The class of 2020 was in for a rude awakening when the Dean of Students decided to send a welcoming letter that only led to criticism and controversy.
The University of Chicago sent its freshmen a letter that most expected to be uplifting or informational, but instead advertised that not only did the school not believe in trigger warnings, but that it prioritized free speech for the sake of students “intellectual journey.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the term “trigger warning,” it is used as a warning that the content about to be viewed may offend or upset some people, especially those that have experienced trauma related to the topic.
Regardless of the fact that the letter was meant to promote an open environment that welcomed a free flow of information for students, the university went about it all wrong.
Many have argued that the poorly written letter was not only unnecessary and insensitive, but that it fails to recognize the reasons these warnings and safe spaces came about in the first place.
It’s like when a television station puts a graphic content warning on the screen before showing gory footage of a rape or deadly car crash. For most of us, it’s mainly just disturbing to see, and we would rather just continue flipping through the channels, but for other people that have been real victims of sexual assault or that have lost loved ones to a car accident, it can be traumatic to watch the experience they have already lived through occur on the screen in their very own home.
Considering the fact that death by suicide is the third leading cause of death for individuals ages 18-24 in Illinois, the trigger warning debate should be taken more seriously instead of it being cast aside by a letter only meant to assert dominance over its students.
The reality is that this letter was not only entirely unnecessary, but it also exposed the lack of empathy and civility the administration has towards its students.
Jessee Fish, a designer at The Unique Space in Los Angeles, took a stand on Facebook that went viral when she posted her opinions on the matter.
“My biggest anxiety about this whole discussion is the implication that if you’re struggling with an issue that makes you a little reticent or wary or even slightly unprepared, you don’t deserve a spot in the University of Chicago,” Fish said.
There will never be a time when everyone has the same opinion, but if we all pay the same tuition we have a right to feel safe in our own colleges.
The University of Florida allows an Ohio-based anti-abortion group, Created Equal, to come to campus regularly to take over the Plaza of the Americas, according to the Independent Florida Alligator. The group puts graphic images of abortions and even sets up a Jumbotron-sized screen of video clips of real abortion procedures.
During this time, student groups set up safe spaces with therapy dogs for students that may be triggered emotionally by the graphic imagery, and many held protests against the disturbing takeover. Students and protest leaders also escorted students and set up areas for them to talk if they felt uneasy.
Although UF may condone the actions of the radical anti-abortion group, it also recognizes the extremity of their measures and offers counselors for students. UF’s belief in free speech does not impede other student groups from lending a helping hand to others.
What UChicago failed to understand is that trigger warnings and safe spaces aren’t methods of political correctness but approaches in place to create inclusive environments that allow all students to feel welcome and able to learn.
“Empathy is not practiced at the expense of education,” Fish said.