Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Trigger Warnings

If you're not strong enough to handle an opinion with which you disagree, perhaps you're not strong enough to attend college.  Seriously, let's quit pretending that "safe spaces", "microaggressions", "trigger warnings", and other molly-coddling experiences have any justification or usefulness among real adults.

I just finished a book by (self-described uber-liberal) Jonathan Haidt, and he's one of the co-authors of this article:
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.

Some recent campus actions border on the surreal.
Sidebar quotes from the article--which you'll note is from The Atlantic, hardly a conservative publication:
According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided.

What are we doing to our students if we encourage them to develop extra-thin skin just before they leave the cocoon of adult protection?

The new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion or debate.
I'll state this outright--this isn't being done by conservatives. Liberals, this is all your doing. Get your act together.


maxutils said...

Having had ACTUAL anxiety attacks … I think it's fairly certain that the ones mentioned in these articles are not actual ones … because the students would be completely paralyzed and unwilling/able to get out of their chair. They are also caused by a chemical problem in your brain … not by something you might have been offended by. The only thing which helps is to be properly diagnosed and medicated …A much healthier solution for these students would be to argue with the teacher about anything they disagreed with … and that makes for a better class. Of course, teachers are then responsible for not holding a grade down due to differing beliefs … nd I'm not sure that's always the case.

Ellen K said...

My official In-Service starts Monday and I am very concerned. There were discussions and passing comments from administrators asking how we felt about having different standards of behavior for some students. I think this is a slipper slope. How do we allow bad behavior to end up as a wrist slap for some kids and alternative school for others?