Safe Rooms, Trigger Warnings: When Parody Becomes Reality
Here is a satirical piece from The Onion that reflects the current college atmosphere of political correctness, Parents Dedicate New College Safe Space In Honor Of Daughter Who Felt Weird In Class Once:
LYNNFIELD, MA—In an effort to provide sanctuary for Lynnfield College students exposed to perspectives different from their own, a new campus safe space was dedicated Wednesday in honor of Alexis Stigmore, a 2009 graduate who felt kind of weird in class one time.
Addressing students at the dedication ceremony, parents Arnold and Cassie Stigmore noted that while the college had adequate facilities to assist victims of discrimination, abuse, and post-traumatic stress, it had until now offered no comparable safe space for students, like their beloved daughter, who encounter an academic viewpoint that gives them an uncomfortable feeling.
“When our Alexis felt weird after hearing someone discuss an idea that did not conform to her personally held beliefs, she had no place to turn,” said Arnold Stigmore, standing outside the $2 million space that reportedly features soothing music, neutral-colored walls, oversized floor cushions, fun board games, and a variety of snacks. “God forbid any of you, in your years at this institution, are ever confronted with an opinion you do not share. But if you are, you will have a refuge on this campus.”
“I’ll never forget the morning my daughter called and told me in a trembling voice, ‘Mom, my professor said some stuff today I didn’t like.’”
“If unfamiliar thoughts are ever provoked in your mind, or in the mind of someone you know, you can come to this place and feel safe again,” he added.
As they have done often over the years, the Stigmores spoke openly about the time their daughter attended a class in which her political science professor “completely ambushed” her with standard course material that did not fit comfortably within her world outlook. Feeling unsettled, the college student reportedly had no way of coping with the challenging position that did not require her to consider the opinion, analyze its shortcomings, and think of possible counterarguments.
Alexis, then a dean’s-list student in her junior year, described spending 40 harrowing minutes of class in a distressed state, forced to look at the world through the eyes of a set of people she disagreed with.
“I’ll never forget the morning my daughter called and told me in a trembling voice, ‘Mom, my professor said some stuff today I didn’t like,’” recounted an emotional Cassie Stigmore, who also remarked that Alexis was left further traumatized upon looking at the course syllabus and finding it contained a book she did not want to read because it was written by an author whose politics she opposed. “As a parent, I’ll always wish I could have been there for her in that lecture hall, protecting her from those unwelcome concepts.”
After pausing to regain her composure, she continued, “If this safe space had been here then, my Alexis would have been able to surround herself immediately with people who would have reiterated and reinforced all the views she had when we first sent her to college—but sadly, it wasn’t, and she was left to deal with that new, unwanted idea on her own.”
Lynnfield president Dr. Timothy Crowley praised the Stigmores for their generous contribution and for raising awareness of an important issue. Since the family went public with Alexis’ story, a number of students have come forward saying they too have been exposed to alternative views on academic subjects, including several who Crowley applauded for their recent successful initiative to prevent a mainstream political figure from participating in a debate on campus out of concern that the exchange of ideas might make some people feel unsafe.
As he toured the new facility and examined a plaque commemorating Alexis Stigmore’s courage in the face of personal tragedy, Lynnfield class of 2017 member Jerrod Bryant told reporters he would be sure to use the space after attending his next Contemporary Civilization seminar, a course he is required to take even though it covers areas of study he personally disapproves of and believes should not exist..
“As soon as I stepped foot in this place, I knew I would never feel weird here,” Bryant said. “Every college should have a space like this, and thanks to caring parents like the Stigmores, we have one here for our community. It might be too late for Alexis, but it’s not too late for the rest of us.”
Sources confirmed a separate donation has also been made to provide a safe space and counseling services for straight white men at the college who won’t shut the fuck up about how they’re the real victims on campus these days.
The Onion may not be too far off the mark and while it is fiction, it is based on actual events. From The NY Times In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas:
KATHERINE BYRON, a senior at Brown University and a member of its Sexual Assault Task Force, considers it her duty to make Brown a safe place for rape victims, free from anything that might prompt memories of trauma.
So when she heard last fall that a student group had organized a debate about campus sexual assault between Jessica Valenti, the founder of feministing.com, and Wendy McElroy, a libertarian, and that Ms. McElroy was likely to criticize the term “rape culture,” Ms. Byron was alarmed. “Bringing in a speaker like that could serve to invalidate people’s experiences,” she told me. It could be “damaging.”
