College Students Aren't Coddled—They're Empathetic

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

A few months ago, The Atlantic published an article that soon went viral. “The Coddling of the American Mind” portrays the average college student as overly-sensitive, and argues that students shouldn’t try to remove words and ideas they don’t like from the curriculum all in the name of “emotional well-being.”

I’m going to cut right to the chase here—If the two authors of this article don’t like trigger warnings, they probably don’t have anything that triggers them. If either of them were physically or sexually abused by an ex, they would probably be very grateful for the warning about the content of a particular lecture or reading. When something traumatic like that happens, the slightest reminder can have an emotional and even physical impact. The article tries to brush this off as no big deal, and even tries to suggest that avoiding what makes a person anxious is bad for their mental health (as if reliving a moment of trauma is just dandy). They’re out of touch with what it feels like to be triggered by something, and what it feels like to be a minority or a person suffering from mental illness.

When I mentioned to a Jewish friend of mine that my teacher had suggested that Adolf Hitler was an environmentalist because, and I quote, “he was into population control,” I could see it made my friend uneasy. I asked him what he would have done in that situation, and he said he would have pointed out to the professor that while he was lucky enough not to lose any family members in the Holocaust, there could be students in the class who lost grandparents or other family members in the genocide. While the joke may not have been traumatizing for most people, it wasn’t funny and didn’t teach anything.

American students aren’t necessarily better, and they’re not looking to be offended—They just live in a world that’s more connected than ever before, and it’s opened their eyes to the possibility that other people with different experiences may feel differently about certain things. It’s not about not being able to take a joke, or not wanting to see the other side of things. We know better than we did before, so we can do better than we did before.

I was in a class the other day with a professor who at the end of class usually says something along the lines of, “Have a good day, guys!” Then one day he said it, then stopped and said, “No, not guys. It was actually recently pointed out to me that I shouldn’t say that, because you’re not all guys.”

The best part about this moment was that he wasn’t mad or annoyed—He just knew that wasn’t the right word for what he wanted to say. It wasn’t a difficult change for him to make. Now he just says, “Have a nice day,” but maybe it meant much more for anyone in the class who thought, “I’m not a guy.”

It’s not hard to make these changes. Putting a trigger warning next to a book in the syllabus with some mature themes isn’t hard. Being asked not to ask visible minorities where they were born isn’t hard. Which begs the question—Who exactly is being coddled here? Maybe it’s the professors who are finally being held accountable for what they say who have been coddled.

Older adults like to point the finger at young students, but when Miley Cyrus was grinding on Robin Thicke at the MTV Awards, do you think it was 18-year-old college students who were calling the FCC? When two gay kids kissed on Fox’s Glee, who were the ones saying that shouldn’t be on television, or that it was turning our kids gay? If students are the ones who are too sensitive, why is it called the Parents Television Council? A writer over at the Huffington Post pointed out that anyone worried about Americans being exposed to both sides of an argument should also be worried that Donald Trump went after a woman who asked him tough questions at a debate (he knows what a debate is, right?) and removed a Hispanic journalist from a press conference. That’s more of a threat to our democracy than a student’s request for a trigger warning on a book with themes that might open old wounds.

And the two authors of this article shouldn’t worry themselves about the educational system—I’ve had professors who have taught students in class that climate change is a lie, who have said that the War in Iraq was the right thing to do, and who voted for every party under the sun. My education has not been strictly left-wing, but it also hasn’t been strictly right. And I’m happy that my education has been diversified. While I may not love taking classes with professors I don’t agree with, I know that it’s important to open my mind and broaden my education. Best case scenario, I change my mind, or I see a new way of thinking about something. Worst case scenario, I’m mildly annoyed but my own convictions are stronger for it.

One of the points made in the article is that students have free speech, which is protected by the Constitution. And here, we come to the crux of my argument—Just because you can say whatever you want doesn’t mean you should. Protecting our right to free speech is important, but I would hope that making changes to our education system and our day-to-day interactions in order to help someone feel safer is equally important.

photo credit: class dismissed via photopin (license)