Tales From The Safe Space, Part 22 – Students For Slightly Less Coddling!

NUS Protest - No Platform Policy - Free Speech
What do we want? Slightly less censorship! When do we want it? At some point!

The student resistance to campus safe space policies and academic trigger warnings does not inspire much confidence

This student from the University of South Florida is mad as hell at being coddled and treated like a child with endless trigger warnings and safe spaces on campus, and she is not going to take it any more:

At USF’s Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday, faculty members discussed trigger warnings and how to approach sensitive issues as they sought an answer to the growing demand for “tolerance” in classrooms.

No one is arguing most graphic material shouldn’t come with a warning, but creating campus-wide policies catered to coddling students will only inhibit our education.

So far so good. But it doesn’t take long before the wheels start to come off this student’s plea to be treated like an adult:

Obviously, no one wants a student to undergo stress or anxiety because of something they were blindsided with in class. However, it is ultimately up to both the professor and the student to ensure they can avoid that situation.

Professors need to begin offering detailed syllabi for their classes. Not a basic one-page overview of the course, but a week-by-week outline of what they intend to teach. While some professors already offer a detailed breakdown of their courses, many do not.

Yes, this will take more time to create, but let’s be honest — most professors don’t make major changes to their courses. Taking the time to create a detailed syllabus isn’t a big deal considering they can re-use it for years with just minor tweaks along the way.

Then it’s up to the students. Students, take five minutes out of your oh-so-busy schedule and actually read the syllabus handed out on the first day of class. If you see something is going to be covered that will trigger you, drop the class.

Do some research. Find out exactly what you’ll be reading before you commit to a course, and you won’t be caught off guard when the sensitive material comes.

Universities could even have a frank conversation with incoming students at orientation or during campus tours. Let them know this is a university, not an elementary school. In an effort to grow students’ minds and character, the university will approach subjects students may disagree with or find uncomfortable.

Oh dear. This isn’t so much an argument to sweep away the whole infantilising concept of trigger warnings and begin treating students like moderately resilient human beings once again, but rather a technical argument that trigger warnings should be brought forward to the beginning of the academic experience.

Breanne Williams is not upset with the idea of trigger warnings in general. She just wants one massive trigger warning placed at the beginning of each college class, or perhaps when students first arrive on campus. Quite how this is any less infantilising than individual content warnings before each lecture or book is never made clear.

Unfortunately, such is the calibre of much of the resistance to campus censorship these days. Even the voices arguing against the harshest and most illiberal measures often accept the general principle behind them – that words and text can be dangerous, and that students need to be protected from them.

Witness Edinburgh University students union officer Imogen Wilson, who stressed the importance of safe space policies to journalists even as she was being accused by others of violating the safe space of a student council meeting.

Or the protest outside the hugely censorious National Union of Students headquarters, where protesters held the risibly pathetic placards declaring “Reform, don’t scrap, no-platform policies”.

Depressingly, even some of the pushback against the censorious, infantilising treatment of students on campus now accepts the basic rationale behind trigger warnings and safe space policies. This is dangerous because conceding the fundamental principle – that free speech is dangerous, and that words can equate to “violence” – means that the debate becomes a simple matter of degrees, establishing an inevitable one-way ratchet to greater censorship.

The correct response to the slapping of trigger warnings on academic content is not “Please put them at the beginning of the class so that we can avoid studying entire subjects if we spot one thing in the syllabus which might cause us mental discomfort”.

The correct response is “To hell with your trigger warnings! Treat us like the adults that we are”.


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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 15 – Barack Obama On Campus Censorship

President Obama’s timely criticism of the Safe Space Generation of students

It may come as a surprise to his conservative critics, but President Obama’s stance on the creeping authoritarianism and Identity Politics culture infecting American college campuses is very much on the side of free speech and robust debate.

Pressed to discuss his views on “politically biased colleges” at a high school town hall event held late last year, Barack Obama said:

Sometimes, y’know, there are folks on college campuses who are liberal and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues, who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side. And that’s a problem too. I was just talking to a friend of mine about this, you know, I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t wanna have a guest speaker who, you know, is too conservative. Or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African Americans, or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. And you know, I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either.

I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view, y’know? I think that you should be able to – anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ’em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying “you can’t come because, y’know my – I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say”. That’s not the way we learn either.

It is interesting to watch the reaction of the students standing behind Obama while he makes these remarks. Some are clearly bored and not paying close attention, but most clap politely when Obama reaches a natural break in his speech.

However, there is also a significant minority of students in the audience who are giving what can best be described as death stares. Clearly they do not like what they are hearing one bit, because Obama’s pragmatic suggestion that college is place where autonomous adults go to debate sometimes difficult ideas in the pursuit of personal and intellectual growth is contrary to everything that they have been taught is progressive and socially just.

Note in particular the two women on the top right of the screen when Obama says that campus speech restrictions are more suited to the former Soviet Union, approximately 3 minutes and 50 seconds into the video. While the other students seem to have fairly neutral expressions at this point, these two students look angry, sullen and passive-aggressive. The president of the United States has dared to come to their school and blaspheme against the Cult of Identity Politics to which they fully subscribe, and so they sit there, arms crossed and doubtless feeling quite triggered, plotting their revenge.

