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Nanny State University
Students Campaign for Warnings on "Offensive" Books

“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.

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  • Curious Mayhem

    I think the “thought” here needs to be put in quotes: it’s more like a parody of thoughts.

    The professors have no reason to complain. They’ve been laying the groundwork for this for two decades.

    • Existentialed

      …and they will reap the terrible results if it allowed to mature to its ultimate end….

      First they came for the art….

  • mc

    It’s a shame that so many influential women want to return to a world in which women seek attention not through their accomplishments but by being flamboyantly incapacitated by life’s small discomforts.

  • Boritz

    One solution would be to require students to sign a waiver at registration that absolves the university from any responsibility. Something along the lines of “I the undersigned understand….and agree…..” The idea is the same as understanding that diving from the high platform in the swim center has inherent risks and you know this and you aren’t going to have a cow if you sprain something or get water up your nose.
    Option two is to make the professoriate walk on egg shells and pins and needles and occasionally land mines that blow their intellectual legs off at the knees.
    I know; it’s a difficult choice.

  • Corlyss

    Students today are taught so little of the Western Canon in post-high school education that frankly who cares what roils their tiny little minds? They’re mindless automatons burping Bill Ayres’ mantras.
    I had to read Huck Finn in freshman English, tho’ I had studiously avoided reading American canon like that in high school – the poetry was okay but don’t waste my time with long-winded fictional crap like that by people who were paid by the word. Twain’s detailed description of the idle mindless thugs that thought it great fun to set fire to dogs finally persuaded me I could make do with the Cliff Notes version. I know some will think me a philistine for such a conclusion, but in the remaining 50 years of my life I have not considered even once about how impoverished my intellectual life is because I didn’t finish reading it. I make out just fine.

    • Fred

      I would argue that not knowing you are impoverished is one more sign of just how impoverished you are, but your life is yours to live, not mine.

      • Corlyss

        LOL That’s good. However, before I start reading all that stuff, I want more empirical evidence that I am in fact impoverished than can be afforded by a clever retort. There’s way too much to know about the real world for me to waste time reading someone’s fictional world no matter how gifted the author. But I don’t object to others wasting their time on it.

        I half expected someone to chastise me with the question how I could value the Western Canon so highly if I had the same dismissive attitude toward some elements of it that the Dewey rabble does, you know, the folks who are willing to sacrifice everything in the curriculum that isn’t “utilitarian.” My answer would be that I have a much broader definition of utilitarian than they do.

        • Fred

          I still think you’re a philistine, but you’re a damned likable one.

          • Corlyss

            Well, you’re not far off, and thanks. 😉

  • Fat_Man

    Where did the idea that anybody had the right or the expectation of going though life and not being offended, upset, aggravated, agitated, of otherwise bothered. Everyone who asserts such rights or expectations should be required to read the stoic philosophers, like Epictetus, who was a slave, and Marcus Aurelius, who was an emperor, and to write a 5000 word essay on why his emotions are under his control.

  • gabrielsyme

    Sure, put warnings on everything. I want warnings on liberal and secular ideas – they are, after all, slowly destroying Western civilisation. They result in such idiocies as putting labels on The Merchant of Venice.

  • Breif2

    “Students Campaign for Warnings on ‘Offensive’ Books”

    These warning labels could be treated to contain ammonium carbonate.

  • AllanDale

    I’d hardly call “The Merchant of Venice” anti-Semitic! As a glance at Act 3, Scene 1, will reveal, Shylock’s famous speech could easily have come out of the mouth of Donald Sterling. For something written hundreds of years previously, there must be something going on here. The primary contribution of the Roman Empire to Western civilization was the elimination of a particular heredity as a requirement for belonging to the tribe: All you had to do was agree to live by the rules of the Romans (and it didn’t matter who your mother was) to become a citizen of the senatus populusque romanus. Jewish so-called exceptionalism is affirmed until it isn’t convenient, and then it’s disavowed.

  • Existentialed

    You see dear student. Warnings such as those you think you desire were once available available in the form of reviews and peer comments of contemporaries. Since the current-contemporary generation can’t pull their focus or attention span away from their 3 inch by 2 inch phone screen, the forms of warning of literary content that one guided personal choice no longer prevail. To presume that adding a summary content page to a piece of literature will change the egoistic reactions and anxieties of the individual reader is folly. What it mainly does is offer another reason for forces outside the control of the individual to control what the individual has access to read. The greatest journeys are achieved by the successive accumulation of small steps. These small steps, lead by “warnings of content” on literature, signal a precipitous demise in our collective understanding and appreciation of, freedom.
    Curiosity, imagination and creativity do not require forewarning of the judgement of priors.

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