Monday, August 29, 2016

University of Chicago Rejects Trigger Warnings/Safe Spaces

I'll let others comment on other aspects of the letter, but today I want to focus on one aspect of University of Chicago's recent letter to incoming students:
"Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."
"So-called." Scare/sneer quotes. Presenting safe spaces as students seeking to be coddled from dissenting views as opposed to reasonable accommodations for people of varying backgrounds and experiences.

I'm not offended. But, I am contemptuous. Incoming students, or their parents, are about to drop $200,000+ on tuition alone (~$280,000 including room, board, and other fees) to earn a degree at this esteemed institution and the grown-ass Dean of Students and other administrators involved in this decision have stooped to lowering the discourse to such simplistic culture war talking points about what is actually a much more nuanced issue than they present.

This topic could have been presented in a way that evidenced that the administration of this institution thoroughly thought through and debated the issue. Instead, framing their statement in the exact way that anti-PC crusaders frame the issue does not lend the impression that such a debate happened or had any measurable impact on decision-makers. Even if a more robust debate did occur behind the scenes, if I were an incoming student any acknowledgement of nuance would not be apparent to me.

Going forward, it remains to be seen how this stalwart institutional champion of free speech reacts to those who use their free speech to share their dissenting opinions of the university's decision here, as well as to those who might want to use their own free speech to critique and protest objectionable speakers and content the University sanctions and allows.

For all the railing against "safe spaces," speech that is defined as free to be said, versus not, often still depends upon who holds power over the platform.  If you don't believe me, tell a bigoted administrator or professor that they're being bigoted and see how well they tolerate that "dissenting view."

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