The point is this: it only takes a few such angry zealots to cow and intimidate an entire student population – and university administrations which should know better – into embracing every corrosive aspect of the Identity Politics culture. Of an entire student body, only a minority will drink deep enough from the well of competitive grievance culture that they turn and become the angry, authoritarian stars of many a YouTube video. But those who do are incapable of leaving everybody else alone. They cannot practice their new secular religion privately; all must share in their beliefs and abide by their behavioural codes, on pain of punishment.

Just seven years ago, the image of an African-American man addressing a group of high school students as President of the United States would have been seen as a powerful display of the social change that is possible when free speech is celebrated, guaranteed and used. Barack Obama, whatever one thinks of his record in office, did not become president by sheltering inside an academic safe space, after all. But Identity Politics does not encourage reflection on progress made; it primarily fosters resentment about the sins and injustices of the past.

Today’s generation of Identity Politics-practising students can talk endlessly about their “pain” and write interminable, barely literate screeds demanding that they be sheltered, acknowledged and validated in everything that they do.

But I doubt that a single one of them could write “Dreams from my Father“.


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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 10 – Competitive Grievance Culture

Germaine Greer - Cardiff University

In Britain, the Identity Politics revolution is starting to devour its children. But the same climate of open “competitive grievance” warfare is less pronounced in the United States

One aspect of the Identity Politics / Safe Space culture which genuinely seems to differ between the United States and Britain (following close behind) is the different dynamic which exists between all of the various arrayed grievance groups.

In America, Identity Politics practitioners tend to practice solidarity and stick together – you will often read stories of the various campus cultural centres, women’s centre and LGBT centre (for all must have their own safe space) collaborating together when producing their tedious lists of demands for campus reform.

But in Britain, Identity Politics seems to be a bit more competitive, and you are more likely to see the various victim groups (or generations) acrimoniously competing with one another for the limelight and striving to portray themselves as the most oppressed and victimised (thereby, conversely, granting themselves the most power and authority in the New Order).

In his latest review of Stepford Student activity for the Spectator, Mick Hume outlines the self-cannibalising nature of the Identity Politics movement in Britain:

Barely a week goes by without similar student-eat-student lunacy. Campuses are becoming ‘intersectional’ war zones, where identity zealots compete to see who can appear the most offended and victimised and so silence the rest.

In British universities, a rising ride of intolerance sweeps away anything that might make students feel uncomfortable. A leading anti-fascist campaigner has been ‘no-platformed’ by the NUS black students’ group, who branded him ‘Islamophobic’. The NUS lesbian, gay, bi- and transsexual officer refused to share a platform with Peter Tatchell, doyen of LGBT lobbyists, because he had opposed bans on Terfs (‘trans-exclusionary radical feminists’). After standing up for free speech, it seems, the likes of Tatchell must be denied the right to speak on -campus.

[..] The campus censorship crusade is not craziness so much as a logical extension of the ‘no platform’ policy so beloved of the left. This dates back to the ‘no platform for racists and fascists’ policy adopted by the National Union of Students in 1974. Today it seems more like ‘no platform for racists, fascists, Islamists, Islamophobes, homophobes, Nietzsche, rugger-buggers, pin-ups, rude pop songs, sombreros, sexist comedians, transphobic feminists, Cecil Rhodes or anything at all that might make anybody feel uncomfortable’.

[..] The irony is that many throwing up hands in horror at today’s promiscuous ‘no platform’ antics have themselves tried to ban speech of which they disapproved. It will come as little surprise to those with a sense of history that among the latest ‘victims’ of ‘no platform’ are those who demanded campus censorship in the past, up to and including St Peter of Tatchell. Those who live by the ban can perish by it, too.

As this blog wearily pointed out when Peter Tatchell (of all people) found himself ostracised by a group of virtue-signalling young activists who had the temerity to accuse him of prejudice while themselves standing on the shoulders of Tatchell’s own achievements for their cause:

That’s the rotten core of today’s student identity politics movement. A constant, bitchy, backbiting game of snakes and ladders, with one insufferable petty tyrant rising to the top of the Moral Virtue Pyramid only to be brought down by their jealous rivals, either for no reason at all, or for having unknowingly violated one of the many red lines that they themselves helped to draw across our political discourse.

This phenomenon of competitive grievance within the Identity Politics movement does not currently seem to be as common in the United States, at least to the same degree. The same Hierarchy of Privilege exists in the minds of American devotees of Identity Politics – that much is the inevitable consequence of intersectionality. But at present it does not seem to be leading to the same degree of internal warfare as we now see in Britain, which is odd when one considers that America is traditionally more individualistic and Britain slightly more collectivist. Surely, by this logic, America should be leading the way with a ruthless rat-race between the different groups for the coveted title of “most oppressed”.

One of the things which gives me the most encouragement – besides the sight of feisty, no-nonsense university leaders like Dr. Everett Piper and Chris Patten showing some backbone and standing up to increasingly ludicrous student demands – is the way in which our competitive grievance culture, so pronounced in the Identity Politics debate here in Britain, is now threatening to bring the whole edifice crashing down in an enormous word cloud of overwrought self-pity.

It is curious that the United States – typically in the vanguard of this movement – does not yet seem to be witnessing the same furious self-cannibalisation of Identity Politics preachers as we are currently witnessing on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps this can be Britain’s contribution to the cure.


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