To the incoming freshman at the University of Chicago: don’t expect large bolded text reading “Trigger Warning” when opening your syllabi this semester.
In his letter congratulating students on their acceptance to U Chicago, Dean of Students John Ellision made it very clear that the university does not support trigger warnings or condone safe spaces.
“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings,” he wrote. “We do not cancel invited speakers because their topics may 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.” See the letter below:
While the letter has received widespread praise among critics of political correctness, others, such as the Northwestern University’s President Morton Schapiro, say that safe spaces are important.
“The best hope we have of creating an inclusive community is to first create spaces where members of each group feel safe,” he wrote in The Washington Post in January.
He used Northwestern’s Black House, which started as a gathering place for Black students in the early 1970s, as an example of a safe space.
As for trigger warnings—warnings that usually indicate potentially graphic or offensive content—a survey conducted by the National Coalition Against Censorship suggests that around 60 percent of faculty have a negative view of their use in the classroom, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Faculty believe that universities should expose their students to new, even controversial, ideas and that slapping on trigger warnings may stiffle a student’s learning. Still, according to the same survery, a small minority of professors—around 17 percent—favor trigger warnings and see them as a means to build trust with their students.
In The New York Times, Kate Manne, an assistent professor at Cornell University, explained why she uses trigger warnings in her classroom.
“The point is not to enable—let alone encourage—students to skip these readings or our subsequent class discussion,” she wrote in September. “Rather, it is to allow those who are sensitive to these subjects to prepare themselves for reading about them, and better manage their reactions.
Even at universities that oppose trigger warnings, professors wishing to provide their students with a comfortable environment may choose to use trigger warnings anyway.
“It’s not about coddling anyone,” Manne said. “It’s about enabling everyone’s rational engagement.”