught by several profs, stuff like 'this is a course which will deal with racial and sexual violence' or whatever in courses where that lesson is an integral and inescapable part of the material should be applicable to all sections of that course. Hell, my alma mater provides course descriptions for every course likely to be offered (along with times it would be offered), whether it's on the docket that semester or not. (You don't even need a university ID to look!)

If, of course, the class listings are going up and students are required to register before course descriptions are written and attached, that's a totally different problem related to the registrar department needing to get its goddamn shit together. But course descriptions can actually solve a huge part of that issue quite neatly.
posted by sciatrix at 7:41 AM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


how 'bout our parents sit us down at a reasonable age and give us the big, all-encompassing warning that life is often difficult..don't take it personally. You need to hear the good and bad in order to tell the difference.

This is of course, fantastic advice for survivors of rape and sexual assault, or anyone who has PTSD: "Life is often difficult. Don't take it personally."

For fuck's sake.
posted by zarq at 7:41 AM on August 26, 2016 [70 favorites]


Can't these schools use some of their athletics departments money to run stuff like this (and the stupid Stanford alcohol "info" site) by a consultant or two?

You do realize this is the University of Chicago we're talking about, right? Tore down their football stadium to build a library?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:41 AM on August 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


in my experience there is a lot of overlap between people who think trigger warnings are somehow Bad and people who get really upset if you link to a PDF without labeling it as such.
posted by beerperson at 7:42 AM on August 26, 2016 [32 favorites]


Safe spaces: This one suffers from definition failure. There's a difference between: this lounge is a safe space, no anti-LGBT speech is allowed here, and: this department is a safe space, we won't publish or consider research that might have racist implications. I feel like the letter is reasonable to the extent that it stands against the latter

The other difference is that the latter never happens.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:42 AM on August 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


(I should note that as far as I know UGA doesn't have a policy about including content warnings in course descriptions; I'm just pointing out that that solution should be a simple solution for courses where common triggers are a central and inescapable part of the subject of the course.)
posted by sciatrix at 7:43 AM on August 26, 2016


This is of course, fantastic advice for survivors of rape and sexual assault, or anyone who has PTSD: "Life is often difficult. Don't take it personally."

Never mind that said parents might be the ones engaging in the abuse.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:45 AM on August 26, 2016 [16 favorites]


Can't these schools use some of their athletics departments wealthy alum donor money to run stuff like this (and the stupid Stanford alcohol "info" site) by a consultant or two?

FTFMe -- this is why you google pre-snark.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:46 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


The article calls the document the "welcome letter". I think the appropriate time for UoC's no safe spaces advertisement would have been in the admission letter. It's a little late for anyone to make an informed decision now, though perhaps as stated upthread its really a message for donors.
posted by seejaie at 7:46 AM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


The dean calls out three things, which are all problematic in their own ways, and says that the university doesn't support them but doesn't give any of the reasons why, so people are reading their own into them.

Doesn't he, though? -- "Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings." That's the cited reason: not fear of lawsuits, but an argument that trigger warnings reduce or inhibit academic freedom. The language also goes beyond 'doesn't support,' I think -- "and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own." -- this might be splitting hairs, but not condoning the creation carries the meaning of not approving of them, in the abstract sense, rather than not materially supporting them, as policy. This might be reading into it, but, frankly, it's on the University to make a clear policy, not on us to tease out the correct interpretation.
posted by cjelli at 7:48 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Like the angst about those terrifying gender studies majors

In Spring 2016, there were 23 declared Gender and Sexuality Studies concentrators* at the U of C. Fundamentals: Issues and Texts, a concentration we made up and with a kind of inscrutable name has more.

*You'll pry this term from my cold dead hands.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:48 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Cut back on donations? Shit- I still owe them money.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:48 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


In the event that I was teaching a course that contained material that needed a content warning, and in the event that a student (or in a larger class, a group of students) actually couldn't engage with the material because they found it too upsetting, then I would work with that student to arrange an alternative assignment. Wouldn't this even be stronger learning than the student just doing what is on my syllabus? I'd be asking them to essentially do the extra work of creating their own learning experience - an activity that requires deeper engagement than following the instructions of a pre-crafted assignment.

That's actually one of the things that really, really gets to me about all of this "safe space" grousing. The argument against is typically one of intellectual rigor. But isn't creating a safe space with fellow students an act of organizing, community building, understanding social issues, and putting all of that into action with the administration? Isn't protesting against a hateful speaker an act of civil disobedience for not having their tuition dollars support something that is harmful to them (which I'd assume many of these academic type boomers venerate)? Isn't providing a trigger or content warning asking students to think more deeply about what is being presented to them by their instructor, rather than passively receiving instruction? The answer to all of these questions, in my mind, is that it takes a far more engaged student body to mindfully approach a college experience that is welcoming and inclusive. The default is one that is alienating and hostile. The "real world" (in this context) is what happens when you don't try.

Instead, I think the problem here is that to really make engaged, compassionate education happen, you have to have professors and administration do more than issue fiat instructions from on high without actually engaging with students. If you run your university as a business with freshman as the throughput and tuition dollars as the product, then that won't happen. If you run your university as a research machine that inconveniently has to teach undergraduates for funding, then that won't happen. Working with students as equals is hard, and if you're an entrenched higher-up who has always operated from a position of privilege (both in academia and in larger society), then I imagine it is unpalatable compared to the default.
posted by codacorolla at 7:49 AM on August 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


This might be reading into it, but, frankly, it's on the University to make a clear policy, not on us to tease out the correct interpreation.

Absolutely. Which is why the letter is garbage. If they needed to address this at all (in a welcome! letter), it should have said:

Hi Students: Welcome...We do not require the provision of trigger warnings for any material that you might encounter. Because of our commitment to academic freedom we won't cancel controversial speakers. You may encounter professors, classmates, or others here who have views that are offensive, we ask that you recognize the value of speech that may disturb you and therefore the public spaces of the campus cannot be made into "safe spaces" beyond the safety from physical harm and harassment that we strive to provide for all students, faculty, and staff.

Wordsmith it a little, but one paragraph (maybe even in small print) in an otherwise actually welcoming letter. Not the "Go back to your mommies tumblr-babies!" rant that actually got sent.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:57 AM on August 26, 2016 [21 favorites]


GOOD. Well done University Of Chicago.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:00 AM on August 26, 2016


how 'bout our parents sit us down at a reasonable age and give us the big, all-encompassing warning that life is often difficult..don't take it personally. You need to hear the good and bad in order to tell the difference.
posted by judson at 10:30 AM on August 26 [+] [!]


Yup. Those talks were super helpful when my father blamed me for my sexual assault. It was difficult, but I didn't take it personally. We have a decent relationship right now (good) as long as we don't talk about the time I spent in college (bad).

Can you at least have a vague understanding of what a trigger warning is and who it's for before making a hurtful off-the-cuff comment? We can all do a lot better than this.
posted by giraffe at 8:01 AM on August 26, 2016 [21 favorites]


One could even argue that offering Trigger Warnings in this situation is a further micro-aggression

Oh, come on.

To clarify - if the choice is between having Trigger Warnings with an totally inflexible policy (e.g. you don't like it, take another class) vs. no trigger warning + flexibility (alternative assignments within the class as needed), I would vote for the latter. There's no reason it needs to be an either-or situation of course.

A lot of my students have full times jobs and 60+ mile commutes; I've even had a student who commuted across an international border.

I try to be really conscious of what seemingly simple statements such as "See me in office hours" might actually entail for the student.

TL;DR: if a trigger warning is only paying lip service to the reality that students often have zero options, that's not necessarily helping much.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 8:01 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


having Trigger Warnings with an totally inflexible policy (e.g. you don't like it, take another class)

Lol what
posted by beerperson at 8:03 AM on August 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


I'm fortunate that I teach a discipline in which trigger warnings (or whatever you want to call them) are rarely, if ever, necessary. I've never seen a place where one could/should be applied and I've never had students express a desire for one in any of the topics that I've taught.

My experience with much of the "debate" is that it's straw people all the way down. I have never come across a student who says, "I really feel uncomfortable talking about kumquats because of past experiences" and I've never met a faculty member who says, "You find stories about rape distressing because you've been raped? Well, FUCK YOU! LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD!"

Most people in these contexts are reasonable. The vast, vast majority of students earnestly want to honestly engage with the material and try to find ways to understand even the things they find challenging. The vast, vast majority of faculty want their students to learn the material and care about their students' wellbeing.

I think that, when we have this debate outside the real world (as I think this letter from U of C does), we are able to set up convenient opponents that don't exist in reality.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:03 AM on August 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


Trigger warnings: It's not about censorship. Trigger warnings are all fine and good but different people are triggered by different things, and well meaning professors will miss triggers and not give warnings. If the University has a blanket policy supporting trigger warnings, it sets itself up for complaints/suits/protests over some adjunct forgetting that Revenge of the Nerds has a rape scene it in.
Just because having a policy for them might mean trouble, that doesn't mean they should have issued this vague, undefined, hard to enforce policy against them.
GOOD. Well done University Of Chicago.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:00 AM on August 26 [+] [!]
Please explain what ways this is beneficial, other than "sticking it" to kids these days
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:03 AM on August 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


Put another way, the fetishization of the "real world" by these flatulent complainers seems to be a tacit admission that you cannot change a bad system. How, in any feasible way, is that an endorsement of intellectual rigor?
posted by codacorolla at 8:04 AM on August 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


I look forward to UC shutting down it's accessibility accommodations so that wheelchair users can experience what it's like in the "real world." Because people don't go to university to learn about science or the humanities or the arts, they go there to learn that they are less-than and that the world isn't for them.
posted by klanawa at 8:04 AM on August 26, 2016 [29 favorites]


Even if the course is taught by several profs, stuff like 'this is a course which will deal with racial and sexual violence' or whatever in courses where that lesson is an integral and inescapable part of the material should be applicable to all sections of that course.

Hope this isn't too much of a derail, but in a typical large state university system, pretty much every courses is taught by multiple professors, and often teaching assignments are made late (I've personally had one 3 days before class started).

Academic freedom being what it is, the actual content of the course is pretty much up to the teachers.

Not saying these things wouldn't be desirable, just that they aren't very realistic, and unfortunately the situation is much worse in universities that typically serve more POC / disadvantaged students.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 8:06 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


When I saw this story, my first thought was to wonder how many of the people complaining about "safe spaces" live in gated communities.
posted by clawsoon at 8:15 AM on August 26, 2016 [20 favorites]


convenient opponents that don't exist in reality.
posted by Betelgeuse


Epony-funny?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 8:20 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


It becomes clearer and clearer in the debates about this letter that the people having over the top emotion-based reactions, refusing to rigorously interrogate their own reasoning, and failing to engage with "the real world" are those who think of trigger warnings as The Big Bad and plug their ears to any other view: I think it's great because it makes me feel good to stick it to the annoying millenials even though I have never been a professor and haven't been a student in decades and who cares what you say about actually being a teacher in the real world waaaahhhhhh

Which is why it's hilarious that this letter came from a place with such a ridiculous chip on its shoulder about being opposed to all those things. I came to U of C from a State U filled with beer-swilling jocks and frat bros and people who didn't sit around the University pub discussing Goethe (which I had no clue how to pronounce). And yet somehow little ole me has the magical powers to see through these scary old strawmen that are tormenting the U of C's hallowed halls.
posted by sallybrown at 8:21 AM on August 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


You do realize this is the University of Chicago we're talking about, right? Tore down their football stadium to build a library?


I thought they tore down the stadium because it was slightly radioactive.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:24 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I've spent my entire career at large state universities, including TAing at them--I'm aware of the scheduling snafus and courses being taught by profs with very different takes on the material! (Trust me, I specialize as a genetics TA and have done that course with three or four profs now; I know very well how different course curricula can be from prof to prof.)

The use case I have in mind is for my course description content, basically, classes where rape or another common trigger are such integral parts of the course that having a course about the thing without touching on that triggery thing is completely impossible. (For example, say, a course on the Holocaust or the causes of genocide or an anthropology course on gender roles across societies, which is gonna have to touch on rape. Stuff like that.) If there's no way to teach a subject such that a student can't take the course without immersing themselves in triggers (as opposed to taking on a trigger subject when they can grit their teeth and prepare ahead of time, warned, which basically every student I know with a trigger can do and expects to be able to do if given the warning), then that should go in the course description so that students with that level of trauma can avoid the course. It's really not that difficult to do, if the department and/or influential teachers of the course give a shit about it.
posted by sciatrix at 8:24 AM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


I look forward to UC shutting down it's accessibility accommodations so that wheelchair users can experience what it's like in the "real world."
The U of C was, in fact, cited by the Department of Justice in 2006 for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:25 AM on August 26, 2016 [38 favorites]




This reads as a post from someone mainlining XM Patriot Radio and keeping up to date with Drudge and the "uncensensored" bloc of subreddits every ten seconds.

They really want the admissions money from those Young Trumps online I guess.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:25 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


how 'bout our parents sit us down at a reasonable age and give us the big, all-encompassing warning that life is often difficult..don't take it personally. You need to hear the good and bad in order to tell the difference.

Okay, as long as they also sit us down and explain that there is actually something called PTSD, and its a genuine, medically recognized mental disorder that can be the result of sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions, or other threats on a person's life. That this causes actual biochemical changes the the brain, making the reactions caused by PTSD something outside the control of the person suffering it, so it's not simply a matter of them sucking it up and just taking it.

That 7 to 8 percent of the population experiences PTSD at some time in their life, according to the US Department for Veterans Affairs. That the reactions caused by PTSD can be so severe as to essentially retraumatize the person experiencing it, and that they are likely to avoid circumstances that can cause this sort of a reaction.

So, you know, if you're a school and you genuinely don't wish to drive away groups with a higher likelihood of PTSD, including immigrant groups, veterans, and women, you do the very smallest thing you can to alert them in advance that there may be some content that might affect them. You know, just a heads up.

Because you don't challenge people by traumatizing them. You drive them away.

Can we also have this discussion with our parents? Or, you know what, since it's actually almost entirely adults who are involved in this, can we just have it among ourselves and not treat people who want trigger warnings like spoiled babies whose parents never told them what's what in the big bad world?
posted by maxsparber at 8:26 AM on August 26, 2016 [29 favorites]


I've been out of college for about 10 years now, but I'm pretty sure college students haven't turned into some monolithic group of immature toddlers in the intervening years. In the "real world," you explain your situation and make a request for reasonable accommodations. You see a trigger warning, you say "hey, thanks for the heads up" and the professor has an iota of sympathy if you have to leave class early because you're having a panic attack.

I'm at a loss here. Why is dismissing the feelings of others STILL a thing? We learn this in kindergarten along with, "when you hand someone scissors, do it handle first." I don't see tons of people walking around with bandaged hands, so why does the stuff about empathy get forgotten?
posted by giraffe at 8:27 AM on August 26, 2016 [24 favorites]


Which is to say: you're right that universities that serve more PoC and disadvantaged students (esp state universities that are not flagships, I suspect, which serve an even bigger proportion of disadvantaged students for systemic reasons) are less likely to have the resources and.... hm, institutional willpower to put through a solution like that, especially if the department schedulers are chronically understaffed and underfunded. But including that sort of thing in course descriptions for the registrar would, if the willpower is there, be a relatively low-effort way to accomplish a solution for that.
posted by sciatrix at 8:28 AM on August 26, 2016


I'm fortunate that I teach a discipline in which trigger warnings (or whatever you want to call them) are rarely, if ever, necessary. I've never seen a place where one could/should be applied and I've never had students express a desire for one in any of the topics that I've taught.

