Strident objections have been voiced over some college classroom materials, media, art and events that cause a few students discomfort. Some faculty back these students in demanding advance “trigger warnings” so they can arrange to avoid experiencing uncomfortable feelings (and the related assignments). The offended students and their faculty supporters want “trigger warnings” in advance of “anything that might cause trauma.
“Trigger warnings are not only appropriate to sexual miconduct but also anything that might cause trauma. Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression. …all forms of violence are traumatic…” (excerpt from a draft guide on “trigger warnings” from Oberlin College in Ohio.)
Other faculty say in their judgment the materials are college appropriate and that demands from the right to avoid being uncomfortable reveal “a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace.” Evidently fragility of mind is widespread among college students, and it is often condoned by faculty and administrators.
- Two Greek organizations at Dartmouth College had to cancel a Cinco de Mayo “Phiesta” fundraising for cardiac treatments after a student objected to “racial insensitivity.”
- The University of Connecticut planned to update its cartoon Husky (dog mascot). The process halted when a student objected saying it would “intimidate women and empower rape culture.“
- The statue of a realistic-looking man sleepwalking in his underwear upset many women on the Wellesley campus and hundreds petitioned for its removal.
There are other examples from K to 12. A Rhode Island middle school cancelled its traditional academic honors night ceremony fearing it was too exclusive and might offend those who did not earn academic top honors. After “counselling” from parents, the school reinstated the honors awards.
A core problem in allowing students to veto the substance of lectures and assigned readings is that they will avoid understanding the many facets of serious societal issues. The issues won’t evaporate merely because they are unpleasant for some to deal with. If a faculty withholds materials to accommodate the overly-sensitive, they are shortchanging the other students.
By the time students reach college, they demand many of the rights of adults and they certainly spend society’s resources at an adult pace. They should be ready for full-strength material.
Unfortunately some students are emotionally or intellectually unready for college. This age-versus-readiness problem is not new. Even Sesame Street warns “about one in three children who arrive at kindergarten are simply not ready—academically, socially or emotionally.” It appears that some college age students are not ready either, but have been “mainstreamed.” It happens in both K-12 and in college.
Alan Daley writes forThe American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research.