Ms. Byron and some fellow task force members secured a meeting with administrators. Not long after, Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, announced that the university would hold a simultaneous, competing talk to provide “research and facts” about “the role of culture in sexual assault.” Meanwhile, student volunteers put up posters advertising that a “safe space” would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting.
The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.
How will these college students who can’t deal with viewpoints antithetical (or just different) to their own beliefs fare in the workplace? Will employers will eventually be mandated to provide ‘safe spaces’ for employees who can’t handle diversity of thought or emotional turmoil? It’s ironic: those who espouse the desire for a diverse society are the ones who protest most loudly the thoughts/beliefs/ideas differing from their own. You wonder how a ‘common core’ blueprint of education allows for authentic diversity of thought and teaching. More from The Times article:
But the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer.
This logic clearly informed a campaign undertaken this fall by a Columbia University student group called Everyone Allied Against Homophobia that consisted of slipping a flier under the door of every dorm room on campus. The headline of the flier stated, “I want this space to be a safer space.” The text below instructed students to tape the fliers to their windows. The group’s vice president then had the flier published in the Columbia Daily Spectator, the student newspaper, along with an editorial asserting that “making spaces safer is about learning how to be kind to each other.”
A junior named Adam Shapiro decided he didn’t want his room to be a safer space. He printed up his own flier calling it a dangerous space and had that, too, published in the Columbia Daily Spectator. “Kindness alone won’t allow us to gain more insight into truth,” he wrote. In an interview, Mr. Shapiro said, “If the point of a safe space is therapy for people who feel victimized by traumatization, that sounds like a great mission.” But a safe-space mentality has begun infiltrating classrooms, he said, making both professors and students loath to say anything that might hurt someone’s feelings. “I don’t see how you can have a therapeutic space that’s also an intellectual space,” he said.
Read the rest of the NY Times article here. Check out the readers’ comments on their diversity of opinions.
Be sure to read Legal Insurrection’s article on trigger warnings in which you can find today’s graphic. TRIGGER WARNING: The left declares the right can ‘sometimes get stuff right’. Read here for an earlier post from Legal Insurrection on the conversation about this trigger warnings. Again, the readers utilize common sense in their analysis of the current political correctness in college classrooms:
Oh Precious! Precious? My precious little snowflake, speaking as a black man who has been around the block more than a few times, all of you need to grow up and get over it. You’re not the center of the universe, none of us has a right to not be offended in a democracy and if you can’t handle it repair to your padded room with your lollipops, Valium and whatever other pacifier makes you happy or better still make an appointment with a shrink. We are all always going to be offended by something. Using ‘feeling safe’, ‘respect’, and ’trigger-warnings’ are just treads in a rope to lynch free speech.
Wow — I could not disagree more with this article and everything it stands for and suggests and demands. Life doesn’t come with built in trigger warnings, and great literature channels life’s complexity, including its distasteful aspects, and even its horror. If your professor refused to entertain your comments about the disturbing sexual ethic of Metamorphoses because she was so swept up with its imagery, then she’s not doing her job as a facilitator and you have a valid complaint. But it seems to me that you find the entire idea of reading Ovid or other ‘canonical’ texts distasteful, and are offended by the very concept of a western canon.
Well, you can have that view. But just in case no one has told you this yet: it’s simplistic, it’s myopic, and it’s intellectually lazy. The cultures that produced most of the texts we read in lit hum dont share your cultural sensibilities. In fact, their values systems are foreign to the extreme.
Sometimes we focus too much on universalizing, but putting yourself into the mind of an Ancient Greek or a medieval European monk might as well be entering the brain of an alien. Old white men? Try explaining that concept to Vergil or Augustine or whoever — your method of filtering your experience through lenses of privilege and marginalization would seem as kooky to them as Aquinas and his hierarchies of divine law and creation probably seemed to you (if you did the reading). Sifting through All this is the thought exercise the core, at its best, is supposed to structure.
I think it’s great to suggest texts that are nuanced and sophisticated enough to add to the core, and to represent alternative viewpoints. But the underlying idea that classic texts can do violence in the classroom simply because of their content, and that the instructor’s job is thus to shelter rather than expose? That’s some pretty twisted dystopian thinking right there.