Hi Charles! Thank you so much for your comment. I think there is a place here where reasonable people can disagree about how much concern is warranted and what the likely negative effects of such policies are. Thank you for giving voice an utterly understandable position.

“ In my worrying, I do wonder if I’m made aware of the outliers by the selective nature of the media, and as a result have a skewed sense of the magnitude of the problem — this is why I appreciate that you reported on some systematic evidence re trigger warnings. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern of abuse.”

Thank you for saying this! I think the main issue with a lot of these topics is that they have become so politicized that we are all blinded to the statistical reality, at least at first. Trigger warnings have been re-branded as something far more pervasive and damaging and censorial than they actually are; thankfully, the data and a quick explanation of how they are used can answer that concern pretty quickly.

As for your other concerns: safe spaces are generally optional spaces, outside of and distinct from the classroom, where students can process things that are difficult. The most common type of “safe space” I encounter at all the places where are work are offices that have been designated LGBT safe spaces by the professor using that office. Usually all this entails is a professor wanting to broadcast that they are LGBT or an ally, and thus safe for students to talk to about related subjects, and then putting a sticker on their door or window to telegraph that. That’s it. It’s opt-in, it’s a small nonverbal invitation to consider them a resource, and it doesn’t involve censorship in the classroom.

In addition, some activist spaces and student groups (for example, black student unions, rape survivor support groups, etc) may designate themselves to be safe spaces. Again, this just means there are certain group norms (or discussion rules) in place that are designed to make the space civil and respectful. Some of those rules are rules about terminology, some of the rules are just about how to talk with one another in an open, supportive way; all the rules and norms are pretty old and date back to group therapy’s nascence, and are not brought into the classroom. When UofC uses a term like “intellectual safe spaces”, I have no idea what they actually mean by it. As far as I can find, there are no universities where speech is tightly controlled inside the classroom as a matter of policy. And I would generally not support that. But I do think the mental health and social support resources provided by safe spaces on campus is invaluable. But part of how and why they work is that they are divorced from the learning environment, and optional, and catered to particular student needs.

As for microaggressions: as a social science researcher I definitely believe microaggressions are real and can be used to subtly exclude or alienate people. But I also believe they’re mostly unintended and borne out of ignorance. I think the solution is for there to be greater awareness and education. I don’t think students should be punished for committing microaggressions generally. Everyone microaggresses. We can all learn to be better though. They are absolutely valid info to teach students about and discourage them from doing. It certain comes up very naturally in the social sciences and humanities as a topic of study.

Finally, in terms of disinviting speakers, I am of two minds. On one hand, most of those speakers are paid for by student’s activity fees. I can understand why students want & deserve a say in where that money goes and how it is spent. I think students have the right to some input on that. I also think that when students protest speakers they find objectionable, they are contributing to a great dialogue and turning the campus in a marketplace of ideas and showing a lot of agency and it’s just, generally, pretty great. I don’t think speakers should face violence or threats of violence. I don’t think schools should categorically refuse to bring on conservative or controversial speakers. But I think there are certain dehumanizing viewpoints that are probably beyond the pale, and students have the right to cause a big stink and advocate for themselves and meet with administration to try and have an influence on such matters. I think the ideal situation, on this issue, is a messy one. I think it’s beneficial for their to be manageable intellectual conflict. And that includes student protests and glitter-bombs.

Written by

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store