When my German history class covered the Holocaust I was damn grateful that the professor told us in advance we would be viewing distressing imagery and footage that day, because it meant I could plan for how it would affect me.

Trigger warnings are about making sure you can be ready to encounter things that make you upset, not about preventing them from being presented. If nothing blindsides you and can make the rest of the day a nightmare journey of compulsive mental flashbacks congratulations, I guess, but sympathy for those of us who aren't that lucky would be pleasant.
posted by winna at 8:30 AM on August 26, 2016 [26 favorites]


WOW: I just finished reading "Against Students" and now have ordered 2 books by Sara Ahmed. THANK YOU melisande
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:37 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


I too thought of the UoC econ and law departments, not to mention UoC graduate and professor Allan Bloom. Because this kinda seems like a ploy to further brand themselves as a conservative intellectual haven (is that ironic or not?). But maybe you alumni will tell me it's not actually fair to see them that way in the first place?
posted by atoxyl at 8:37 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


I teach a course that mostly deals with finding and evaluating information, so I can choose any topics I want, generally avoiding distressing topics. I do have a proofreading warning story involving a major comics publisher typoing an antisemitic slur into an issue of a comic. I use this to drive home how damaging a failure to proofread can be (and I've seen students spell-check amazing things into their papers). I begin the story with an apology that I am going to use an antisemitic slur, and I am sorry if it causes distress. I've never had a student ask to be excused, but I wouldn't hold it against them if they did.

As for campus speakers, it's worth remembering that university funds go toward them, so it's not like a noxious speaker doesn't have a significant cost (including preventing a different speaker being brought to campus). Allowing and then backing off is the worst of all possible worlds, and I wish the approvers would do a little internet searching before signing off on requests from student organizations. I am pretty open to discourse and debate, so there are not too many people I would ban from a campus, but there are limits. I ran a bookstore years ago that carried a lot of outsider writing, and I drew the line at carrying stuff by Peter Sotos, because I couldn't stand the idea of giing him any money at all.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:37 AM on August 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think everyone has lost sight of what triggers are all about, people in this thread included.

A trigger is something that recreates trauma from a traumatizing incident (such as war or rape).

Anytime a trigger warning is used in academia, one is essentially saying "Hey, the next portion of material is only accessible to students without PTSD, and I am OK with discriminating against students with PTSD for the next few minutes".

I am open to being corrected.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:40 AM on August 26, 2016


That's basing the assumption that rape victims cannot access material about rape. Which given the ubiquity of discussions and depictions and discourse about rape that are present on a daily basis, is a laughable claim.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:43 AM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


I am open to being corrected.

Then by all means, you should look at the multitude of replies that have already done this.
posted by codacorolla at 8:43 AM on August 26, 2016 [34 favorites]


I think that in practice, content warnings are given to let people know that there is potentially disturbing material coming up, so that they can prepare themselves in whatever way makes sense for them. I don't have PTSD, but I appreciate a warning when I'm going to encounter graphic material.

I also think this is kind of an overblown non-issue. In my experience, most professors already do this.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:44 AM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I also love how, particularly with the Reddit war-porn set, it's (rightly) taken as given that you don't ask a soldier how many people he/she has killed or seen killed. Because PTSD is real!

But only if you're the perpetrator, I guess...
posted by klanawa at 8:44 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thank you for your openness, splitpeasoup. Because I am going to correct you here, based on my experience as someone with PTSD.

A trigger is something that has the potential to retraumatize someone who has experienced trauma in the past. There are a lot of things that the traumatized person can do to minimize the impact of the trigger, many of which can be done quickly and unobtrusively, as long as advance warning is given. A trigger warning says "Here's your chance to do your cognitive calisthenics to avoid having this wreck your day."
posted by KathrynT at 8:46 AM on August 26, 2016 [40 favorites]


Yeah, it would have been great to have a heads up on the days I got triggered in undergrad. Punches in the gut would have been so much easier to take if I'd been allowed to brace for them and tighten my gut before they hit, maybe put on a metaphorical torso protector first. And in fact, when I did know that material which was going to be rough for me was on the syllabus, it was very helpful to me to know what was going in so I could make sure I was paying attention and not blindsided.

(I took several classes with the same instructor when I was in undergrad, actually, that triggered me badly enough to induce panic attacks or dissociation on occasion. The instructor was and is an excellent teacher, very good at keeping people engaged, and genuinely did her best to make her class welcoming and accessible. She just also happened to not be familiar with the things that were likely to trigger me, which are/were not common triggers for students, and were often pretty intimately connected to background stuff having to do with my sexual orientation.... which was hard, because the classes I took from her were often things like Psychology of Women or Gender and Sexuality that dealt deeply with those topics.)

I have never held those experiences against her; I seriously and truly believe she was doing her best to engage students and create a safe environment at the same time. But I do, wistfully, wish I had had a chance to breathe and steel myself before we all split into groups to brainstorm a list of traits common to people we were sexually attracted to and another list of people we wished to marry; or before a classroom discussion about whether you could be in a relationship with someone who couldn't experience orgasm, or what you thought of people with unusual sexual orientations. It would have been awesome to have the heads up that those were happening that day so I could rehearse what I would answer and decide how out I wanted to be and have a second to think deeply about how much emotional investment I wanted to put into the class that day. It would have been nice to pause and be able to make an informed decision when I had some time to think instead of devising reactions panickily on the fly.

I knew what I was signing up for when I took those courses, by the way. I don't regret having taken them, and I still regularly read about and discuss the topics within them for fun. I even engage in--and engaged in at the time!--discussions that were just as difficult for me as the ones that I was triggered by. Hell, a year later I signed up to visit undergrad classrooms and answer whatever screwball questions anyone had about my experience of my particular sexuality. The difference is that I can prepare for those, breathe, steel myself for idiot or insulting questions, and step into the mental headspace that lets me guard myself from really hearing the ideas that are going to fuck me over if I actually let them sink in.

And when it's done, if I need to, I can schedule an hour or so to do something relaxing that lets me come back to my normal, vulnerable, wholly human self, out of Teaching Mode. (And I have a Teaching Mode explicitly because the real world is full of things that can trigger me and if I know they're coming, I can shift into a headspace that isn't as personal, that isn't as emotional, and I can shunt my actual feelings and reactions away for later and interact with the topic on a purely intellectual level for a bit. But it's hard to do that when you get blindsided and hit by massive feelings of panic without warning, which is why warnings are good!)
posted by sciatrix at 8:47 AM on August 26, 2016 [23 favorites]


There are a lot of things that the traumatized person can do to minimize the impact of the trigger, many of which can be done quickly and unobtrusively, as long as advance warning is given.

I see. Thank you for explaining.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:49 AM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


Anytime a trigger warning is used in academia, one is essentially saying "Hey, the next portion of material is only accessible to students without PTSD, and I am OK with discriminating against students with PTSD for the next few minutes".

An academic's job is to impart information to their students. I don't think discrimination is a great word choice because of the negative connotations but if you insist on using that word, then it's just as valid to say forcing a teacher to leave out information to protect some students 'discriminates' against the students (and the academic freedom of the teacher) who don't suffer from PTSD. And it also discriminates against the students with PTSD who have developed coping skills. You're basically saying "doesn't having stairs discriminate against disabled people?"
posted by Green With You at 8:50 AM on August 26, 2016


Anytime a trigger warning is used in academia, one is essentially saying "Hey, the next portion of material is only accessible to students without PTSD, and I am OK with discriminating against students with PTSD for the next few minutes".

I would disagree with this strongly. It's saying "we are addressing upsetting topics here, and that may affect some of you more than others. I am going to be as sensitive to your needs as I can, and feel free to speak to me if you have a problem, so we can figure out a different way. Otherwise, I don't want you to be blindsided by something that is going to have a bad effect on you, so be prepared as much as you can."

I used to TA a course where we dealt with a lot of religious stuff. I would always say "This class is dealing with a lot of religious stuff. It's a history class, so we are approaching it as history, not theology. If an exam question asks 'why did [religion X] prosper while [religion Y] did not?', saying 'because [religion X] is true' is not going to get you any points. Give me the historical reasons as discussed in class." I had one student in three years who couldn't (or wouldn't) grasp that distinction -- it wasn't exactly a trigger warning, but it laid out an important element about the tone and subject of the course.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:52 AM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


'nother alum checkin' in.

I kinda said most of what I wanted to say in an FB post yesterday, which I'm just copy pasting:

I just want to point out that everybody currently bitching about trigger warnings? If you've *ever* asked people not to talk about a TV show or asked people to be not about an annoying topic, you've pretty much asked for a trigger warning. Except, here's the difference: your asking people to not spoil you on a show is demanding the creation of a safe space for something that will never inadvertently trigger PTSD. Someone asking for a warning on discussions of, say, abuse? That could.

As far as safe spaces go, it's a similar deal. Not everything needs to be/should be a safe space, but they're sometimes needed to sort difficult things out. For instance, there's a lot of firestorms that crop up here and there over racial issues--safe spaces are *designed* to reduce the harm that arises for those. Maybe some PoC would like to, say, discuss issues without a white dude coming in and explaining to them why something that *is* racist is "actually not racist because you're too sensitive." Maybe a white person would like to discuss with some people why something they said was perceived as offensive without suddenly feeling like they are beset on all sides.
I know some are celebrating my college's stance on "free speech", but I feel like they're misunderstanding things and going after what appears to be cheap points. It's easy to point and laugh at the kids without actually considering the nuances. This isn't a matter of coddled minds, it's a matter of creating incubators for minds to sharpen what comes out. In all honesty, the University's policy in action probably won't change at all; bigoted speech will still be shut down, groups will still self-segregate and form their own nodes, and some professors will, of their own volition, give content warnings ahead of time.

It's also, as an aside, really strange to me to see all of this reborn concern for free speech now that previously marginalized minorities are actively using theirs and pushing back.


But on top of that, giving it more thought... this whole thing? It's absurd virtue-signalling garbage. A university, by its very nature, is meant to be an intellectual safe space, where ideas can be hashed out in a semi-protected environment. It's where debate and learning is supposed to happen, following established rules.

But the thing is, when the letter says it doesn't sanction the creation of intellectual safe spaces, while being a safe space itself (that, as others have pointed out, has actual weaponized force at its disposal), what's the game plan here. If a particular student group wants to create a safe space for a particular discussion, are they going to come down hard and prevent that, thereby discrediting the whole notion that this is an argument for free speech? Are they going to let it fly, thereby discrediting the whole point of this letter?

It's virtue-signalling horseshit.

Also as an aside, it's really obnoxious that the channer shitheads on the internet and all the freeze peaches extremists are going to pollute the name in the media for a while. They've even started yelling at former alumni who are surprised by the letter's use of freshman rather than first-year, thinking it's some PC-bullshit rather than alumni having been there and been called nth-years.
posted by qcubed at 8:52 AM on August 26, 2016 [21 favorites]


Oh, for fuck's sake. I just laid out exactly what my own triggery experiences were like; I didn't even want to be excused from the material, just warned as to what was coming up so I could shift my headspace around a little. That is, for the record, exactly what the other students and grad students I know with experience actively being triggered in class have generally wanted.

This whole notion of leaving out course content is honestly pretty weird to me, because for the most part students getting into classes that are on topics that are likely to touch on their own triggers are interested in those topics and happy to discuss them if they feel safe doing that, which includes being able to judge their own headspace going in. That's why they fucking signed up for the course; that's why they picked that major.

If the triggery topic is completely unrelated to the stated subject and goal of the course--as in fraula's French example--then I can see students not being interested in discussing the trigger in class and requesting exemptions, but that's.... pretty much the only situation I can think of. And I see a whole lot of people conflating situations of "trigger intimately tied to course goals" and "trigger totally tangential or unrelated to course goals" in their heads, and assuming that proposed solutions to Situation 2 are being applied to classes where Situation 1 is at play.

That bullshit is all over this letter.
posted by sciatrix at 8:58 AM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


But honestly, focusing so sharply on PTSD is a red herring IMHO. There are plenty of people who can reasonably and sensibly need accommodations who don't have PTSD. Here's a hypothetical but completely plausible scenario I used when discussing this topic with my mother:
A student is taking a 20th Century Literature class in which the classroom discussion is 40% of the grade. Halfway through the semester, WAY past the drop point, the class is reading Lolita. A couple of weeks in, a student approaches the professor and says "Hey, so my dad was arrested four days ago for possession of child pornography and indecency with a child, where the child in question is my 12 year old cousin. I DO NOT WANT this information to become public; it's already destroying my family and we are all in turmoil. I will read this book, I will write this paper, but please do not make me try to participate in a classroom discussion about this topic as though it was still all hypothetical to me. I am happy to make up that portion of the grade in some other way, I just can't maintain the academic distance required to handle an in-person discussion."
She doesn't have a PTSD diagnosis -- for one thing, the situation isn't "post" anything, it's currently ongoing. She's not the primary victim. This isn't a medical problem, it's a social problem, and a transient one at that. But her need is still real, and telling her "suck it up, cupcake, the real world is harsh" isn't justice.
posted by KathrynT at 9:00 AM on August 26, 2016 [43 favorites]


It's virtue-signalling horseshit.

Don't you think that's a bit harsh? After all, it's not virtue-signalling unless people are actually bragging about how they didn't need bumper pads and how It Worked Out Fine for Th--

Oh, right.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:01 AM on August 26, 2016 [21 favorites]


The anti-no-platforming stance seems reasonable to me, and because it happens on a higher level than trigger or content warnings - engaging with the university community in general as opposed to individual classes in a more intimate setting - it seems like it would be more likely to actually be enforced rigorously.
posted by Small Dollar at 9:10 AM on August 26, 2016


I too thought of the UoC econ and law departments, not to mention UoC graduate and professor Allan Bloom. Because this kinda seems like a ploy to further brand themselves as a conservative intellectual haven (is that ironic or not?). But maybe you alumni will tell me it's not actually fair to see them that way in the first place?

*shrugs* The University has a lot of conservative faculty. It also has a lot of liberal faculty. For instance, there's Bruce Cumings, who's a fantastic lecturer, but seems to believe that North Korea isn't all that bad...

The student body also has pretty varied viewpoints. At least, it did when I went there. They varied from really obnoxious conservatives to really obnoxious liberals to really obnoxious "I don't pay attention to politics" to people who weren't that obnoxious at all, such as myself.
posted by qcubed at 9:11 AM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]




A number of people the last couple days have been all "hey, isn't that your school?" since I haven't been saying anything about it (oh ho but my facebook feed, hello) and my general opinion on this is, as a person who has never needed a trigger warning or a safe space, maybe I don't know wtf I'm talking about and should keep my mouth shut.
posted by phunniemee at 9:25 AM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


The letter would have been better if they just cut the third paragraph.

