“Trigger warnings” are the latest crusade on campus, reports the NYT. Students at prominent colleges and universities have been campaigning to force professors to warn students of potentially disturbing or offensive content in the course materials they assign. That could include everything from a violent movie to the anti-Semitic Merchant of Venice. The NYT:
The warnings, which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them. But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University,the University of Michigan, George Washington University and other schools.
The debate has left many academics fuming, saying that professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate. Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace. The warnings have been widely debated in intellectual circles and largely criticized in opinion magazines, newspaper editorials and academic email lists.
College is supposed to be the place where students contend with difficult, even upsetting, ideas—not where they come to be protected from offense. Set this trend alongside the rising incidence of speakers being disinvited for alleged offenses against campus sensibilities, and it seems like colleges are breeding hothouse flowers, students too sensitive to read a controversial book or hear an opinion they disagree with.If a student does suffer from post-traumatic stress, as one professor told the NYT, surely he or she can work out a special arrangement with a teacher to accommodate the condition. As for protecting all the other students from the “harmful” effects of reading Huckleberry Finn or Things Fall Apart, all we can say is: Great books don’t have to be sanitized before handling.