University of Chicago class of 2020, get ready for a college experience filled with debate, discussion — and possibly discomfort.
In other words, reality.
Conservative cheered and liberals frowned. Over at Vox, Emily Crockett writes about safe spaces and what they mean:
“For me as a black woman, it’s really nice to just go out with other black women sometimes,” said Sabrina Stevens, an activist and progressive strategist. “I have to do so much less translation. When you’re black around white people, you have to explain every little thing, even with people who are perfectly nice and well-meaning.”
White people are stupid and insensitive, after all. But she’s not racist…🙂
One college administrator has taken a bold stance against the demise of free speech on America’s campuses, warning newly admitted students that they will find no “safe spaces” at his school.
John Ellison, Dean of Students for the College at the University of Chicago, welcomed students to campus with a warning, but not the kind typically issued at a university.
“Academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’…[or] 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,” Ellison writes in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Intellectual Takeout.
Indeed, UC has been praised for its stance on free speech ever since a faculty committee released a commitment to freedom of expression last year, a policy that has since been adopted by several other schools.
Accordingly, Ellison touted UC’s free speech policy as one of its “defining characteristics,” saying this is “captured in the university’s faculty report on freedom of expression.”
“Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others,” he continues. “You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement.”
Acknowledging that ”at times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort,” Ellison nonetheless insists that “fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related university priority—building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds.”
As colleges across the country wrestle with balancing academic freedom and open discourse with student health and safety, University of Chicago Dean of Students John Ellison told incoming freshmen in a letter what they should expect on campus.
“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.
Trigger warnings — used to alert students of sensitive material that might be uncomfortable, offensive or traumatic to them, such as discussions about race and sexual assault — and safe spaces, designed to shelter students from certain speakers and topics, have become more common and controversial on campuses across the country.
According to a survey of more than 800 college educators by the National Coalition Against Censorship, a majority — 62 percent — said they think trigger warnings have or will have a negative effect on academic freedom. Only 17 percent reported favorable views of trigger warnings, meaning that they have or could have a positive effect on education and classroom dynamics.
And while formal policies on trigger warnings are rare — fewer than 1 percent of respondents said their institution had one — 15 percent said students had requested trigger warnings in their courses, and 12 percent said students complained about the absence of such warnings, according to the report from the coalition of more than 50 national nonprofits supporting First Amendment principles.
At the University of Chicago, fostering the free exchange of ideas helps build a welcoming campus, Ellison told students in the letter, which accompanied a book titled “Academic Freedom and the Modern University: The Experience of the University of Chicago” by John Boyer, a university dean and professor, a university spokesman said.
The letter included a link to a university report issued by its Committee on Freedom of Expression, established in 2015 to articulate the university’s policy on free expression.
“It is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive,” the report states. “Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.”
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.
“The right thing to do is empower the students, help them understand how to fight, combat and respond, not to insulate them from things they will have to face later,” Stone said.
While the university doesn’t support, require or encourage trigger warnings, it does not prohibit them, he added. Professors are still free to alert students to certain material if they choose to do so.
Jane Kirtley, a media ethics and law professor at the University of Minnesota, called U. of C.’s move “refreshing.” She said colleges should resist setting limits on what views and opinions are acceptable to air in open forum and should encourage students to discuss things they find uncomfortable.
“If universities are not providing platforms for people to be offensive, then I don’t think that they’re doing part of their job,” Kirtley said. “If listening to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to make your blood pressure go up 400 points, then fine, don’t listen to them. But that doesn’t mean you can say we can’t have Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton speaking on campus because it would be offensive to even know they were talking.”
Another Midwestern institution has followed the University of Chicago’s lead. In 2015, the board of trustees at Purdue University in Indiana endorsed the principles articulated in the U. of C. report.
“Our commitment to open inquiry is not new, but adopting these principles provides a clear signal of our pledge to live by this commitment and these standards,” board Chairman Tom Spurgeon said in a statement at the time.