Being open to civil debate with a wide variety of opinions covers everything necessary to say, I think.

I looked at the linked report (it was more like a position statement with historical references) and organisation and found neither to be particularly troublesome. The trigger warning content of the letter sticks out like a "bee in bonnet" issue mixed into statements about academic principles.

Ironically, it was likely drafted by communications staff trained to make the university look good, in response to a kerfuffle no one was paying attention to.
posted by chapps at 9:54 AM on August 26, 2016


Anytime a trigger warning is used in academia, one is essentially saying "Hey, the next portion of material is only accessible to students without PTSD, and I am OK with discriminating against students with PTSD for the next few minutes".

This has been well-covered upthread, but I'd like to add that traumatic experiences aren't monoliths. There are so many different types of trauma, degrees of severity and proximity, etc., and the individuals who experience trauma aren't monolithic either. Nor are the ways that the individuals move forward in their lives. Some survivors like to talk about it; others don't. Both are valid.

PTSD is a diagnosis, but it's fuzzy around the edges. So is each of our personal definitions of what triggering course material might be. It's an oversimplification to suggest that certain material is inaccessible in wide swaths.
posted by witchen at 9:57 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


So I have a somewhat different perspective on this, as someone who has severe PTSD and has "benefited" from accomodations on the matter.

When I went to college, I was very leery of stuff that freaked me out, and I made full use of my college's disability accomodations program. I left the classroom when I thought it might involve something triggering. Everyone was very kind - professors were very kind - and they warned me whenever anything might possibly discomfort me.

It did me no favors, because one of the major symptoms of PTSD is avoidance. Our brains are rewired to progressively want to avoid anything that even kind of reminds us of the incident. I started out college needing to avoid only moderate reminders, with a 4.0 GPA. I "finished" college - and by that I mean, dropped out in my third year - by avoiding literally everything that reminded me, emotionally or otherwise, of my trauma. I was hardline about it.

Since then, I've looked at some of the evidence-based research the VA and other institutions are putting out around PTSD, and I've learned that there is research to back up my feelings on this - that avoidance of the trauma can actually intensify PTSD symptoms. That in other words, "safe space" for the traumatized may not actually be doing the traumatized favors.

I'm not sure, given that, what I think reasonable accomodations for college classes should entail. I agree that to avoid these things entirely or to allow students to avoid these things entirely does not do the students favors. But at the same time, in the time when I just needed to avoid moderate triggers, a severe trigger would have sent me into a spiral of rage and depression that would have completely derailed me.
posted by corb at 9:58 AM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


corb have you not been reading where all of us are talking about how it's not about avoidance, it's about preparedness. because if not it is pretty interesting and helpful information.
posted by winna at 10:07 AM on August 26, 2016 [40 favorites]


Safe spaces do more than provide a haven away from oppression in the outside world. They also provide a space where subjects that fall on the axis of oppression can be talked about in greater depth. If you have a safe space for trans/nonbinary students and allies, the discussion on-i don't know-gender nihilism for example, is going to be greater and more involved than if the forum was open and you had to stop every 5 minutes to explain to some cis guy why misgendering is harmful.

This isn't a new concept. It's basically why they have leveled (100, 200, 300) classes. Having space for people with a solid grasp on the subject leads to more insightful discussion. This should be obvious to the dean, and anyone else who is using the "broaden your horizons, academic rigor, etc" arguments.

Which is to say that that excuse is absolute horseshit, and the more I think about it the more the dean is just some whiny old man who wants to keep kids off his straight white lawn.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:08 AM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


If I heard anyone at a university I was associated with going on about "optics," I would scream bloody murder. Good lord, what an annoying news/punditry word.

In any case, as an collegiate-level instructor, I would see working for a place that required or encouraged the use of "trigger warnings" as being along the lines of, say, an evangelical Christian university harassing a professor for encouraging solidarity with harassed Islamic people, or encouraging a debate about abortion in a PoliSci class. I would neither work for, nor apply for work at either sort of place.
posted by raysmj at 10:11 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


raysmj, I presume you also refuse to watch television shows or movies that have ratings, and that any nightly news program that warns their viewership before displaying war footage is one that you will immediately shut off in disgust.
posted by KathrynT at 10:13 AM on August 26, 2016 [15 favorites]


Since then, I've looked at some of the evidence-based research the VA and other institutions are putting out around PTSD, and I've learned that there is research to back up my feelings on this - that avoidance of the trauma can actually intensify PTSD symptoms. That in other words, "safe space" for the traumatized may not actually be doing the traumatized favors.

Providing trigger warnings allows the student to make their own decisions about what they will expose themselves to. It doesn't mean that the student or the professr has to avoid a triggering topic, but rather that the student is forewarned about the presence of the topic. The student's response to that forewarning, and the question of whether that response is ultimately beneficial for the student in a therapeutic sense, is sort of outside of the point.

U of C is not saying, "we are against trigger warnings because we've looked at the psychological research and we think this is the best thing for our students with PTSD." That would be incredibly irresponsible of them and would in all likelihood open them up to tremendous liability. By the same token, a professor should not be using assigned readings as a theraputic modality for their students' mental health, because students are not in a therapist-client relationship with the professor, even when that professor happens to be a therapist.
posted by gauche at 10:17 AM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I would see working for a place that required or encouraged the use of "trigger warnings" as being along the lines of, say, an evangelical Christian university harassing a professor for encouraging solidarity with harassed Islamic people, or encouraging a debate about abortion in a PoliSci class.

You honestly see these two things as equivalent:

1) suggesting that professors who teach topics that include graphic depictions of violence/sexual abuse to inform their students that the class will discuss such topics

and

2) an evangelical christian university harassing a professor for encouraging solidarity with harassed Islamic people

??? care to explain why? Because by any reasonable standard, they aren't.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:20 AM on August 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


As I've said before, it's right there in the term: trigger warning. Not trigger removefromcurriculum, not trigger neverchallengefragileminds. Just warning.

What exactly is wrong with giving people a heads-up?
posted by Etrigan at 10:21 AM on August 26, 2016 [22 favorites]


In any case, as an collegiate-level instructor, I would see working for a place that required or encouraged the use of "trigger warnings" as being along the lines of...encouraging a debate about abortion in a PoliSci class.
posted by raysmj at 1:11 PM on August 26 [+] [Flagged]


Either you're really bad at comparisons, or you don't know what a trigger warning is.

One more time, for everyone coming in:

Trigger warnings do not change the course material. They do not add or substract from the content. They do not censor or encourage any topics. A trigger warning is a label. Having a description of course material does not change the course. Trigger warnings will have no effect on those that do not need them*.

*And, therefore, imo, people who do not need them should kindly shut the fuck up.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:23 AM on August 26, 2016 [34 favorites]


but if I don't oppose trigger warnings how will people know how hard and strong I am
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:25 AM on August 26, 2016 [39 favorites]


I read this comment elsewhere that pretty much sums up my opinion about this:

A similar way to put it: if a professor wants to give a so-called "trigger warning", nobody's stopping 'em. But Chicago isn't going to mandate such things. this is important because mandatory "trigger warnings" are a common part of PC / SJ student "demands."

Problems will arise if / when individual profs mandate "safe spaces" and e.g. prohibit certain points of view from being challenged in their classes. At that point, Chicago's laudable position will run up against academic freedom. The far left loves declaring topics off limits...it's alarming that liberals defend them.

Anyway: much of this disagreement is really about matters of degree. If one of your students fled the Rwandan genocide, and you're going to, say, ask your students to watch Hotel Rwanda...any reasonable person would give a heads-up. There's nothing new nor weird about that. So the core of the idea isn't dumb. But the PC / SJ crowd tends to dumbify such ideas by taking them to absurd extremes. Many leftist students seem to want mandatory warnings for anything that might even conceivably upset somebody somewhere--and that includes merely disagreeing with them respectfully. And that's obviously bullshit. So the disagreement isn't an in-principle one about content warnings, but, rather, one about matters of degree: should the most delicate of sensibilities (pretending to be even more delicate than they really are, because fashion / virtue signalling), be the standard that determines what can and can't be discussed on campus, and what must be warned about.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:25 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


::citation needed::
posted by hydropsyche at 10:27 AM on August 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


You know, when someone starts talking about the "PC/SJ crowd", it usually strikes me as a sort of signalling that they have no interest in actual good faith discussion, and would much rather dumbify an opposing position to an absurd extreme.

And it's obviously bullshit to everyone except the people railing against the "PC/SJ crowd".
posted by qcubed at 10:29 AM on August 26, 2016 [38 favorites]


I'm not a fan of the ratings system, actually, and some of my cinematic heroes fought those over time. (I went to see, "This Film is Not Yet Rated" when it came out in theaters.) I'm certainly no fan of music ratings. I've shown films with violent and intensely political content in classes. I'm fine with a voluntary, "There's some violent content" here, and with telling people that subject matter might be controversial, if that's what you want to do. That said, I would go ahead with showing what I had on the syllabus. And I would not stand for any censorship of my course content. I've been against that as long as I've been an adult, before it when I was a child watching evangelical types go bonkers over pop music and harmless TV shows. If Chicago is engaging in any overt or covert censorship here, then by all means rail against it. Otherwise, the idea that trigger warnings or safe spaces must be required for learning is ridiculous.

I teach PoliSci and policy-oriented classes, though, and the subject matter is controversial by its nature.
posted by raysmj at 10:29 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Do Evangelical Christian students get a TW before or a Safe Space during biology lectures about evolution?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:29 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


But the PC / SJ crowd

Aaaand that's when I know a white guy is typing.
posted by Kitteh at 10:30 AM on August 26, 2016 [44 favorites]


And I would not stand for any censorship of my course content.

who is talking about censorship for fucks sake
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:30 AM on August 26, 2016 [28 favorites]


should the most delicate of sensibilities (pretending to be even more delicate than they really are, because fashion / virtue signalling), be the standard that determines what can and can't be discussed on campus, and what must be warned about.

It's clear to me, after all, that most often those with the "most delicate of sensibilities" who do the most virtue signalling are also those who refuse to seriously confront and discuss the sensibilities of other people with differing views while sitting comfortably at their nexus of power and privilege.
posted by qcubed at 10:31 AM on August 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


So the disagreement isn't an in-principle one about content warnings, but, rather, one about matters of degree

They say "so-called 'trigger warnings'" right there in the letter. It's quoted in the post. That's an in-principle disagreement. It's saying "We don't even think these are things that (should) exist."
posted by Etrigan at 10:31 AM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm fine with a voluntary, "There's some violent content" here, and with telling people that subject matter might be controversial, if that's what you want to do. That said, I would go ahead with showing what I had on the syllabus. And I would not stand for any censorship of my course content.

Have you read the comments in this thread? Including this one?
posted by sallybrown at 10:31 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Raysmj...so you DO support trigger warnings, you just said so. Confused by what you object to here.
posted by agregoli at 10:31 AM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Anyway: much of this disagreement is really about matters of degree. If one of your students fled the Rwandan genocide, and you're going to, say, ask your students to watch Hotel Rwanda...any reasonable person would give a heads-up. There's nothing new nor weird about that. So the core of the idea isn't dumb. But the PC / SJ crowd tends to dumbify such ideas by taking them to absurd extremes. Many leftist students seem to want mandatory warnings for anything that might even conceivably upset somebody somewhere--and that includes merely disagreeing with them respectfully. And that's obviously bullshit. So the disagreement isn't an in-principle one about content warnings, but, rather, one about matters of degree: should the most delicate of sensibilities (pretending to be even more delicate than they really are, because fashion / virtue signalling), be the standard that determines what can and can't be discussed on campus, and what must be warned about."
The point of a university classroom is to teach students to think and to present them with knowledge to do it with. Doing that effectively already requires a hell of a lot of empathy from an instructor to figure out where students are at and thus figure out where to point them. In my case as a TA for advanced microbiology courses that included figuring that some students wouldn't want to see my awesome necrotic wound collection, and for instructors who teach courses that intersect with racism or sexual assault or whatever the line will basically always be pretty fucking easy to divine. There is a reasonable standard here that we absolutely should expect instructors to meet, which essentially boils down to, don't be an asshole and set reasonable expectations - things instructors need to be doing anyway. An instructor who lacks the ability to get a reasonable idea of what will interfere with a student's ability to engage with the materiel is an instructor who shouldn't be in front of a classroom. Its part of the job.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:33 AM on August 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


What's fascinating is that people who want to TEACH students about rape and violence are least willing to hear from students what rape and violence actually does to them.

They aren't qualified to teach about this stuff and likely are doing real harm by false and misleading teachings about the impacts of rape and violence they know very little about.
posted by xarnop at 10:34 AM on August 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


"We don't even think these are things that (should) exist."

As an official educational organization, this position makes perfect sense. Again, faculty can give TWs. Of course TWs are a good idea, but they are a terrible idea once they become officially mandated.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:34 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Otherwise, the idea that trigger warnings or safe spaces must be required for learning is ridiculous.

I would invite you to consider why educated, sophisticated, experienced men did not actually choose to say in their written, no doubt carefully considered statement, "We will not as a matter of policy require trigger warnings in classes or the creation of safe spaces," instead of what they actually did say.

Honestly, the letter was so amateurish I initially thought it might be a fake. I'm embarrassed for the school (which I almost attended), I'm embarrassed even the respectable right has fallen so far (because we need grownups on the opposite side, too).
posted by praemunire at 10:34 AM on August 26, 2016 [21 favorites]




Problems will arise if / when individual profs mandate "safe spaces" and e.g. prohibit certain points of view from being challenged in their classes.

Since safe spaces are spaces where harassment and hate speech is not allowed, I suspect most classes are safe spaces for most groups. I can't imagine, as an example, a professor of Jewish history putting up with a student who insisted on discussing why the Elders of the Protocols of Zion was a true story.

So, no, the issue is not that prohibiting certain points of view from being challenged; that's the educationally orthodoxy.

What is happening is that certain groups, such as woman and LGBT students, are now demanding that the same respect that is afforded other groups -- in this instance, that they be able to attend class without experiencing sexism or racism, for example -- be extended to them.

By the way, being racist or sexist or whatever in a class is not challenging a point of view. Academics isn't about treating all ideas as equal if they hurt someone, because someone was challenged by it.
posted by maxsparber at 10:35 AM on August 26, 2016 [15 favorites]


AAUP on Trigger Warnings . I agree that even a voluntary trigger warning can be problematic, if students decide to opt out of assigned readings. I've always put a "controversial material" section in introductory course syllabi, but tried to make it clear that this doesn't mean that students can opt out of readings or viewings or what have you. You can opt out of the class, though.
posted by raysmj at 10:37 AM on August 26, 2016


... mandatory "trigger warnings" are a common part of PC / SJ student "demands."...

... much of this disagreement is really about matters of degree.

...the PC / SJ crowd tends to dumbify such ideas by taking them to absurd extremes....

Many leftist students seem to want mandatory warnings for anything that might even conceivably upset somebody somewhere...


