Hey, University of Chicago: I am an academic. I am a survivor. I use trigger warnings in my classes. Here’s why.
TW: sexual assault, stalking
Today, news broke that the University of Chicago had issued a letter to all incoming Freshmen warning that the school is not a “safe space” and that students should expect to be “challenged”. Most notably, UofC came out against the use of “trigger warnings”, brief content advisories that sometimes are placed on syllabi or lecture slides to alert students to potentially upsetting material.
Many came out in vociferous support of UofC’s stance seeing it as crucial blow for intellectual freedom, levied against an increasingly coddled, demanding Millennial student body. Education should be provocative, decriers of trigger warnings say. College professors should make you uncomfortable. If you ask for, demand, or expect to be warned about objectionable content, you are missing out on an invaluable learning opportunity, or so the logic goes. More than one political cartoon has already depicted pro-TW Millennials as whining, entitled infants in cribs of their own making.
As a social psychologist and a professional academic in Chicago working for multiple universities on an at-will basis, academic and intellectual freedom is a value I am inclined to strongly support. I do believe that professors should feel free to express extreme viewpoints and present challenging material to their students in hopes of expanding their thinking and drawing out critical reflection. And as an instructor with my own classes, I often present material or ideas that some students may disagree with or vehemently dislike. Like many academics, I am dismayed when my colleagues are denied intellectual freedom, and are fired or otherwise punished for wearing political insignia, presenting challenging material, or espousing views some students object to. And as a researcher who studies and publishes articles on the psychology of open-mindedness and political…