I had intended to write a little welcome post or something on this humble new blog, but then I saw something I wanted to write about. Maybe you’ll get welcomed tomorrow. Or not.
Last night I was putting the kids to bed and intermittently checking Twitter when I saw news of a letter send by University of Chicago Dean of Students Jay Ellison sent to the incoming class of 2020. In the letter, Ellison writes:
Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.
Twitter is now, well, a-twitter with folks like fine folks like this who think that the University of Chicago is moving in the right (you know, away from the left) direction:
But, here’s the problem. The letter doesn’t say that students should expect to be uncomfortable in their learning, or to have their current beliefs challenged. It says not to expect “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”. Both of these phrases come from the discourses of historically marginalized groups. “Trigger warning” has gained prevalence in feminist circles, particularly where women discuss issues of sexual assault and warn each other of the graphic details to follow. “Safe space” has also been used in this context, and additionally by members of the LGBTQ community, which has traditionally been the subject of horrendous discrimination based on their sexual preferences and gender identity.
So, imagine you’re a university official and you are under the mistaken impression that all millenials are overly-sensitive, entitled, left-wing whiners and you want to send a message to the imcoming class that they should be prepared to not be coddled. You send them a letter telling them not to expect “triggers warnings” and “safe spaces”. Well, you should be prepared to have this interpreted as being in exceptionally poor taste when your university has an actual problem with rape.
Among other events, in 2014, students of the University of Chicago published a list of students accused of sexually harassing or assaulting their peers. In 2015, a professor at graduation made an innuendo-ed joke that students had been subject to assault during their college careers, stating, “ You’ve been able to rub elbows with some of the greatest minds in the world. And judging by the recent campus climate survey, that’s not the only thing you’ve been rubbing up against”. The following year, a university professor resigned amidst rape allegations and it was later discovered that he had been the subject of sexual harassment probes elsewhere when he was hired by the University of Chicago. In March, the university became subject to a federal probe related to its treatment of victims of sexual violence.
Now, I certainly do not mean to imply that the University of Chicago is the only university with a rape problem. Many of America’s university of plagued with the issues – issues that are coming into the lime light because this generation’s students (for whatever reason) are fired up enough to say something about it. It’s just that the University of Chicago has opted to send a very clear message, using very specific terminology, that their students need to not be such delicate flowers about it.