When I was I took English Language/Debate in high school my instructor told me to stray from adverbials of frequency like this because it basically made your argument scream "I think this thing happens a lot but I don't have actual sources to reference"
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:37 AM on August 26, 2016 [35 favorites]


Sometimes in my less charitable moments I feel like we should just randomly replace slides in classroom presentations with close-up graphic pictures of horrifying penile injuries and test this theory that learning should be about being "uncomfortable."
posted by KathrynT at 10:37 AM on August 26, 2016 [34 favorites]


Aaaand that's when I know a white guy is typing.

To be fair, it's pretty silly to write dogwhistles if you aren't a dog....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:41 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Many leftist students seem to want mandatory warnings for anything that might even conceivably upset somebody somewhere--and that includes merely disagreeing with them respectfully.

Do Evangelical Christian students get a TW before or a Safe Space during biology lectures about evolution?

Of course TWs are a good idea, but they are a terrible idea once they become officially mandated.


It must make you feel so good and badass to go around setting up strawmen and publicly knocking them over, huh?
posted by sallybrown at 10:41 AM on August 26, 2016 [27 favorites]


Raysmj, you are arguing about opt outs...we're talking about trigger warnings. As in warning of content. Which you said you do with your students.
posted by agregoli at 10:41 AM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


If you take a sociology or criminal justice class, you will experience controversial material. Serious question: If a class is discussing the history and reality of the KKK or white nationalism, does that mandate a TW?

I support TWs! I do not support TWs as officially mandated university policy.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:42 AM on August 26, 2016


Of course TWs are a good idea, but they are a terrible idea once they become officially mandated.

Again, from the post if you don't want to bother reading the article:
Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,'
Not "we do not mandate", not "we do not take an official stance," but "we do not support" them. They are actively saying that they do not agree with you that they are a good idea.
posted by Etrigan at 10:44 AM on August 26, 2016 [16 favorites]


If a class is discussing the history and reality of the KKK or white nationalism, does that mandate a TW?

Why would this go unmentioned in the course material? Is the teacher just sneaking it into the class?

Listing it in the course material is a trigger warning. It's a way of letting students know what to expect from a class.
posted by maxsparber at 10:44 AM on August 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


If a class is discussing the history and reality of the KKK or white nationalism, does that mandate a TW?

I may be wrong, but I don't think anyone is talking about mandating trigger warnings in this thread. We're discussing why they are (a) useful to both students and teachers, and (b) respectful and polite, in the context of being people in a community together.

To keep trying to bring the discussion back to this issue of some people somewhere mandating trigger warnings is starting to look like bad faith participation, IMO.
posted by sallybrown at 10:45 AM on August 26, 2016 [23 favorites]


jeff-o-matic, what possible harm could be caused by saying "The material discussed this week will include detailed discussions of racist violence?" How does that possible harm compare with the harm caused by keeping those detailed discussions a secret and springing it on students at with no warning? What academic benefit could the second scenario POSSIBLY confer?
posted by KathrynT at 10:46 AM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I support TWs! I do not support TWs as officially mandated university policy.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:42 PM on August 26 [+] [!]


Ok well no one here is arguing for mandated trigger warnings, just against mandated lack of trigger warnings. so if you want to continue on in the discussion at least get on the same page.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:46 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


"they do not agree with you that they are a good idea"

Coming from official University policy, this makes sense to me.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:47 AM on August 26, 2016


Please explain how you can simultaneously agree that content warnings are a good idea and that it makes sense for a University to discourage them as a matter of policy.
posted by KathrynT at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


I support TWs! I do not support TWs as officially mandated university policy.

But you support banning them as officially mandated university policy?
posted by zombieflanders at 10:49 AM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


"Please explain how you can simultaneously agree that content warnings are a good idea and that it makes sense for a University to discourage them as a matter of policy."

I do not think a university should "support" TWs. Professors can still give TWs. But as official policy, it's a terrible idea.

If an instructor starts discussing rape completely out of context, in say a math class, that's wrong and he/she should be disciplined for it. But if rape comes up in a criminal justice class? People need to be warned that horrible crimes happen?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:52 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


[Couple comments removed. A frustratingly predictably necessary reminder: if you are trying to tackle the idea of some imaginary mandate of trigger warnings not actually in evidence, just in case an educational administrator is scouring MetaFilter threads for brainstorms, it's okay to just worry about it internally and not insist folks in this discussion hear you out.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:52 AM on August 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


But if rape comes up in a criminal justice class? People need to be warned that horrible crimes happen?

How is this terrible? How is it terrible for the school to say, hey, if you're tackling that insanely awful rape case today, let people know that it's today, so they have a chance to prepare themselves however they need to, especially considering that a large percentage of the women in your class have likely experienced sexual violence?
posted by maxsparber at 10:55 AM on August 26, 2016 [20 favorites]


The timing's awful, also. Tuition's due Monday - nobody's backing out now.
posted by anshuman at 10:56 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


But if rape comes up in a criminal justice class? People need to be warned that horrible crimes happen?

Are you serious right now? I honestly can't tell. We're talking about situations where things like rape come up....and people in the classroom have experienced rape. Which is common. Do you honestly think it is harmful to warn students who may have been raped that we're going to talk about rape today? Like, for real, that's a horrble thing, to consider the feelings of those in the class?
posted by agregoli at 10:56 AM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


But if rape comes up in a criminal justice class? People need to be warned that horrible crimes happen?

You realize that calling it a criminal justice class is already a low-key content warning, right?
posted by Etrigan at 10:56 AM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


You realize that calling it a criminal justice class is already a low-key content warning, right?

Too damn much of one. All classes should be called "You'll Find Out When You Get Here," and the students learn whatever the hell the teacher wants to teach, because anything else is mollycoddling a bunch of special snowflakes.
posted by maxsparber at 10:58 AM on August 26, 2016 [42 favorites]


But if rape comes up in a criminal justice class? People need to be warned that horrible crimes happen?

If you think a trigger warning for a criminal justice class plays out like this:
Mean Administrator: Teacher I'm a SJW and I'm here to say you have to give a Trigger Warning.
Teacher: Guys, we're talking about Rape today.
Student: What is Rape?
Teacher: Rape is a Thing that happens. To girls.
Student: WHAT? *cries*
Other Student: I'm a millenial leftist and I hereby Censor you from talking about Rape. Harambe.
then I suggest you actually take the time to read the comments in this thread and process them in good faith. Because that's not what you're doing right now. You're feigning confusion and making bad faith arguments about perfectly easy to understand concepts.
posted by sallybrown at 11:00 AM on August 26, 2016 [40 favorites]


That may be the first Harambe joke I have actually enjoyed.
posted by maxsparber at 11:03 AM on August 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


You literally typed out a bad faith argument ridiculing my position, then claimed I am feigning confusion and making bad faith arguments.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:04 AM on August 26, 2016


That wasn't really an argument. It was satire.
posted by maxsparber at 11:04 AM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


It was satire.

Well, you coulda warned me!
posted by jeff-o-matic at 11:06 AM on August 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


So now you want trigger warnings?

Trigger warnings that the letter explicitly says that it does not condone?
posted by qcubed at 11:07 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Damn. I think we've now reached the point where we are making fun of each other with the exact same joke.
posted by maxsparber at 11:08 AM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


[Yeah, I think maybe we're now in the kind of high-momentum snark vortex that only unilateral disarmament is going to work well for, so maybe everybody just take a step back and if you don't manage to in the next short while I may go ahead do that stepping back for you.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:10 AM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I believe the correct term is "snarknado"
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:12 AM on August 26, 2016 [22 favorites]


"[Couple comments removed. A frustratingly predictably necessary reminder: if you are trying to tackle the idea of some imaginary mandate of trigger warnings not actually in evidence, just in case an educational administrator is scouring MetaFilter threads for brainstorms, it's okay to just worry about it internally and not insist folks in this discussion hear you out.]"
I have argued upthread that some level of providing trigger warnings should be a fundamental part of the job expected of an instructor. Failing to provide trigger warnings, whether they're called that or not*, for shit that dead obviously needs them is failing to teach effectively. Setting expectations for learning is a fundamental part of the job, and to fail so epic-ally at this as to throw upsetting shit at unprepared and unsuspecting students is unacceptable. Being aware of where students are at with regards to the material and tailoring your teaching to best encourage effective learning is part of the job, and failing so epic-ally at this as to prompt a fight or flight response in your students is unacceptable. Trigger warnings with some some subjects are absolutely necessary for effective teaching of those things, and universities absolutely should be in the business of teaching effectively, whether or not that bruises the ever so fragile egos of assholes who either haven't thought much about what it means to teach or think there are no consequences for their failure to do so.

*I dislike the idea of using medialized language like this in non-medical settings that assumes diagnoses in students, and just called it a heads up when I was providing them.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:14 AM on August 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


We can debate trigger warnings, but I don't think that's what this incident is really about. University policy on trigger warnings hasn't changed, and it was actually misstated in the letter. This is about particular university officials sending out a letter to students that was intended to send a message about where the university comes down on certain campus ideological disputes.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:17 AM on August 26, 2016 [15 favorites]




What exactly is wrong with giving people a heads-up?

I think in large part this is a wild over-reaction to that question.

What should a trigger warning be given for? Are there exact criteria that could be written down in a student and faculty code of conduct agreement? There aren't any solid boundaries, any electric fences the admin can put around the problem. It makes them very nervous. They do something and fear that it's not enough, that they will inevitably be called out even so for not doing enough.

They flail about. They say that nothing will be done. Nothing must be done. Academic freedom! That looks like a good excuse1. Kids these days! That's another. They figure they're going to get flack anyway. Defending the status quo---at least they can look brave to their donors. But to me this letter is simply cowardice.

1Never mind that admins are the biggest present risk to real academic freedom---tenure---killing it from the bottom up with sessional and contract lecturers. But that's a problem for departments when they're long retired and dead. Suckers.
posted by bonehead at 11:31 AM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


Are there exact criteria that could be written down in a student and faculty code of conduct agreement?

Sure. Why not?
posted by maxsparber at 11:41 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


AAUP on Trigger Warnings

I am absolutely unsurprised that the professional organization for professors is opposed to the idea of holding professors accountable for providing a learning environment open to all students of all backgrounds. It is, of course, their organizational raison d'etre to protect the privilege of their profession, much like the AMA or the ABA.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:47 AM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


Why not?

Cowardliness? Fear? Lack of willingness to tackle a hard problem and build a consensus, a process and conversation that will take a number of years?

Couldn't say.
posted by bonehead at 11:50 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


It would be awesome if "anti trigger warning" proponents, or anti-censoring proponents, or what the fuck ever people who are like "yeah this admin has a good point" want to think of themselves as--it would be awesome if they would actually engage with the actual specific experiences and examples being brought up in the thread. If you want to create a policy, it's a good idea to look at actual, real life cases, right?

Seriously, it blows to take the time and emotional labor to explain exactly what my experience was with academic triggers and why I support them, in a very specific case, and have that experience go by completely unacknowledged by people who disagree with my stance and who go on to cite vague generalities and kneejerk opinions. I'm not the only one, either.

Who wants to explain to me and fraula why it would have been a terrible idea to put a bit in the syllabus for her French class saying 'today we're gonna have an activity where we discuss the French in this condom advertisement'? If they looked at that blurb and went "well shit, maybe this is a bad idea", can you explain why that might be a bad thing? Who wants to explain to me why a bit in the syllabus course calendar saying "today students will do an activity where they make a list of qualities they'd want in a sexual partner and a list of qualities they'd want in a person to marry, and then you'll break into small groups to discuss that" would have been the end of the world?

Because that is the thing that you people are actually arguing by coming in hard against trigger warnings, whether you want to believe it or not.
posted by sciatrix at 11:51 AM on August 26, 2016 [27 favorites]


In a world of Lennys, be a Squiggy
posted by beerperson at 11:54 AM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


There's no need for analogies. Argue why warning people there will be difficult content in class discussion is bad on it's own. Because I haven't seen an argument as to why that's problematic.
posted by agregoli at 12:01 PM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


on so many types of media, I'm somehow left with the impression that there are fairly healthy individuals who have not gone through particular trauma who just find talking about (race, discrimination, assault, danger) uncomfortable.

Well, yes. This is the way people speak about trigger warnings. People who want to dismiss them, and find the whole undertaking ridiculous, and haven't done any research on the topic.

For the rest of us, it's exactly what you said, a heads up. Here's an actual example of a trigger warning, from Wikia's page on trigger warnings:

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

It just doesn't seem like that big a deal when you see it in the wild, and isn't. Because this isn't really about trigger warnings at all, and your comment sort of nailed that down.

This is a shadow puppet show in service of a cultural war, and it's a war with a lot of elements. A large part of it is contempt for young people. In particular, contempt for the activism, and the language of activism, of young people. A lot of it is pretty simple: Just your basic entrenched privilege that refuses to accept or even admit the needs of anybody who hasn't previously been able to push for their demands. Some of it is related to a pervasive attack against academia made by the right wing for decades, that they are somehow hotbeds of antidemocractic left wing activism, so there is this knee-jerk what-about-freedom of speech response that is as unthinking as it is reliable.

So we don't end up discussing the actual issue, which is just not that big a deal, but use it as a pretext for discussing -- or, more properly, condemning -- a multitude of social fracture points. And in the meanwhile, the people who actually benefit from trigger warnings get left behind, because they have stopped being real people but caricatures standing in for whatever we take issue with, be it obnoxious millennials or people of color or lefty academics.
posted by maxsparber at 12:03 PM on August 26, 2016 [35 favorites]


In a world of Lennys, be a Squiggy

Lenny in the streets, Squiggy in the sheets.
posted by maxsparber at 12:03 PM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a shadow puppet show in service of a cultural war, and it's a war with a lot of elements. A large part of it is contempt for young people. In particular, contempt for the activism, and the language of activism, of young people.
And that's, I think, part of the irony here. What the letter is saying is that young people should shut the fuck up about supposedly damaging speech, because this is a free speech zone. Being a free speech zone is settled policy, and so you should not criticize or dispute it. But if it's really a free speech zone, shouldn't the administration welcome debate on everything, including whether it should be a free speech zone?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:07 PM on August 26, 2016 [21 favorites]


[A few comments removed, please reload if necessary to make sure you're not chaining off a response to a response to a deleted comment, etc.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:10 PM on August 26, 2016


Yet another alum, here.

I've stated more than a few times here that I think the idea of comfort seeking is actually at the root of most power structures' exclusionary practices, intentional or unintentional. I've also said in the past that I'm not sure that those who've been othered also seeking comfort - or seeking comfort because the privileged have had it for so long - is actually the answer we all want, here. For better or worse, I think everyone ultimately needs to deal with each other - and that everyone should be more uncomfortable. No it's not justice for past wrongs, no it won't be equitable for a long time - but that's not the point.

That position is not popular, and consequently not easy to articulate - but my read of the letter is that's what the UofC administration was ultimately trying to communicate. It's very easy, even at a place like the UofC, to sequester yourself in a personalized echo chamber. Hey 1st years, please don't do that?

