In tracking the spread of social justice/identity politics poison through the academic world, every day now seems to bring some new ridiculous example of petty intolerance or exaggerated student fragility. And each new story prompts the incredulous reaction that things can’t possibly get any more surreal, that we must surely have now reached Peak SJW. And then something even more ridiculous transpires on a Western university campus.
From the Daily Mail:
Students at UCL taking the archaeologies of modern conflict course have been told that they will encounter ‘historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatising’.
If they feel stressed, they can ‘step outside’ for the rest of the class ‘without penalty’, though they should catch up by copying the notes of another student.
Lecturer Gabriel Moshenska, who co-ordinates the UCL course on how archaeology can help unearth the truth about 20th and 21st century conflicts, said some students had been in the Armed Forces and may have suffered psychological trauma.
He admitted no one had ever complained that they found one of his talks upsetting and said the alert was ‘precautionary’.
What’s particularly concerning here is that the professor involved, Gabriel Moshenska, took the decision to add the precautionary trigger warning to his class entirely voluntarily, through his own initiative. There was no coercion to do so by angry students staging a sit-in outside his office, or through a coordinated social media campaign. Moschenska simply decided that people who had signed up to study the archaeology of modern conflict might need to be warned that they would encounter the remnants of conflict during the course of their studies.
What this shows us is that the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, and its associated infantilising of students, has reached a critical mass whereby the culture of enforcing safe spaces, trigger warnings and treating grown adults like they are children takes place automatically without any further need for threats or campaigns. Professors and lecturers are capitulating to the student babies before anything is even demanded of them, either because they simply want an easy life and to avoid conflict, or because they actively support these efforts to infantilise young adults.
This is not a good development. If we thought it was bad when universities like Yale and Mizzou limply rolled over and capitulated when threatened by snarling, baby-faced SJWs with their protests and boycotts, that’s nothing compared to the further setbacks we may witness when faculty are active co-conspirators.
And this can lead nowhere good, as Brendan O’Neill laments The Spectator:
But of course there’s a major problem here: the relentless infantilisation of students, the treatment of them as overgrown children liable to be plunged by mere words or images into actual trauma (‘a disturbing experience which affects the mind or nerves of a person so as to induce hysteria or psychic conditions’: OED). The very idea of the university becomes impossible if students are presumed to be so mentally fragile that even class chatter could unhinge them psychically.
[..] This presumption of mental frailty among students, now seen as so psychically vulnerable that even F Scott Fitzgerald might traumatise them, is antithetical to the whole idea of university life, whose starting point must surely be that young adults are not only mentally competent but morally autonomous and intellectually curious. The overuse of the word ‘trauma’ to describe everything from an archaeology class to an old play shows how entrenched this view of students has become. As an American professor of psychology says, ‘When we describe misfortune, sadness or even pain as trauma… [we] turn every event into a catastrophe, leaving us helpless, broken and unable to move on’. In short, the more we tell young adults that everything is potentially traumatic, the more likely they are to experience everything as traumatic, or at least terrifying. We’re seriously teaching young people to see Shakespeare as potentially harmful to their mental health.
Strikingly, the UCL archaeology lecturer says that so far none of his students has accepted his offer to leave a ‘traumatic’ class discussion. That’s encouraging. It’s also revealing. It suggests the new campus craziness, the wild allergy to difficult debate and fear of offensive texts, doesn’t always come from students themselves. It’s been institutionalised, among actual academics, to such an extent that universities no longer instil in their students the Kantian idea that one should ‘Dare to know’ but rather tell them: ‘Sometimes it’s risky to know. What you find out might hurt you. So maybe you shouldn’t know that thing, or read that book, or listen to this lecture.’ The safety of ignorance.
Brendan O’Neill is more optimistic than I – he sees it as a positive thing that none of Nanny Moshenska’s students have yet chosen to avail themselves of their Right to Flee. And I suppose it is a good thing. But when professors provide even the option of leaving the classroom when confronted with learning material that arouses anything but positive emotions, they effectively legitimise the idea that words and ideas can cause actual physical harm, that being exposed to contrary viewpoints or shocking information is somehow dangerous, and that avoidance coping (staying away from things that upset you) actually works. In reality, there is no proof for any of these assertions, and many reasons to suspect that they are complete psychobabble hokum.
This year’s intake of Archaeologies of Modern Conflict students may be a hardy bunch (by the low standards we now set for young adults, meaning they won’t burst into tears and soil themselves at the sight of a human skull). But now that it is widely known that professors and Serious Adults consider it perfectly acceptable if students do have extreme reactions to academic material and need to flee the lecture hall, such behaviour is normalised and given the tacit approval of university authorities, making it much more likely that future students – believing it to be normal – will opt out of lectures which cause them emotional or intellectual discomfort.
In other words, academic freedom (and the reasonable expectation that students be treated like responsible adults) is now trapped in a pincer movement, with angry SJWs demanding to be infantilised on one side, and spineless collaborationist professors happy to oblige them on the other.
If there is an upside to all this, it can only be that with student populations and turncoat faculties now racing to outdo each other in their contempt for academic freedom and personal resilience, we will now reach our eventual rock bottom – wherever that may be – sooner than was previously the case.
Rejoice and be glad.
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