Tales From The Safe Space, Part 41 – UCL Archaeology Students Triggered By ‘Scary Bones’

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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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 16 – The Prequel Begins Long Before University

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The banning of red ink for marking schoolwork – just one small part of our Prizes for Everyone educational culture – directly feeds the student authoritarianism on our university campuses

Over the course of this “Tales from the Safe Space” series we have seen glimpses of a coddled, fragile yet snarlingly authoritarian generation of young activists who perceive any disagreement with their ideology as tantamount to a physical and mental “assault” on their person.

These students demand not only complete submission from fellow students and university administrators to the arbitrary laws of Identity Politics, they also have the audacity to portray themselves as being so uniquely victimised and oppressed that unlike the generations which came before them, they alone need special protection and validation from an external authority. This, of course, is achieved through the establishment of safe spaces and draconian restrictions on freedom of thought and speech for everyone else on campus.

But students do not suddenly become baby-faced tyrants the moment they cross the threshold of college or university at the age of eighteen. Young people today are acted upon by three key environmental factors: the rise of Identity Politics as a movement, the West’s growing disregard for freedom of speech and the therapeutic culture in which we now live.

Every day brings new examples of each of these areas of civilisational decay. And one key factor in our modern day therapeutic culture is the way in which state schools increasingly pander to the feelings of their pupils rather than seeking first and foremost to impart a rigorous education and a strong character. Of course there are many noble exceptions. But if we ever believed that there would be no negative consequences to our present Everyone Wins A Prize culture, then we were sorely mistaken.

The Daily Mail reports on the latest depressing example:

Teachers have complained about a ‘ridiculous’ marking system which forces them to use pink ink for negative comments because it is ‘less aggressive’ than red.

The bizarre system is being implemented by some headteachers who believe pink is a softer colour which will make children feel less like failures.

Many are also making staff use up to six different coloured pens to give different types of feedback to pupils as part of a ‘triple’ or ‘deep’ marking strategy.

In one example, a school has asked pupils to respond to teachers’ comments in purple or blue, and if teachers want to give encouragement they have been told to use a ‘positive’ green pen.

[..] Lee Williscroft-Ferris, a modern languages teacher from Durham, said that in one school he worked at he had to draw a pink box at the end of each piece and insert positive comments in green ink and suggestions for improvement in pink.

This is not a new phenomenon. The Mail reported a similar story back in 2013:

Tory MP Bob Blackman revealed his anger after being told a secondary school in his Harrow East constituency had banned teachers from using red ink.

He told MailOnline: ‘A teacher contacted me and said I cannot believe I have been instructed by my head to mark children’s homework in particular colours and not to use certain colours.

‘It is all about not wanting to discourage youngsters if their work is marked wrong.

‘It sounds to me like some petty edict which is nonsense. It is absolutely political correctness gone wild.

The University of Colorado study often cited as being behind these ridiculous changes to school grading procedures warns that the colour red evokes “warning, prohibition, caution, anger, embarrassment and being wrong”. But surely that’s the whole point? Where there is error, the teacher’s red pen should be there to bring truth, and do so in an unambiguously clear way.

According to the same researchers, “in the context of communication, writing in red seems to shout in the same way as writing in all caps or writing which is underscored”. In other words, the current drive to eliminate red ink from schools stems from the same self-absorbed social media culture which frets that someone doesn’t like us because they failed to put a smiley face or a kiss at the end of their text message. But do we really want to be applying the neuroses experienced by the first generation to grow up with the internet to the current crop of students going through school?

While some of us might like friends, colleagues and bosses to validate us at every turn and sugar coat their feedback to us in warm and constructive ways, real life will not always be so kind. And children should be made ready for the world as it is, not as some naive idealists wish it should be.

School is the place where it is possible to fail in a safe and relatively consequence-free environment. Many people that students meet and collaborate with in the real world will not take the time to encouragingly point out the good parts of a report, presentation, product or other piece of work that generally failed to meet expectations. In some cases, the feedback may be quite harsh, often deservedly so.

This criticism is not usually an attack on the person, or an attempt to “invalidate their experience” or whatever other therapeutic phrase du jour is being used to pathologise everyday life. It is simply a statement that the work produced is incorrect, or in some way not up to specification. And children need to learn how to handle such feedback at a relatively early age. Young minds must be prepared for the challenges of life, not coddled and protected before being released unprepared into the wild.

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We in the West increasingly live in an environment described by Rod Dreher as “a culture of autonomous individualists who don’t order their lives toward a common religion, or anything higher than what they desire”. And to that I would add that there is also an ascendant culture in which no longer values truth, where changes in how a person chooses to “identify” are taken to instantly overwrite reality.

In this brave new world, where even deluding oneself into thinking that one is an animal trapped in a human body is increasingly common among certain people, the awkward fact of a human birth certificate is just an inconvenient bureaucratic error to be erased as a new identity is created.

No wonder then that the teacher’s red pen is so hated – it stands as testimony to the despised idea that there is an objective reality, and often a right and wrong answer. For children who are raised to believe that everything they do is special and praiseworthy, and that their feelings are somehow sacrosanct and never to be trodden upon.

As my Conservatives for Liberty colleague Sara Scarlett puts it:

For years, children have been artificially insulated from any form of loss or emotional upset. The common practice of everyone getting a prize for taking part in sports regardless of how good they are, or how much effort they have put in. The reasoning being that no one’s feelings should get hurt. Whilst I appreciate that adults want their children to have happy childhoods, this has been taken way too far. It is not just the job of parents and educators to make children’s lives as happy as possible. It is the job of parents and educators to make their children into adults who can thrive in the adult world.

The rise of students who cannot exist outside of a ‘safe space’ shows that parents and educators have failed in many respects. Children should be exposed to competition and tests, offered incentives for doing well in them and working hard because that builds resilient adults who are ready for a world where not everyone gets a part in a blockbuster movie or a book deal. In trying to create a world where children are never subjected to rejection or losing, they are unprepared for an adult world where so much of life is about how you deal with rejection, loss, grief and disappointment and avoiding it is impossible. This is, after all, precisely what school is for; a place to fail when the stakes are low.

So as we can see, today’s young adults are uniquely susceptible to the toxic brand of Identity Politics coursing through universities, starting from the moment that they arrive on campus.

From birth, parents and teachers have instilled in these young adults the belief that they are special, unique and beyond reproach. And from there, it is only a small step toward internalising the language of Identity Politics to paint oneself as an oppressed or privileged individual who must be constantly mindful of – and responsible for – the slightest impact that their words or actions have on others.

That’s how you go from grading essays using friendly purple ink to a coddled, incredibly privileged black Yale student aggressively screaming at her college master because he refused to establish dictatorial, school-like rules governing what other adult students were allowed to wear at Halloween.

And that’s how abandoning red ink in schools today helps to create the baby-faced student tyrants of tomorrow.


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