That said, even as someone that's sympathetic to the core idea they're putting out into the world, I do think it'd be pretty hard to fuck up the presentation of this idea worse. It's clumsy, it's lazy, it's tone-deaf, it defines itself in opposition to concepts that have real value instead of on its own merits, etc. It's kinda like watching a drunk uncle go off at Thanksgiving. Both the idea, and the school, deserve a better presentation than this.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:43 PM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's no need for analogies. Argue why warning people there will be difficult content in class discussion is bad on it's own. Because I haven't seen an argument as to why that's problematic.

I'll bite. I am working from the assumption that the purpose of trigger warnings is to keep students from getting hurt by unexpectedly encountering material or discussions that are difficult for them.

When trigger warnings are liberally used, students can begin to expect a trigger warning before they encounter material or discussions that are difficult for them. At some point, something will slip through without a warning, and a student will get hurt. In sciatrix's* example above, she describes having trouble in discussions because of triggers that were unique to her and not common for students -- how is it even possible to provide trigger warnings for things like that?

When trigger warnings are overly used, warning fatigue can kick in and students who don't have the stamina to be on defense all semester will let their guards down at the wrong time.

Sufficiently well planned courses should be providing students with enough details about what will be covered each class in the syllabus so that students can take what precautions they need. So to the extent that anything gets mandated, it's proper syllabi (which, yes profs, some of us do read them). If the syllabus for my art class for the day says that we are going to be discussing representations of Leda and the Swan on Tuesday, it's a little patronizing to also be told: warning! deity rape! when I can figure that out on my own.

Along those same lines, if we assume that the syllabus is giving enough information**, being triggered by a topic shouldn't be an excuse to nope out of that part of the course. To receive an undergraduate degree, I think that even students who have difficulty dealing with certain topics should be expected to work through that and do the same work required as the other students. This is getting into straw-SJW territory, but if fraula's French class had been given advance notice of what the ad was, I bet people would have noped out of that session, and then complained when that was their 4th absense for the semester and so they got an F.

These are all, of course, terrible arguments for banning trigger warnings. But they are pretty damn good ones for not mandating (or, in my opinion, asking for) them. To the extent that people choose to provide them, more power to 'em.

*as an aside, I'm calling this out specifically in response to: it would be awesome if they would actually engage with the actual specific experiences and examples being brought up in the thread. To the extent that people aren't "engaging" with personal examples, I think it can in part be explained by the fact that it's hard to use an example from someone's personal history in an argument against them without sounding dismissive. I hope I managed not to do so here.

**you+me ==> ass, obviously this is far from universal

posted by sparklemotion at 12:46 PM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


I tell you what, sparklemotion. I will entertain your argument when trigger warnings actually start being overly used.
posted by maxsparber at 12:53 PM on August 26, 2016 [24 favorites]


How come this same "warning fatigue" doesn't apply to, say, the yellow line in the middle of the roadway, or the chime that tells you your headlights are still on?
posted by KathrynT at 12:56 PM on August 26, 2016 [20 favorites]


For better or worse, I think everyone ultimately needs to deal with each other - and that everyone should be more uncomfortable.

Considering that when white dudes are the ones being made uncomfortable they threaten to expel people over it (as linked above), this is not a practically achievable goal in the short term.
posted by winna at 12:57 PM on August 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


I think Tyler Kissinger may be my ally-hero
posted by chapps at 1:00 PM on August 26, 2016


I honestly don't understand the resistance to a concept of a "safe space". It literally refers to a place where people's differences are respected, and where sexist, racist, transphobic and homophobic language will not be used. Like "PC", it's become another shibboleth of the right, where it originally meant just not being openly discriminatory or insulting towards people.


Besides, I really don't see this as limiting to anyone's freedom of expression at UofC.

UofC students are perfectly capable of being horrible to each other without engaging in sexist, racist, transphobic or homophobic language.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:02 PM on August 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


The kind of "exposure therapy" that people who rail against trigger warnings want to see doesn't just happen when a professor presents a lesson on rape law out of the blue. It's conducted by mental health professionals with specific training, in a controlled environment, over a determined period of time. Your average sociology or English professor doesn't have this training. For them to deliberately forego trigger warnings because spoiled Millennials need to be exposed to tough ideas is way beyond their scope.

Not every professor is going to identify every possible trigger, and that's okay. Sometimes even graphic scenes with common triggers may slip through, and that's okay too if there was no malicious intent. But deliberately trying to conduct amateur exposure therapy is grossly out of line.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:07 PM on August 26, 2016 [18 favorites]


How come this same "warning fatigue" doesn't apply to, say, the yellow line in the middle of the roadway, or the chime that tells you your headlights are still on?

For the same reason that trigger warnings are good -- they're true, and they're useful when applied in a reasonable manner.

Most studies of "warning fatigue" or "alarm fatigue" are about how medical workers tune out the constant pointless beep-beep-beep of their surroundings, or how false alarms make people less likely to respond to actual alarms. So if (as apparently some academics seem to think "the SJWs" want) every paragraph of every text had TRIGGER WARNING: STUFF ABOUT WHITE PEOPLE in front of it, then yes, the occasional TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT wouldn't really register.

But of course, no one actually wants that constant pointless beep-beep-beep of trigger warnings, or "false alarm" trigger warnings that are really just things that people disagree with, but the straw trigger is useful.
posted by Etrigan at 1:09 PM on August 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


I've also said in the past that I'm not sure that those who've been othered also seeking comfort - or seeking comfort because the privileged have had it for so long - is actually the answer we all want, here. For better or worse, I think everyone ultimately needs to deal with each other - and that everyone should be more uncomfortable. No it's not justice for past wrongs, no it won't be equitable for a long time - but that's not the point.

As privileged positions go, that's definitely up there. This Spartan equation of discomfort with virtue is something that really needs to go die in a fire.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:10 PM on August 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


I've stated more than a few times here that I think the idea of comfort seeking is actually at the root of most power structures' exclusionary practices, intentional or unintentional. I've also said in the past that I'm not sure that those who've been othered also seeking comfort - or seeking comfort because the privileged have had it for so long - is actually the answer we all want, here.


I think this is a really fascinating statement of the issue. I would use a different term, though, "belonging." Some students find themselves centered on higher educational campuses: they are the "expected" student; they are written in to the campus's history; they find themselves reflected in the names on buildings and in the historical photos. Other students struggle to figure out where they belong. And these are the same students who enter our classrooms and often find themselves further made to feel like they do not belong.

So my conclusion is slightly different than yours. How do we help everyone feel like they belong (and are valued) by the institution comes before we can ask students to step into discomfort. Because otherwise some students (first generation; students of color; etc) are being asked to bear the burden of double (or triple) discomforts without the ability to ever feel like the institution sees their discomfort as important or worthwhile as the (sometimes) airy, abstract "discomfort" of the privileged student who takes one second to step outside their way of thinking and then can duck right back into it. As my mentees of color often say, "I'm always uncomfortable on this campus."
posted by correcaminos at 1:13 PM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


For better or worse, I think everyone ultimately needs to deal with each other - and that everyone should be more uncomfortable.

This seems like a pretty flippant attitude towards people who might already be more uncomfortable. As a POC attending a predominantly white, rural university, I already felt deeply uncomfortable in the echo chamber of whiteness that I existed in. I had to learn how to deal with people who thought it was funny to put on fake Chinese accents. I explained calmly to people why they should probably stop saying that I'm basically white. The one time a lecture decided to have a dicussion with the cohort about white privilege, the immediate and vocal shutting-down of everyone in the room was disappointing but unsuprising. At least from my experience, it's not me shutting down the conversation just because I'm uncomfortable.
posted by quadrant seasons at 1:13 PM on August 26, 2016 [25 favorites]


Not every professor is going to identify every possible trigger, and that's okay. Sometimes even graphic scenes with common triggers may slip through, and that's okay too if there was no malicious intent. But deliberately trying to conduct amateur exposure therapy is grossly out of line.

My view is the exact opposite. If we admit there is no possible way to do justice to every sensitivity, and if being exposed to a particular idea/image/etc. in public is likely to severely impact a person's mental health - then I think it is on that person to seek professional help (and I say this as someone who receives counseling myself).

The alternative of putting bowling-bumper cushions on every possible controversial or "tough" subject seems ineffective and inefficient.
posted by rosswald at 1:13 PM on August 26, 2016


Not every professor is going to identify every possible trigger, and that's okay. Sometimes even graphic scenes with common triggers may slip through, and that's okay too if there was no malicious intent. But deliberately trying to conduct amateur exposure therapy is grossly out of line.

Indeed, I think when faculty make the attempt to show that we understand that learning can be painful and fraught, students can trust us more when things slip through. Building the relationship between students and faculty as one of mutual respect matters.
posted by correcaminos at 1:15 PM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


The "if we cannot fix everything, then we should do nothing" argument is as evergreen as it is wrong-headed. We should strive to improve the world, even if we can't fix it all.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:17 PM on August 26, 2016 [20 favorites]


The alternative of putting bowling-bumper cushions on every possibly controversial or "tough" subject seems ineffective and inefficient.

Fortunately, nobody asked for this.
posted by maxsparber at 1:18 PM on August 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


if being exposed to a particular idea/image/etc. in public is likely to severely impact a person's mental health - then I think it is on that person to seek professional help

So you're saying that a person has no business being out in public--people being insensitive assholes just happens, nobody knows why, and it can't be stopped--until they've completed a course of therapy to your liking? Or if they don't need therapy at all.
posted by witchen at 1:20 PM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


Related only in its relationship to the broader issue of struggling to make a university and a curriculum a place that genuinely includes a diverse community ...

People here might be interested in this very thoughtful blog by Canadian legal scholars where they reflect on how they might best respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools' recent calls to action in their curriculum. #ReconciliationSyllabus

What does is mean to teach law when you re-centre your perspective away from the colonial system that is the basis of the Canadian legal system?
What do we need to include in our curriculum that has not been (consistently or formerly) included before?
What do we do, as instructors, about our own gaps in knowledge and understanding?
posted by chapps at 1:21 PM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


...then I think it is on that person to seek professional help (and I say this as someone who receives counseling myself).

Just want to say that--this only works with the following assumptions:
1. said student has access to suitable care (not a given, even with on-campus student-centric clinics)
2. said student has knowledge of said care (not a given, since it comes in that big block of paper one gets at orientation)
3. said student understands the purpose of said care (not a given; for instance, some from East Asian cultures generally don't go to mental health clinics for various reasons)
4. said student trusts the care they receive (not a given in mental health)
5. said student is aware they need the help (also not a given)

I'm not saying that the student shouldn't seek help, but I do want to point out that in theory that answer works really well, but in practice, it does not.

(how ironic that I'm using practicality in a discussion involving UofC)
posted by qcubed at 1:21 PM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


then I think it is on that person to seek professional help

OK. You understand that professional help doesn't solve problems instantly, right? And that it doesn't solve problems completely? And that sometimes new problems and sensitivities can arise quite suddenly, even in the middle of a course? A student might be absolutely hunky-dory reading Death of a Salesman in the abstract, until his older brother dies from suicide. A student might have no problem discussing the intricacies of sexual assault case law for most of the course and then suddenly develop a problem after she has a coercive sexual experience of her own mid-semester. Students are people, they are people who are living their lives and having formative experiences, and sometimes those formative experiences can occur while they are in college, and they deserve better support from their institution than "ha ha something bad happened and now you're fucked!"
posted by KathrynT at 1:22 PM on August 26, 2016 [20 favorites]


It's weird, it seems like trigger warnings have been built up into this big bogeyman, but all they really are is a professor saying "ok, this next book we're going to read deals with (e.g.) rape and cannibalism, so if you are sensitive to those subjects, consider this a heads up". Which is hardly "coddling" or "babying" the students as it's so often portrayed.

As for safe spaces, they should be absolutely be permitted for all groups. You'll probably see some trolling of the concept ("this is a safe space for Straight White Male Libertarians only"), which is best greeted with "smile and nod" rather than the expected overreaction and enraged editorials. (Feeding the trolls just empowers them, after all.)
posted by theorique at 1:23 PM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


("this is a safe space for Straight White Male Libertarians only")

of course, these are unironically extant all over the fucking place, they just don't call them "safe spaces"
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:26 PM on August 26, 2016 [26 favorites]


How come this same "warning fatigue" doesn't apply to, say, the yellow line in the middle of the roadway, or the chime that tells you your headlights are still on?

It would if the yellow line kept moving, or if the chime told you that your headlines are on OR that you are low on gas OR that your wipers are on OR that the passenger seatbelt is unbuckled. I can't speak for cars in particular (wired tries to but that pieces doesn't seem super in depth), but in the medical device world, a lot of research goes into what to warn about and how and the answers aren't easy.

To the extent that research exists that shows that student outcomes are better when trigger warnings are provided and gives guidelines as to the what/when/where of the actually effective trigger warnings are, I think that it would behoove professors to follow that, and it would be silly for the administration to push back against it.

Given that I am unfamiliar with research results in either direction, I will continue to have no problems with people who choose to provide trigger warnings, even thought I think that the middle way: just telling people what any given class/session will be covering is more effective overall.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:29 PM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


So you're saying that a person has no business being out in public--people being insensitive assholes just happens, nobody knows why, and it can't be stopped--until they've completed a course of therapy to your liking? Or if they don't need therapy at all.
posted by witchen at 4:20 PM


Not at all accurate. Even if we agree that a certain subject should always be prefaced with a trigger warning there is no way such a mandate could be 100% complete/effective - meaning that even with a massive societal push people could still be exposed to material they are sensitive to. With that in mind, tackling the issue personally rather than societaly would seem to be more likely to help the person (student).

----
A student might be absolutely hunky-dory reading Death of a Salesman in the abstract, until his older brother dies from suicide
posted by KathrynT


Clearly MeFi won't agree - but to my mind if we are putting trigger warnings on DoS then almost every conceivable book that could be covered in a college course would need a similar warning.

I think the 'slippery slope' argument here is very valid: there is simply no way to build a trigger warning system without promoting certain sensitivities while denying others.
posted by rosswald at 1:32 PM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


My argument about DoS isn't that it needs a content warning. It's that we don't need to stress out about putting a content warning on everything if we also maintain a policy of working with students who need content-based accommodations. If the teaching staff is receptive to concerns that come from students, then the onus doesn't fall entirely on the staff to cover all possible bases.
posted by KathrynT at 1:38 PM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


rosswald, I think you are misunderstanding: nobody is advocating a trigger warning system. There's no mandate or decree that hereforth this, that, and that topic will require trigger warnings. Most people here are arguing only that they're useful when people want to be decent and look out for each other, and that this letter was unnecessary and mean-spirited.
posted by witchen at 1:39 PM on August 26, 2016 [21 favorites]


There's no slippery slope. Theaters post notes outside plays all the time: This play contains strobe lights and cigarette smoke.

There has not been a disaster because audience members who are triggered by something else have been denied. There are some reliable triggers that we can identify and make sure we accommodate them. If there are others, the student can communicate the fact to the teacher.
posted by maxsparber at 1:41 PM on August 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


If a class is discussing the history and reality of the KKK or white nationalism, does that mandate a TW?

