This post is directly in reference to a thoroughly well written article in the Atlantic. The reason I am writing this post is to abbreviate and bring together some of the points raised, which will hopefully serve to spike people’s interest enough to commit to the lengthy, well researched Atlantic post. This post will differ to my others in that it is a reflective piece, based on mine and my colleagues’ experiences and collective insight, which seem to be in line with the article. As such it will differ in tone to my traditional posts.
We have gone too far
The article linked above might be one of the most important articles I have read detailing the escalating problem at university with safe spaces and the ‘right to not be offended’, which are combined leading to an anti-intellectual movement, which I fear we might not recover from. The trend toward trigger warnings, the aforementioned right to not be offended and micro-aggression on campus has gone way too far, and is at best anti-intellectual, and at worst, goes against the most fundamental basics of psychological knowledge on how to avoid anxiety and depression (links to the original article, which sums this up very well). As an additional concern, it pretty much destroys critical thinking (the Socratic method).
I find the whole ‘don’t offend me, you might trigger trauma’ movement ridiculous; there are people who have suffered real trauma (or have a phobia), by facing extraordinary, extreme events in their lives, and have to work for months, and often years to desensitize themselves to the trigger. I’m not trying to suggest that you must meet some established criteria to feel trauma, anxiety, or depression, but where do we draw the line on preparing people for the real world?
I have personally received several warnings for giving ‘trigger’ lectures and seminars, and it makes me wonder, will these issues drive some of us out to pursuing a career as a full time academic position as a lecturer?
A safe space?
As a fellow PhD researcher said to me: This movement threatens critical thinking and as such, strikes at the very core of academia. Academia should be a safe space to explore and put forward controversial ideas, but it is not, and should not be an intellectual safe space where one is never challenged.
Ideas put forward in university are not necessarily to endorse them, but rather to analyse them, take them apart, and understand them.
A former professor of mine agrees that the aim of university is to challenge our thinking; if a student never feels discomfited with the ideas being presented, no transformational education is taking place. He continues: I think this “I have a right never to be offended” attitude in education goes with using student ratings as the ultimate barometer of teaching.
The customer is always right….Right?
Using the student’s satisfaction scores to change teaching strategies is a direct result from commercialising university. By commercialising academia, universities begin to view the high paying students, as customers, and as we all know: customers are always right. The Atlantic article, and to some extent this post has highlighted the serious consequences of this approach, which threatens the ability to challenge students instead of appease them, instil critical thinking, and prepare them for the real world in which horrible people’s views exist, and have great influence, whether the student likes them or not. This last point is especially important; accepting that there are some truly nasty people in the world, who spew racist, bigoted, archaic remarks, does not mean embracing them. But in avoiding anything you find offensive, the student is setting themselves up for potential anxiety and depression when they are faced with people who have no issue with confronting their world view.