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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