In my experience, yes. I took a class in fall quarter 2014 on the techniques and technologies of propaganda. My crotchety old white man professor had zero problems giving us a heads-up before we started the module where we had to watch The Eternal Jew and Triumph of the Will. He told us that he found it unreasonable to spring that kind of material on unsuspecting people and not expect them to have strong feelings about it, and that he found it much easier to actually TEACH the material if he warned his students ahead of time that they'd be viewing it as part of the course so that they had adequate time to prepare themselves for it.

I really don't get why the notion of doing that is so abhorrent. I really like it when I'm NOT causing people pain that could have been easily avoided, you know?
posted by palomar at 1:42 PM on August 26, 2016 [25 favorites]


Clearly MeFi won't agree - but to my mind if we are putting trigger warnings on DoS then almost every conceivable book that could be covered in a college course would need a similar warning.

The takes are so hot right now.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:43 PM on August 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


Not at all accurate. Even if we agree that a certain subject should always be prefaced with a trigger warning there is no way such a mandate could be 100% complete/effective - meaning that even with a massive societal push people could still be exposed to material they are sensitive to. With that in mind, tackling the issue personally rather than societaly would seem to be more likely to help the person (student).

Once again, the argument that we should do nothing if we cannot succeed completely is wrong-headed and bullshit, and deserves to be called out as such.

I think the 'slippery slope' argument here is very valid: there is simply no way to build a trigger warning system without promoting certain sensitivities while denying others.

And we get to the real meat of the argument - that this is just another way of encoding values, potentially ones that you disagree with.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:45 PM on August 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


There are some reliable triggers that we can identify and make sure we accommodate them. If there are others, the student can communicate the fact to the teacher.

Potentially helpful here is the pre-class survey in the link I posted above.
posted by pemberkins at 1:50 PM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's always discouraging how quickly and confidently people imagine worst-case scenarios and present them as inevitable when it involves helping someone who is not them.
posted by maxsparber at 1:52 PM on August 26, 2016 [24 favorites]


I will continue to have no problems with people who choose to provide trigger warnings, even thought I think that the middle way: just telling people what any given class/session will be covering is more effective overall.

Do you realize that this is profoundly different from the position articulated in the letter quoted in the post?
posted by KathrynT at 1:54 PM on August 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


What even is promoting certain sensitivities? And if you put it that way then yes let's promote empathy in our youth towards those who have been assaulted by our fellow men. How is this even a thing ? No survivor I know is unaware that the world is a triggering place.we live it every single day (even for some of us after 5 yrs of professional help). The idea that a paragraph or a few sentences giving a heads up is the crumbling of all high learning is just more bloody victim blaming.>
posted by kanata at 1:57 PM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'm starting to get triggered by so much nirvana fallacy.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:59 PM on August 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Not that it should matter, but if we're trotting out our unprivileged bonafides, I'm a first-generation PoC, and I grew up in a Chicago suburb born of white flight among racist Irish- and Polish-Americans who didn't want to live next to black and brown people in the city. Can more people please tell me I don't know anything about discomfort or othering?

I think this is a really fascinating statement of the issue. I would use a different term, though, "belonging." Some students find themselves centered on higher educational campuses: they are the "expected" student; they are written in to the campus's history; they find themselves reflected in the names on buildings and in the historical photos. Other students struggle to figure out where they belong. And these are the same students who enter our classrooms and often find themselves further made to feel like they do not belong.

So my conclusion is slightly different than yours. How do we help everyone feel like they belong (and are valued) by the institution comes before we can ask students to step into discomfort. Because otherwise some students (first generation; students of color; etc) are being asked to bear the burden of double (or triple) discomforts without the ability to ever feel like the institution sees their discomfort as important or worthwhile as the (sometimes) airy, abstract "discomfort" of the privileged student who takes one second to step outside their way of thinking and then can duck right back into it. As my mentees of color often say, "I'm always uncomfortable on this campus."
posted by correcaminos


I actually really like your formulation - let's run with that. How do you get a diverse student body to bond with each other, to cultivate a sense they belong to one another, that they're all centered and expected? My claim is you don't really get there via comfort bubbles, which are by definition exclusionary and in practice institutionalize a sense of belonging to small groups vs. the greater community. Maybe as a stop gap exercise to understand the tools of the oppressor, build confidence and sub-community, etc. - but at what point do you encourage your mentees to step out and engage with the rest of the world?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:09 PM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I will continue to have no problems with people who choose to provide trigger warnings, even thought I think that the middle way: just telling people what any given class/session will be covering is more effective overall.

>Do you realize that this is profoundly different from the position articulated in the letter quoted in the post?

Very much so. Which is why I quoted what I was actually responding to at the beginning of this particular conversation trail:

There's no need for analogies. Argue why warning people there will be difficult content in class discussion is bad on it's own. Because I haven't seen an argument as to why that's problematic.

The impression that I get from this thread is that pretty much everyone agrees that the original letter was odious.

The disagreements are stemming from questions of what should have been said or done instead of the letter. While I don't think that trigger warnings should be banned, I'm not totally on board with them being a universal force for good (in the sense of being better than other options). And while people mostly haven't been saying that trigger warnings should be required, there's definitely been a current trend of "you're an asshole prof. if you don't provide them." Which, I think, is the sentiment that prompted UofC to overreact in this very particular way.

In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have attempted to rise to agregoli's challenge, because it's not like I am overly impressed by those arguments. But that's different than "I haven't seen an argument as to why that's problematic."
posted by sparklemotion at 2:13 PM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


Safe spaces are not "comfort bubbles," and the more you characterize them as such, the less credible your argument is.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:16 PM on August 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


The alternative of putting bowling-bumper cushions on every possible controversial or "tough" subject seems ineffective and inefficient.

Did you read and absorb the prior comments in this thread?
posted by sallybrown at 2:17 PM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


And while people mostly haven't been saying that trigger warnings should be required, there's definitely been a current trend of "you're an asshole prof. if you don't provide them." Which, I think, is the sentiment that prompted UofC to overreact in this very particular way.

The argument isn't that they're asshole professors if they don't provide them, it's that not providing them demonstrates a lack of care towards the educational experience of the students under their tutelage.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:18 PM on August 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


Seriously, if you choose to repeatedly conflate "discomfort" and "not wanting to (re-)experience horrific trauma" it's clear you have no intention of approaching this topic with anything resembling good faith.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:21 PM on August 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


I actually really like your formulation - let's run with that. How do you get a diverse student body to bond with each other, to cultivate a sense they belong to one another, that they're all centered and expected? My claim is you don't really get there via comfort bubbles, which are by definition exclusionary and in practice institutionalize a sense of belonging to small groups vs. the greater community. Maybe as a stop gap exercise to understand the tools of the oppressor, build confidence and sub-community, etc. - but at what point do you encourage your mentees to step out and engage with the rest of the world?

Like you, I am first-gen PoC who grew up in a suburb of white folk near Atlanta who didn't live in Atlanta, for, well. *shrugs*

I agree with you on the whole comfort-bubbles-not-helping-bonding, but at the same time, I don't think the creation of safe spaces is necessarily a comfort-bubble thing--and that's where one of the big problems with that asinine letter is. I honestly don't know what it's like at other campuses, but I'm fairly certain that the complaints about them are wholly overrepresented.

Nobody was complaining about Q&A, KSA, or any number of affinity organizations when I attended; those were very much "safe spaces" for discovery, even if that particular term wasn't around at the time. Which brings me back to my original view of the whole idiotic hubbub. Those safe spaces weren't "comfort bubbles", they were incubators that let a lot of people who went through them connect, network, discover themselves and ideas and then reach out from there. Those safe spaces aren't padded panic rooms of retreat, but oases and launching pads for further exploration--a zone to recharge or find ideas of where to explore next.

And I think that's where the misunderstanding is coming from. Much like the term 'political correctness' or 'liberal', certain groups who do nothing but argue in bad faith have taken the terms 'safe space' and 'trigger warning' and perverted their meaning like they have so many other things, so that what the connote is dramatically different from what they really are.
posted by qcubed at 2:21 PM on August 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


There have been a couple incidents of safe spaces on college campuses that I couldn't really support. The first was when Mizzou students tried to create a safe space in the middle of campus during their protests, as much as I agreed with their mission. The second has been at my own alma mater. We have a Graffiti Wall that's been up for decades, expressly created for students to write whatever they want. Recently, when there have been pro-Trump messages, some students have gone to the president expressing they no longer feel safe on campus, with the administration saying a "Trump 2016" message is not a call to violence, as much as many of us feel like it is. It does seem like the idea of safe spaces is basically unenforceable in public spaces.
posted by girlmightlive at 2:26 PM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


The letter specifically identified intellectual safe spaces - which is different than physical safe spaces.

I ended up taking a Phil101 class in college as a requirement (long story) at a midwestern State university. It was filled with freshman. Many of which identified very overtly as very (Christian) religious.

Oh my. So many "But Jesus" "But the bible says" non-sequitur interruptions in class. It was surreal.

I stand by not coddling students.

As for trigger warnings; I think this was just a very poorly worded way protecting professors from unfair accusations from overtly sensitive students. The school isn't banning trigger warnings, just that they aren't required for every subject.
posted by porpoise at 2:28 PM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sufficiently well planned courses should be providing students with enough details about what will be covered each class in the syllabus so that students can take what precautions they need. So to the extent that anything gets mandated, it's proper syllabi (which, yes profs, some of us do read them). If the syllabus for my art class for the day says that we are going to be discussing representations of Leda and the Swan on Tuesday, it's a little patronizing to also be told: warning! deity rape! when I can figure that out on my own.

I have a solid old-fashioned education, so I know the story of Leda and the swan. You know the story of Leda and the swan. It is not patronizing to assume that a student taking a class specifically to learn about classical literature (or twentieth-century poetry, or...) does not know the story of Leda and the swan.
posted by praemunire at 2:29 PM on August 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


" if being exposed to a particular idea/image/etc. in public is likely to severely impact a person's mental health - then I think it is on that person to seek professional help (and I say this as someone who receives counseling myself)."

It's amazing how comfortable people who don't know what it means to have life long issues related to assault even with many many years of therapy and help can be about assuming that a huge portion of women and men as well just shouldn't go to school if their trauma's left emotional scars they have to continue to manage.

School is really a basic requirement for acceptance in quality jobs and participation in a large portion of society. Maybe it shouldn't be, but at present it plays a large component in income equality and even for women who want to be stay at home mom's whether they can marry a husband with good income. But a lot of people fall through the cracks because they're wounds are inconvenient to accommodate.

I don't have any expectating of professors doing this perfectly but being able to talk about sexual assault, war, violence, and child abuse without knowing what those horrors are really like is a huge privilege- one that enables many to dominate school and work positions on these topics freely while survivors that are who we REALLY need as leaders in teaching and work positions related to handling assault and trauma are pushed out of these positions by policies that discourage their participation.

And this means we have fewer qualified people teaching the public about rape and violence accurately and coming up with realistic solutions that meet survivors needs.
posted by xarnop at 2:29 PM on August 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


"Comfort bubble" is a tool of the oppressor; that's what the ivory tower means. That's what the bureaucracy is for; it's why PZ Myers was so irritated in his letter. As pointed out by Chomsky, this distorted, yet default, "comfort" is the ideological climate that enabled, in the early 1960s (true anecdote as he relates a conversation with a black student activist), white students to comfortably study linguistics phonemes, or abstract algebra, while black students had to go out and perform the social labor of protesting for civil rights out in Jackson, Mississippi.

So those who occupy a privileged role who yet have problems with "trigger warnings" bear the main responsibility of checking for this kind of hypocrisy on the part of the institution.
posted by polymodus at 2:33 PM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


Hopefully not a derail, just another alum offering a data point. I'm a female, queer POC with social anxiety, a learning disability, and low self-esteem who's been accused practically from birth of "over-sensitivity." I did my undergrad at the U of C and loved it, finding the few-holds-barred debate culture and confrontation with opposing viewpoints tremendously empowering. I always felt safe and respected there, because the commitment to challenge one another as equals was so strong that it elevated people who would otherwise be quiet and keep their heads down. That's my experience and I wouldn't expect it to hold true for everyone, esp. those with PTSD or something similar.

What I don't like about the letter is how it effectively shuts down debate, and gives weight to anti-PC forces. This university is about open conversation and a level playing field - the level playing field is what attracted me there in the first place.

Also mentioning again, the university isn't a bastion of conservative thought, its econ department is. The big controversy towards the end of my time there was the faculty opposition to the Friedman Institute circa 2008. Speaking of which, couldn't they have found a female/POC/queer prof to write (a version of) this letter? Even if it effectively said the same thing, it would have been less....boring.
posted by knuspermanatee at 2:34 PM on August 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


The letter specifically identified intellectual safe spaces - which is different than physical safe spaces.

I realize that, but I don't see why it can't be mentioned. They aren't the same but they are related.
posted by girlmightlive at 2:37 PM on August 26, 2016


The school isn't banning trigger warnings, just that they aren't required for every subject.

For the zillionth time: They never were.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:41 PM on August 26, 2016 [15 favorites]


Protest-fueled pressure on administrations to cancel speakers like Milo just seems like the polite version of what happens when Anita Sarkeesian can't speak because of bomb and other security threats.

No. The default case for everyone is to not be invited to speak at a college. The default case for everyone *should* be not to get death threats. Formal presentation time is a finite resource. Lack of death threats isn't.

Obviously, "not being paid to speak" is less bad than "needs police protection". Saying that "Milo not being paid to speak" is the same as "Anita needs police protection" is a bit of algebra requiring that Milo is worth much more than Anita.
posted by clew at 2:49 PM on August 26, 2016 [16 favorites]


Even as someone with amazingly little experience of trauma and a relatively low squick factor, I am pleased anyway by warnings of difficult content because they usually remind the crowd to sit up and pay attention and not make the first dumb joke in our heads. I'm pleased when *I* am the person who needed the reminder.
posted by clew at 2:51 PM on August 26, 2016 [6 favorites]


I have a solid old-fashioned education, so I know the story of Leda and the swan. You know the story of Leda and the swan. It is not patronizing to assume that a student taking a class specifically to learn about classical literature (or twentieth-century poetry, or...) does not know the story of Leda and the swan.

I should have made this point better. Take Students A and B, neither of them have watched Hannibal, both have the potential to be triggered by the subject matter of Leda and the Swan. The Syllabus lists Leda and the Swan as the subject matter of day X.

Student A doesn't prepare for class, and gets blindsided by discussions of the subject matter on X day, might even feel worse because they are having a reaction in class.

Student B sits down to prepare for class the night before. Reads the story, looks at some interpretations and is blindsided by the subject matter the night before. Student B proactively does what she needs to: be it mentally bracing for the discussion, speaking to the professor beforehand, or even, to the extent that one absence isn't the worst thing in the world, chooses not to attend class.

