Why Colleges Should Get Rid of Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces
Madison Cooney | firstname.lastname@example.org
The phrases “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” have become commonplace on a college campus like Bucknell. A trigger warning, introduced to the world by four psychologists: Ferenczi, Abraham, Simmel and Jones, started out as a way to warn soldiers returning from war if they were about to enter a situation that may bring their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the surface. Psychologists did not want the soldiers to enter a situation that could harm the progress they were making at becoming reintegrated into society, and justifiably so.
Now trigger warnings have become a way for students and faculty to facilitate a suffocation of intellectual discussion for fear of offending someone around them. In doing so, they turn the once serious, and necessary phrase “trigger warning” that was related to soldiers, as well as others with PTSD into a joke; leaving soldiers without this line of defense when returning home from war. Making trigger warnings commonplace means that soldiers may not be able to distinguish between something could seriously harm their mental state versus something that might upset a college student.
Along the same line of thinking are safe spaces: another so-called defense mechanism against “offensive ideas.” In practice, however, a safe space is nothing more than a place where like-minded individuals can go to affirm each other’s ideas instead of challenging themselves.
Creating such spaces oftentimes prevents true intellectual discussion and challenging of ideas, thus creating a lack of intellectual diversity on campus due to students being unwilling to hear thoughts that oppose their own. This creates a dangerous atmosphere on college campuses; a place where challenging oneself intellectually should be a part of the everyday campus experience.
Earlier this semester, the University of Chicago sent a letter to their incoming class stating that they do not believe in making safe spaces or providing trigger warnings on their campus. In part, the letter stated, “We’ve been deeply committed to the notion that we’re here to learn from one another and to learn from the world and to study things and to figure out the answers. And the best way to do that is to hear all sides of everything.”
How is one to learn anything or to truly be challenged if they hear the same ideas repeated over and over in every class, by almost all their professors? All too often, this is what we find within Bucknell faculty, where only approximately 6% of its members are registered as Republicans.
Instead of creating well-rounded students who will enter the real world as highly functioning adults, you are creating students who think they deserve to be catered to without knowing how to handle points of view that challenge their own. College is most students’ last chance to challenge themselves and grow before they enter the real world, where talking about politics at work is taboo at best and against company policy at worst.
Not only is the prevalence of safe spaces and trigger warnings detrimental to students, they also potentially infringe on a student’s right to freedom of speech. On campus, safe spaces have extended beyond being a place to get away from uncomfortable ideas; they have become about students and faculty trying to silence the voices of other viewpoints. Students are not only afraid of hearing certain viewpoints, they want to make sure those viewpoints are not said at all; as if oppressing them will make them go away.
Bucknell’s website says “we know that providing an excellent education to all students requires a firm and demonstrated commitment to diversity and inclusiveness at all levels of the institution.” What they truly mean to say is they have a commitment to diversity at every level except for the level that truly counts, intellectual diversity.
Bucknell as well as universities across the country should follow the actions taken by the University of Chicago and publicly discourage safe spaces and trigger warnings in intellectual settings. By facilitating their existence, colleges are hindering their students’ learning and ability to critically analyze opposing viewpoints, leaving many woefully unprepared for the realities of the world beyond campus walls.