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Culture > News

Does the University of Chicago Not Care About Students?

By Rebecca Charlotte

On Wednesday, August 24, 2016, the University of Chicago gave every one of their incoming freshman a letter saying that the institution does not support trigger warnings nor does it condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces. I say that the institution gave each freshman a letter rather than sent, because the letters weren’t exactly mailed to the students before they got to U of Chicago. No, the students received them on their first day of school. Maybe because the institution knew that they would be losing potential students, and therefore lots of money if they made students aware about this new policy while students still had the chance to choose another school.

The letter claims that the University of Chicago will not bow down to censorship. But the very definition of censorship is the practice of officially examining books, movies and other media in order to suppress unacceptable parts. Censorship is when the people in charge decide that they do not want you to hear or talk about something. A trigger warning is not the same thing as censorship. A trigger warning is a very simple statement at the beginning of an article, film, comic or other media that lets the audience know that something potentially distressing will happen in said content. Examples of trigger warnings include rape, war, suicide, incest and murder.

Related: Hey UChicago, Trigger Warnings & Safe Spaces Are For People Who Already Know How Harsh The World Can Be

The content is not going to be subverted, it is still going to be presented as is, but the viewer has the option to leave. For example, maybe a girl just got raped the day before or maybe there is a veteran suffering from PTSD sitting in class. Not having trigger warnings on extremely graphic materials is basically saying, “Oh we don’t care about PTSD, mental illnesses, or rape, we don’t care if you have to schedule extra appointments with your therapist because that just means you aren’t ‘strong’ enough.” It is not as if there are going to be trigger warnings on everything, there are only going to be trigger warning on the truly graphic material. I took a History of Horror class once, and there was only one time where we had the option to not watch something. It was no big deal. It was not as if we had trigger warnings all day, every day.

Because really, is one person leaving a room really going to affect the strength of an intellectual debate or conversation?

When the letter goes on to say that it forbids the creation of intellectual safe spaces, it makes me think of how Professor Umbridge banned the Defense against the Dark Arts class and Harry and his friends made the super-secret Dumbledore’s Army because they didn’t have a safe space. A safe space can be a room or an office. It does not necessarily mean that the class is going to be a safe space. It just means that there exists a place where people can go to escape, or talk or bond. It is almost like a group confessional. The classroom itself is not a safe space, thus why does it matter if some students and even faculty go somewhere to talk and escape?

Finally, let me ask you this question: isn’t banning trigger words and safe spaces a kind of censorship in and of itself?

Alaina Leary is an award-winning editor and journalist. She is currently the communications manager of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books and the senior editor of Equally Wed Magazine. Her work has been published in New York Times, Washington Post, Healthline, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Boston Globe Magazine, and more. In 2017, she was awarded a Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her dedication to amplifying marginalized voices and advocating for an equitable publishing and media industry. Alaina lives in Boston with her wife and their two cats.