I think it's reasonable for UofC to not encourage the behaviour of Student A by going out of the way to provide content warnings besides, you know, disclosing what the content is. On the other hand, I am skeptical of the benefit that an additional warning would have for Student B. So, to the extent that trigger warnings don't help people who do their work, they are, in this scenario, only good for people who don't prepare for class. What I think is patronizing is assuming that people won't prepare for class.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:06 PM on August 26, 2016


There isn't only one scenario for this, sparklemotion. Class discussion could center around a movie in class, for an example that's already been used.
posted by agregoli at 3:10 PM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


No. The default case for everyone is to not be invited to speak at a college. The default case for everyone *should* be not to get death threats. Formal presentation time is a finite resource. Lack of death threats isn't.

Obviously, "not being paid to speak" is less bad than "needs police protection". Saying that "Milo not being paid to speak" is the same as "Anita needs police protection" is a bit of algebra requiring that Milo is worth much more than Anita.


Furthermore, the reason that they used bomb threats against her was because they couldn't put together a legitimate argument to revoke her speaking engagements. Which is something you see with reactionary movements that lose control of the narrative.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:14 PM on August 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


There isn't only one scenario for this, sparklemotion. Class discussion could center around a movie in class, for an example that's already been used.

And I think that if the professor expects a good discussion, it would behoove them to let the students know what the movie was about beforehand. To the extent that a class involves a movie or other media that 1.) students aren't expected to prep before AND 2.) has triggering material in it that isn't clear from a brief description of the content, I doubt the ability of the educator to identify the triggers and warn appropriately anyways.

Overall, I just think that proper description of the class content is a better way of "warning" students what's coming than selective "trigger" warnings and I think that that is a policy worth pushing for (while also thinking that policies specifically against trigger warnings are stupid).
posted by sparklemotion at 3:30 PM on August 26, 2016


So, again, I have a note next to the assignment about Huntington's disease stating that the article discusses terminal illness and suicide. In my mind, that is a "trigger warning". If I call it a "proper description of the class content", does that change anything?
posted by hydropsyche at 3:34 PM on August 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


This has also already been mentioned as a part of good classroom prep. You're only echoing previous comments.

The fact is, there really isn't a good argument against trigger warnings for certain content. Haven't heard a coherent one here yet, personally. They strike me as entirely reasonable, and falling on the side of kindness and decency.
posted by agregoli at 3:36 PM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


...................aaaaaaand scene!

(seriously I need to live beyond this laptop) thank you for the discussion.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 3:38 PM on August 26, 2016


Student A doesn't prepare for class, and gets blindsided by discussions of the subject matter on X day, might even feel worse because they are having a reaction in class.

Student B sits down to prepare for class the night before. Reads the story, looks at some interpretations and is blindsided by the subject matter the night before. Student B proactively does what she needs to: be it mentally bracing for the discussion, speaking to the professor beforehand, or even, to the extent that one absence isn't the worst thing in the world, chooses not to attend class.


There are actual people with trauma in this thread engaging with you. Perhaps you could ask them about their experiences, or bother to read and internalize what they've said way before you typed that out, before reaching to abstract, patronizing, and quite frankly, nonsensical examples that imply that they don't understand how to handle the world around them and are fragile, dainty towers of sand that will crumble if anyone as much as whispers the word rape around them.

It's just borderline insulting that some people here have gone to extreme lengths of emotional labor to write out, "hey, here's what it's actually like to have trauma and be triggered", and other people still decide that the best way to respond to that is to ignore it entirely and make up strawmen caricatures to enact out hypothetical scenarios in some gross little puppet show.
posted by Conspire at 3:56 PM on August 26, 2016 [33 favorites]


[Sparklemotion, this seems to be a topic on which you will not persuade others to your point of view. You've made your position clear; time to step out of the thread now. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:10 PM on August 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've started a linkdump of all the reasons why Ellison and those who have come before him are terribly wrong:
Part 1
Part 2
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 5:16 PM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


If any of you alums are thinking "this is kind of bullshit, but I should still donate money to the U of C this year, because it's still the nutty, wonderful institution that I know and love," I give you this: The University of Chicago wants to be a football school. Maybe the new t-shirts will say something like "Where Fun Comes to Tailgate"?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:02 PM on August 26, 2016


Perhaps my experience is atypical, but in several online groups I belong to, trigger warnings are used in a way that can only described as bullying authoritarianism: cruel social signaling that narrows discourse, handed down unilaterally by a small minority of leaders, enforced with public shaming, ostracization, doxxing and bans. These are self-proclaimed queer activist communities that pride themselves on centering minority voices and having the hard discussions. So I'm not talking about "no time for your white tears" or "shielding known abusers," but rather excluding folks who have nonstandard views, aneurotypical brains, or uneducated / unapproved language use. Over and over I've seen mods shut down opportunities for dialogue, instead applying hamfisted measures to people who don't even realize why they're being punished. It's not tough love when community norms are seen as law. It's social gatekeeping.

Yesterday for example, I saw a member write a 500-word screed against an "offender" complete with screencaps... and then tell me privately that she didn't have time to chat kindly with the person. "I'm not interested in expending energy or interest on that conversation."

Dozens of folks have left, turned away by the strict and unforgiving culture. Others conform in public but whisper quietly. The enforcers enjoy a privileged perch on the social ladder. No one is willing to say, "I think this is inappropriate" because of backlash. It's not just digital. The behavior carries over into queer meatspace.

Now nearly every post in these communities comes with a trigger warning. No one can agree on what deserves mention, so we have things like "TW: possible exclusionary language," or "TW: rage at the patriarchy," or "Content Note: mention of alcohol and microaggressions."

People are afraid to speak freely. When every paragraph has a prelude, what's the point?

I find it troubling to have complex discussions framed for me. How do you know that my takeaway would center on those topics? In fact there's some indication that trigger warnings decrease cognitive resilience by priming your brain for a high alert, defensive response. Corb and Winna both have good points about the nexus of exposure, preparedness and avoidance. I think it's a balance. Only by engaging *with* traumatic experiences can you make peace with them. Doing so prematurely or against your will can be damaging.

Like any tool, trigger warnings have cascade effects, good and ill. The important thing is using them — or not! — with a generosity of spirit.

My roommate has PTSD. Maybe 1 in 10 times, a loud unexpected noise will set her off. When I use the coffee grinder I say, "Turning on now! And... one more grind." This helps her mitigate the reaction. She doesn't expect a warning from me, but knowing her as I do, it's an easy social courtesy to provide. We all give warnings like this.

My own triggers are sensory and perceptual, not semantic. They occupy a roving liminal space that refuses to be mitigated by language. Say the word "rape" a thousand times and I can't be bothered. Show me a violent video and I won't care. However, I see a man of a certain build and stride walking down the street, and I'm clenching my fists and biting back a snarl.

So my question is: are trigger warnings actually effective in an academic context? The best tool for the job? I'm not convinced.
posted by fritillary at 7:39 PM on August 26, 2016 [11 favorites]


Considering that they are costless, have been used for decades in one form or another without any problem, I would say yes
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:05 PM on August 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


Well, That's for damn sure.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 8:36 PM on August 26, 2016


in several online groups I belong to, trigger warnings are used in a way that can only described as bullying authoritarianism: cruel social signaling that narrows discourse, handed down unilaterally by a small minority of leaders, enforced with public shaming, ostracization, doxxing and bans.… Yesterday for example, I saw a member write a 500-word screed against an "offender" complete with screencaps... and then tell me privately that she didn't have time to chat kindly with the person. "I'm not interested in expending energy or interest on that conversation."

fritillary, that sounds like a problem with toxic group dynamics, not a reflection on the value of trigger warnings in general. Trigger warnings are about giving a heads-up about possibly difficult topics. They're not inherently about social manipulation, interpersonal politics, or emotional abuse. Some people will use them as a tool towards those things, but that's more about those people than about trigger warnings.
posted by Lexica at 8:52 PM on August 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


fritillary,

I do not deny that the language used in some social justice discussions has been used to cloak and shield toxic, abusive behavior; however, it strikes me more as a function of problematic social dynamics, rather than the concept itself.

If we're being perfectly honest, marginalized groups often do not have the full toolkit available to other groups to ensure their safety and ability to participate fully in groups where topics may be contentious; this, of course, means they often have to resort to what are essentially asymmetric tactics to ensure that their viewpoints are aired. To remove the tools available to them because others may abuse them does a great disservice to the marginalized groups, effectively silencing them.

One wouldn't, or shouldn't, I would presume, want to take away hammers because they've been perverted as weapons, right? Similarly, one wouldn't want to remove the ability of marginalized groups wanting to have a zone where they can discuss issues directly affecting them without having interlopers barge in and shit up the place. If a Black Student Union wants to hash out problems they've seen in terms of profiling, it benefits nobody if those uninvolved come in to try and stifle discussion by debating every single point before a whole argument emerges; if the College Republicans want to have a forum on how best to perform outreach, it harms everyone if those directly opposed come in and try to shut the whole thing down with performative shenanigans.

On the topic of trigger, or content warnings, the letter still fails to address the question posed by their existence: by outright refusing to entertain them and saying that they are unneeded, the letter essentially states that all who enter cannot expect to take precautionary measures for their mental health--a rich statement, given the... difficult... nature of the school and its relatively noticeable issues with said mental health.

Personally, my biggest issue with the letter from the Dean is that there is absolutely no nuance; it is written with all the grace and elegance of a chemically impaired Trumpean kaiju trying to thread a nanomolecular needle with cable a meter in diameter. It suggests that there are no uses for safe spaces and trigger/content warnings, without understanding how those can be applied well, focusing entirely on edge cases where they are applied problematically. Instead of trying to interrogate why some safe spaces or trigger warnings might be needed, it seeks to remove them altogether, creating a situation where students who do not fit the majority mold are effectively silenced and further marginalized.

Instead of exhorting marginalized students to prepare themselves to grow, it tells them to prepare to be forcibly molded into one sanctioned form. That's not the school I went to. That's not the school I grew from. And that's the problem. I don't think the character, the nature of the school changed, but this letter, poorly written to signal a certain set of virtues for no good reason and no effective result, makes me question the leadership of the school--or at least its willingness to cultivate the life of the mind, particularly unorthodox ones.
posted by qcubed at 9:31 PM on August 26, 2016 [15 favorites]


I do not deny that the language used in some social justice discussions has been used to cloak and shield toxic, abusive behavior; however, it strikes me more as a function of problematic social dynamics, rather than the concept itself.

So social justice doesn't silence people, people silence people?

If a Black Student Union wants to hash out problems they've seen in terms of profiling, it benefits nobody if those uninvolved come in to try and stifle discussion by debating every single point before a whole argument emerges; if the College Republicans want to have a forum on how best to perform outreach, it harms everyone if those directly opposed come in and try to shut the whole thing down with performative shenanigans.

And if my lily white e-staff or board of directors has business to get done...

fritillary is actually raising a really important point about how asymmetric tactics are so easily abused across many, many places on the internet and in meatspace. "We should strive to improve the world" - how, exactly? By adopting the tactics of the oppressors? By silencing dissent in the same ways they've traditionally done? Why is the idea of aligning one's tactics with one's ideals such a dirty idea around here?

Check your privilege, I'm told. Have you checked yours? What's the level of engagement between underprivileged but first world affinity groups and third world foreign students? Typically almost none, and usually far, far less than between underprivileged but first world affinity groups and members of traditional power structures. That's the inconvenient problem with the argument that some are more justified in their actions than others - you don't have to look very hard to find others who's justifications are far, far greater than yours. The reason you don't see them is because you need to look down the privilege ladder at those who have far fewer advantages than you do instead of only looking up at those who have more.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:33 AM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Decades ago I dropped out of university due to undiagnosed PTSD, having been raped on campus, depression, and general paralysis in the face of a growing awareness about my life to that point. Up until the house of cards fell, I was a pretty bright scholar; I had racked up awards in my first two years of school etc.

Trigger warnings probably wouldn't have done much for me on an individual content basis. But I had come from a high school for nerds where there was pretty much no mercy (produce good work or be expelled) and I assumed that there was no middle ground between a high GPA and failure. I never talked to a prof about needing extra time to tackle an essay on things that were giving me nightmares (in my case not always obvious stuff) or take a break in a seminar discussion rather than just skip class.

In fact I never talked to anyone at all until my last day when I withdrew and left.

It never occurred to me that my self and my learning might have value. That failure cast a long shadow over me for a long time.

I don't really see why the university here felt it needed to assert itself in this way. It would have been possible to state that they were committed to presenting difficult material and even state they would not require trigger warnings in a context that also acknowledged that people who struggle with that same material are supported and valued as scholars. It's so confrontational in its tone.

If I read this as a student (and reading it as a parent), I would assume that this institution has very little understanding of how academic power dynamics, the western canon and so on impact on not just marginalized groups but anyone struggling with the place that intellectual studies meet emotions and one's personal history. If we accept that one in four women are assaulted, that new immigrants come from war-torn areas, that those who have been negated for their identities and and and all are simply not fit Enough, we lose those voices.

I personally love my life and I'm not sure I would have been a great contributor to traditional academe. But I might have been. No one will know. I didn't feel like I mattered...and U of C gives me the distinct impression that it agrees.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:47 AM on August 27, 2016 [16 favorites]


The administration are idiots and it's a laughably terrible letter.

But yeah, if you didn't want to spend four years basically standing in the rain under a grey leaden sky crying because the work you're doing is just not good enough, the U of C is probably not the place for you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:46 AM on August 27, 2016




NoRelationtoLea: I actually really like your formulation - let's run with that. How do you get a diverse student body to bond with each other, to cultivate a sense they belong to one another, that they're all centered and expected? My claim is you don't really get there via comfort bubbles, which are by definition exclusionary and in practice institutionalize a sense of belonging to small groups vs. the greater community. Maybe as a stop gap exercise to understand the tools of the oppressor, build confidence and sub-community, etc. - but at what point do you encourage your mentees to step out and engage with the rest of the world?

This is such a core question for the work I do, but I want to be fair to the ongoing discussion here about the U of C letter and recognize that, in my eyes at least, this raises a slightly different issue. I.e. for me, "trigger warnings"/"safe spaces" become useful inasmuch as we need to recognize the unequal learning spaces that universities provide to various populations that, I would argue, either enhance belonging or perpetuate the lack thereof.

Ok. So, once we recognize that our goal is to create belonging and that that is inherently difficult work because students come from vastly different backgrounds, what do we do? Up until about 15 years ago, the theory (?? to the extent that folks theorized it) was simply, "let's throw students together in living, working, and learning spaces and the *have* to learn to get along." This turned out to be pretty wrongheaded (from my point of view): it privileges and centers, as I've said, the normative, white, middle-class student.

What schools are now starting to do is more intentional. From programs like Intergroup Relations Dialogue at Michigan or Cornell to national programs like Sustained Dialogue, there are a number of initiatives that have trained facilitators convene and run conversations. At most of these institutions, going through these programs is voluntary. I run a small, small version of IGD at my college, and the students going through it wish that everyone at the college did... but that will take more effort from the institution. (And, as you might guess, our big constituencies for the program are: students of color, both men and women; white women, white queer men. White straight men have a harder time seeing it as something that benefits them and to which they can contribute, though the heart of programs like this is the idea that ALL of us must share ourselves, our identities, our experiences in order to better understand the social structures within which we move.)
posted by correcaminos at 6:50 AM on August 27, 2016 [7 favorites]


Oh warriorqueen you hit on perhaps the reason this whole issue has bothered me so much. I had serious family problems while at U of C, and some undiagnosed mental health issues and I was shy about asking for help. But so many people did help me: certain professors, my bosses at the libraries, a guidance counselor and many fellow students. I could not have finished without their help, and I have rarely felt so much a valued part of a community. As just one example, a professor commented that I seemed a little lost and my work was not what they expected, and gave me time to resubmit a paper.

