I have a place to come to: Should schools allow safe spaces and trigger warnings?
New college students across the United States were introduced with awkward icebreakers, informative sessions and, for students at University of Chicago, one letter of bloviating drivel.
For a moment, set aside the irony of a speaker deeming that they love freedom of speech and the exchange of ideas so greatly they are willing to reject an idea without any consideration.
For a moment, also set aside the outright falsity of University of Chicago’s claim that the university does not condone safe spaces while it proudly advertises them on their publicly available LGBTQ student resource page.
Critiques of safe spaces and trigger warnings rely on false definitions, equating these policies with censorship or infantilizing, thus ignoring the proper use of these terms.
A trigger warning, when properly used, is a mere note of potentially triggering content – e.g. instances of violence, especially sexual violence. It is not the removal of such content outright as critics have claimed.
Safe spaces are also not censorship, but rather an agreement among a group to not condone harassment of minorities. Safe spaces extend out of basic freedom of association, enshrined since NAACP v. Alabama, and the associated right for groups to exclude.
An organization like the NAACP would be obviously harmed by forcing it to admit openly racist members, as the Courts ruled. Exclusion from a group one is actively working against is not censorship, nor should be treated as such.
The hand-wringing towards trigger warnings falsely equates freedom of speech with disregard for basic empathy. Trigger warnings exist for movies through MPAA ratings, for video games through ESRB ratings, TV parental guidelines introduced by an act of Congress and parental advisory warnings on songs.
Cries of censorship ring hollow when they are not directed at actual government policies but rather those of private campuses. Most importantly, however, the calls for the free exchange of ideas ignore the wide range of ideas flatly rejected in classrooms.
A biology classroom would hardly be effective in instructing students if it was permissible to loudly voice one’s disagreement with the theory of evolution, yet this is not considered censorship.
The onus is upon those arguing that discriminatory ideas have validity and are worth discussing to show why they should not be relegated to the same status as phrenology, eugenics and other vestiges of discriminatory thought.
Universities are meant to be places of rigorous thought and development of new ideas and, this requires a willingness to dismiss ideas found lacking instead of pretending that, in blind service “freedom of speech,” these ideas deserve even greater platforms.
Matthew Schilling is a senior history and economics major from Mitchell, S.D.