Purdue last week held a free speech panel moderated by faculty and administrators, and featuring student skits, as part of its orientation program to make incoming students aware of First Amendment principles and how to use their own voices to speak out against ideas they disagree with, said Steve Schultz, legal counsel for the university.
“We want them to be aware they will see things on campus, be involved in situations where others will inevitably say things they may not agree with, and we want them to know that’s OK,” he said.
The debate over freedom of expression and safe spaces has played out at other universities in the Chicago area and across the country.
Earlier this month, DePaul University denied a request to have conservative commentator Ben Shapiro give a speech at the university, citing security concerns, after his talks had sparked protests on other campuses. And in May, a protest disrupted and forced the cancellation of an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, a conservative blogger with Breitbart News Network.
In a statement to the Tribune after the Shapiro cancellation, DePaul spokeswoman Carol Hughes said: “DePaul University’s Office of Public Safety determined, after observing events which took place when Mr. Shapiro spoke elsewhere, that it was not in a position to provide the type of security that would be required to properly host this event at this time.”
In 2014, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed out of giving the commencement speech at Rutgers University after student protests centered on her involvement in the Iraq War during the George W. Bush administration.
That same year, after a debate over sexual assault on campus was scheduled, students at Brown University organized a safe space on campus with counselors, bubbles, Play-Doh and pillows. The space was designed to give students who might find the discussion troubling a place to recuperate, The New York Times reported.
And last year, a Northwestern University professor who wrote a controversial essay on how colleges police faculty-student relationships sparked a national debate over academic and sexual freedom. After the publication of the essay by communications professor Laura Kipnis, two students filed Title IX complaints contending that Kipnis created a “chilling effect” on their ability to report sexual misconduct. Kipnis, who was cleared after an investigation, made clear that sexual abusers should be punished but also chided the university for its ban on faculty members dating students, arguing that such policies treat students as vulnerable children.
Northwestern also waded into controversy last year when it proposed moving some Campus Inclusion and Community offices into the Black House, the social and academic epicenter for black students, professors and staff on campus for decades.
The backlash was swift and strong. Many said the purpose of creating the Black House in the late 1960s was to give black people on campus a dedicated place to share experiences unique to them.
Northwestern later abandoned its plans.
Northwestern officials declined to comment for this story, but in a January editorial in The Washington Post, President Morton Schapiro cited the Black House controversy as an experience that helped convince him that “safe spaces” were necessary on the Evanston campus.
“I’m an economist, not a sociologist or psychologist, but those experts tell me that students don’t fully embrace uncomfortable learning unless they are themselves comfortable,” Schapiro wrote. “The irony, it seems, is that the best hope we have of creating an inclusive community is to first create spaces where members of each group feel safe.”
Colleen Crane, a University of Michigan lecturer in social work, supports the use of trigger warnings in some cases.
Crane included a trigger warning on her syllabus for a course that involved 16 hours of discussions on personal trauma, in part to prepare students to have the same kind of talks with potential patients.
“A trigger warning gives a pause and reflection for the student in that classroom,” Crane said. “I think it’s kind of important to remind people that the content can be triggering, and to almost prepare yourself mentally, emotionally and physically to be discussing this in the context of a classroom.”
Crane said that in some cases the warning helped free students who wanted to share personal stories. But she said she’s also received several evaluations from students who said they still didn’t feel prepared for how agonizing and distressing the class sessions would be.
But college professors are not responsible for students’ emotional health, according a report issued by American Association of University Professors. That responsibility lies with counselors and other mental health experts.
“Some discomfort is inevitable in classrooms if the goal is to expose students to new ideas, have them question beliefs they have taken for granted, grapple with ethical problems they have never considered, and, more generally, expand their horizons so as to become informed and responsible democratic citizens,” an AAUP committee wrote in a 2014 report on the issue. “Trigger warnings suggest that classrooms should offer protection and comfort rather than an intellectually challenging education. They reduce students to vulnerable victims rather than full participants in the intellectual process of education.” (Campus Reform and Chicago Tribune)
But Liberal like “victims”. They thrive on “victims”. They self-perpetuate them.