The administration was irrelevant to me for the most part, to be honest.

I keep coming back to the video interviews with the students because I see in them the University of Chicago I remember fondly: thoughtful, intelligent, aware of the world and not talking in buzzwords. The letter was not really relevant to their lives because 1) they already value freedom of expression 2) Professors are free to give trigger warnings if they want 3) They can and will make their own safe spaces.

I don't know if it's still the same, but when I was there the overwhelming majority of students moved out of student housing after the first year (though still within walking distance of campus, maybe on the same block as one their professors) so you had a bit more independence from the administration while still maintaining a sense of community. That's something I don't hear about from friends who went to other schools. It's not the first time a University administration was not really reflective of the University community as a whole.
posted by maggiemaggie at 6:52 AM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe: if you didn't want to spend four years basically standing in the rain under a grey leaden sky crying because the work you're doing is just not good enough, the U of C is probably not the place for you.

I definitely had this experience too, but - as I'm sure you know - it's all part of the mystique. Good times *sigh*
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:16 AM on August 27, 2016


The administration was irrelevant to me for the most part, to be honest.

I would suggest that the administration is in fact irrelevant to everyone in the community except the administration themselves.
posted by mikelieman at 8:20 AM on August 27, 2016




So, it's been a while, but I do want to address sparklemotion's point that (as I acknowledged) my own triggers are hard to address or see coming ahead of time, and so students shouldn't be allowed to expect that all of their possible triggers will be foreseen by the prof ahead of time lest they get hit worse if one gets missed. (I know she's been asked to step out of the thread, but I think this is a generally important point. I do, actually, want to point out that her response to me wasn't personally offensive and that I vastly prefer her thoughtful response to the total ignoring of the personal experiences I'd brought to the thread that was the case before I posted last.)

What makes people think that students don't know that? I'm not being flip. I pointed out in my original comment that my triggers are not easy to anticipate, in large part because the things that sent me into a tailspin of hyperventilating or dissociation are triggers that I have from being on the ace spectrum, and.... this was 2010. The textbook that one of the courses used defined my sexual orientation as a lack of external genitalia and then had a paragraph about the largest online asexual community immediately afterwards. Of course the instructor had no way of anticipating my own specific baggage as she designed the course, especially the first time that those issues happened. I knew that at the time and I know it now and I took painstaking care, as I sketched out my narrative, to point out that fact.

(We talk about rape, but it's not the only kind of trigger out there. It's not the only thing that can trigger a panic attack or a strong enough emotional reaction that learning becomes impossible. And for my stuff, I might add, seeking mental health care for those specific issues is exceedingly difficult, given that at the time asexuality was quite literally a DSM diagnosis and that me complaining about reactions people had to me trying to be open about that was enough grounds to qualify me. My experiences with mental health care led me to be very suspicious about my ability to trust mental health professionals who were unlikely to accept my identification or, to be frank, my reality. Dealing with additive microtrauma while at the same time acting as an educator for your therapist is hard. As qcubed points out, students sometimes don't trust mental health professionals to help, and I want to drive that point home and add that they often have very real reasons not to do so.)

The level of scorn about trigger warnings has not, I promise you, escaped the notice of students with mental health issues. Or even students who aren't thinking of their issues as triggers--I generally don't, that feels too real for me and I usually think of mine as 'sore spots'--but who nevertheless have issues that they need the time to prepare themselves for before picking up the topic in the classroom. They know that academics and the general public disdain the thought of warning for content--which is what a trigger warning is--and they know they may well be mocked, sometimes to their faces, if they seek accommodation. That's why most of them grit their teeth and try to handle their own issues in silence, sometimes resulting in dropping out or doing poorly in a course for no real reason besides, effectively, a very specific disability. (Because there are so many things in common with the way that academics respond to requests for trigger warnings and the way that academics respond to other kinds of request for accommodation.)

It reminds me of the time that a student--a very good student, I might add, one of my favorites, doing very well in the class--started having a panic attack just before an exam. She was clearly, pants-shittingly, knee-knockingly terrified and ashamed to come to me (her TA, and one of the exam proctors) and ask for help. I mean, no wonder; she was, after all, having a panic attack for a generalized anxiety disorder she'd been just starting to get under control, as she told me later.

You know all she needed? We stepped out of the hall for a moment into the corridor where things were a little more private, I reminded her of a couple of good coping strategies for panic attacks in case her therapist hadn't got to them yet, and we took a little bit of extra time so she could breathe slowly. Then I took her back into the room, settled her in a back corner where she wasn't very close to anyone and could feel safe against the wall, and promised her that she could have a little extra time on the exam--which she was entitled to, as a student with a disability who had official accommodation. Took less than ten minutes. Then she took the exam--which she passed, by the way, with flying colors, and with plenty of time to spare even without an extension--and went home.

I think about that student a lot, and I hope she's doing well. No one could anticipate that she was going to suddenly panic before the exam; hell, she clearly would have preferred not to do that. Accommodating her meant that a very good, very motivated student could do her job and meet the high standards that my instructor set when she designed the course without falling to pieces and failing for reasons that had nothing to do with her mastery of the material. It took very, very little effort from me to do--just a kind word, a quiet room, and a few minutes of time. But it required that she trust either me or my instructor enough to come to us and ask, even in the middle of absolute terror, while fighting through the shame of dealing with a sudden mental health emergency for no apparent reason in the middle of a class event.

That kind of trust is hard to foster, and whether or not you can count on it really depends on all the small things you do to build a working relationship with each student and signal to them how they can expect you to react in a crisis. For me, one of the really important things about trigger warnings or content warnings is that they make it so much easier for students who aren't covered by them, but who do have issues like that student's, to come forward and let me know about them. If I know, I can direct them to student health mental services or to disability for the official documentation. If I know, I can help them come up with a workable solution. But students are often afraid and ashamed to tell profs about actual problems--as opposed to bullshit like "I didn't think it was important;" I've seen that too--and that means that it's hard to figure out what can be done about them.

I really love the solution proposed in pemberkins' excellent link, that professors pass out a little sheet asking students for that information if they want to provide it at the beginning of class. That said, I also think it's going above and beyond, especially for very large classes. I'm not even going to dignify the straw man of mandated trigger warnings with much response here--because it is a straw man, no one proposes it and frankly university bureaucracy seems to be much more afraid of it on average than actual instructors--but I'm not sure it would be practical in enormous classes. (Although now I think of it, it might be. I will have to tuck that piece away in case I'm in a position to teach my own classes.)
posted by sciatrix at 11:32 AM on August 27, 2016 [32 favorites]


This turned up in my FB feed for I think unrelated reasons today. The responses (not from the article) suggest that non-US academics find US academia highly disturbing.

The consensus seemed to be, which I agree with, that trigger warnings have their use but they can also be misapplied or abused, not in some bogeyman construction of the right but in real-world instances of online practices. Because certainly online they can be anything from over-applied* to part of a toxic environment of shaming and policing, as described by fritillary.



*(Your article is called 'Belgian Waffles and their Toppings.' You do not need to append 'TW: Belgian waffles, descriptions of whipped cream' to it...)
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:08 PM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


Holy fucking shit, you guys: I never thought I would say this, but one of the best discussions I've read of this thing is in The American Conservative.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:12 AM on August 28, 2016 [7 favorites]


When ArbitraryAndCapricious said "discussions", I thought she meant the comments and read them after the reading the essay.

Reader, she did not mean the comments.
posted by Kattullus at 2:51 PM on August 28, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh god, no, I didn't mean the comments. Don't read the comments. But the actual article is good!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:55 PM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]




This turned up in my FB feed for I think unrelated reasons today. The responses (not from the article) suggest that non-US academics find US academia highly disturbing.

The consensus seemed to be, which I agree with, that trigger warnings have their use but they can also be misapplied or abused, not in some bogeyman construction of the right but in real-world instances of online practices.


I think what's interesting about that article is the dialectic between the students and the instructor, whose essay suggests to me that she hasn't clued into the various complexities of the situation she was facing. When those students left the room in tears, objecting to the lesson material, etc., that's just their ways of coping with the dominant discourse; the solution isn't to naively accommodate them, yet nor is it to pretend that your traditional academic values will still be appropriate! When they object to the portrayal of consensual sex, that should raise the question of how consent is constructed in the narrative of the film, and so on--the professor is not logically proper to decide--just as the male student was not--, ignoring liminality, that that scene was consensual; that's actually something you'd have to work through in class, as opposed to vainly telling me and the readers what's supposed to be. When the students act in a way that openly defy and challenge the professor's teaching methodologies, that's not "stifling", and to call it as such is to forget that in the intellectual struggle, you're just as much there to learn from the students, even if they're not articulating themselves to your preconceived "adult" standards. The author closes with a relative privation argument, which is a bad move because that's an oft-heard point that's potentially interesting, but because it's not fleshed out, it sits there as an uncritical ideological meme, propagating itself and doing everyone a disservice. The agency argument, too, is moot but the author paints it to serve her ends. Again, the instructor doesn't seem to be aware of any of problematic depths of the various lines of reasoning given.

So I basically disagreed with everything the author had to say in that essay.
posted by polymodus at 12:44 AM on August 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:06 AM on August 29, 2016


The Weekly Sift (whose author is a UofC alum) has an excellent breakdown of the situation, and why the administration's argument doesn't pass the smell test.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:45 AM on August 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


How are trigger warnings censoring?

They're mandatory at some colleges, at least as to sex- and gender-related matters. And those colleges typically have policies like this:
"It is expected that instructors will offer appropriate warning and accommodation regarding the introduction of explicit and triggering materials used."
That article argues:
Chicago wants its incoming students to know that they should not expect professors to offer protection from touchy subjects. As it turns out, there are other educational institutions that obligate academics to tread very carefully when addressing a wide variety of sex-related subjects—that prioritize the emotional comfort of students. Chicago's letter, then, was its way of saying we're not one of them.
posted by John Cohen at 2:50 PM on August 31, 2016


They're mandatory at some colleges, at least as to sex- and gender-related matters.

No, they're not. Even your quote says "expected" instead of "obligated."

That article argues

Yes, but it doesn't even manage to argue its point effectively. But it's the same old dumbasses at Reason, their hate-on for anything that upsets the power balance in gender or race or sexuality is well-documented. And they're referencing FIRE, a libertarian org founded by a National Review writer that has gamergate supporter Christina Hoff Sommers on their board, reprints and links approvingly to articles from alt-right sites, and who has repeatedly and facetiously characterized trigger warnings as censorship.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:07 PM on August 31, 2016 [9 favorites]


This popped up in my RSS feed today: University of Chicago weighs free speech vs crackdown on hecklers:
After years of tolerating dissenters who shouted down unpopular speakers on campus, the school is now considering a policy of meting out suspensions, expulsions or other punishment for those it sees as violating free speech rights.

“I think the university is now signaling that we mean business here,” said Jerry Coyne, an ecology and evolution professor and an outspoken critic of dissident students who he says are acting “entitled.”

“What they’re basically saying is, ‘We have the right to harass anybody we don’t like,'” Coyne, who is not a member of the faculty committee, said about the disrupters.

University rules already bar interfering with campus activities, but faculty and students said they could not recall them ever being enforced.

The panel is seeking ways to streamline a “cumbersome” student disciplinary system that dates back to the era of Vietnam War protests, according to a memo sent to faculty in June. The aim is to protect “freedom of expression, inquiry and debate” from interference, the memo says.
Safe spaces for me but not for thee, indeed.
posted by palindromic at 3:21 PM on September 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


UofC: To save freedom of expression, we must destroy it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:59 PM on September 2, 2016 [3 favorites]




Faculty released a letter that pretty much agrees entirely with what I've been thinking about it.
As you have undoubtedly noticed, you and your new institution have been in the media spotlight lately. We want to take this opportunity to voice our own welcome as members of the faculty. You will find the University of Chicago to be a diverse place full of strong-minded people. We encourage you to become one of them.

Those of us who have signed this letter have a variety of opinions about requests for trigger warnings and safe spaces. We may also disagree as to whether free speech is ever legitimately interrupted by concrete pressures of the political. That is as it should be. But let there be no mistake: such requests often touch on substantive, ongoing issues of bias, intolerance, and trauma that affect our intellectual exchanges. To start a conversation by declaring that such requests are not worth making is an affront to the basic principles of liberal education and participatory democracy.

Foremost, we are committed to our students and to the free exchange of ideas. As teachers, we understand ourselves to be engaged in a collaborative experiment in the classroom. For that to work, mutual respect is indeed indispensable—all the more so since the practice of academic freedom can sometimes be contentious, difficult, perhaps even painful. But the crucial point is that such contention has to be based on a commitment to learning from a wealth of histories and experiences—to more discussion, not less; to openness, not closure.

The history of “safe spaces” goes back to gay, civil rights, and feminist efforts of the mid–20th century to create places protected from quite real forces of violence and intimidation. They also served as incubators of new ideas away from the censure of the very authorities threatened by these movements. It would be naïve to think that the University of Chicago is immune from social problems. Yet the administration confusingly disconnects “safe spaces” it supports (see the list of mentoring services on the College’s own website) from “intellectual safe spaces” that it does not, as if issues of power and vulnerability stop at the classroom door.

The best spaces for independent thought and action may be those you create yourselves. For example, graduate student instructors at the University of Chicago have just won the right to organize as a labor union. We applaud their contributions to this national effort. Please see the statement of the University of Chicago chapter of the American Association of University Professors for further evidence of widespread faculty support of student activism and student rights.

The right to speak up and to make demands is at the very heart of academic freedom and freedom of expression generally. We deplore any atmosphere of harassment and threat. For just that reason, we encourage the Class of 2020 to speak up loudly and fearlessly.
posted by qcubed at 12:50 PM on September 13, 2016 [11 favorites]


Also:

So social justice doesn't silence people, people silence people?

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here? My comment agreed that the language used in social justice discussions has been used to provide cover for some silencing things, yes. The language, not "social justice". I mean, if you're going to run with that formulation, I really think the only answer is... "...yeah?" because language is a tool and tools are employed by people to do something, so...

"We should strive to improve the world" - how, exactly? By adopting the tactics of the oppressors?By silencing dissent in the same ways they've traditionally done? Why is the idea of aligning one's tactics with one's ideals such a dirty idea around here?

I'm not sure how you're getting that from anything I've said?

What's the level of engagement between underprivileged but first world affinity groups and third world foreign students? Typically almost none, and usually far, far less than between underprivileged but first world affinity groups and members of traditional power structures.

It's been my experience at the University and outside of it that perhaps those groups have very different experiences, issues, and topics, which can lead to very divergent opinions?
posted by qcubed at 1:01 PM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


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