Among the thousands of college letters sent to incoming freshmen, a recent letter sent by the University of Chicago has sparked heated debate over its rejection of political correctness in academic settings.
In summary, the letter outlines the university’s strong stance against censorship, an overarching theme in their ultimate goal of freely challenging each other’s ideas and beliefs. Jay Ellison, UChicago’s Dean of Students, dismisses the position of political correctness, decrying the establishment of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” for today’s college students.
According to Macmillan Dictionary, a safe space is defined as “a place where anyone can feel comfortable about expressing their identity without fear of discrimination or attack.” Although the letter exclusively addresses intellectual safe spaces, they both represent the same thing – protection for those who feel that their beliefs are at risk of being compromised.
A trigger warning, on the other hand, is a preemptive measure to alert students of a controversial topic that may be potentially offensive to them. It is important to note that these warnings do not forbid the discussions these topics; rather, they act as a caution to those who might find the topic offensive.
To some, the university’s letter may appear to be written under good intention, as it defends its anti-PC stance with the idea of freely speaking one’s mind and having access to all possible viewpoints. However enticing these notions may be, safe spaces are a necessity because of their capability to prevent those who have faced oppression from reliving past traumatic experiences. Additionally, safe spaces are not mandated by nature, as it is fully within a student’s choice whether or not to utilize one.
In this day and age, emotional safeguards should be prioritized over discriminatory expressions of freedom of speech. If the University of Chicago is promoting freedom of speech, shouldn’t their students also have the freedom to stay out of the discussion?
Conversely, when viewing the letter in another light, the university’s adamance in quashing these key facets of political correctness can be seen as outright oppressive, as they are not taking the emotional and mental well-being of potentially triggered students into consideration.
The University of Chicago’s attempt to diversify the school through criticism of safe spaces and trigger warnings could have an opposite effect in the student body, as they would be alienating those who feel strongly in support of these measures. This oppressive mindset may even manifest itself in the decline of application numbers and the development of its reputation as an uncaring school.
Those who have insecurities might feel unwelcomed by a school community that doesn’t have any intention of protecting them. For someone who has previously been a victim of a hate crime, or something as serious as sexual assault, discussions regarding these topics could provoke harmful memories. Dean Ellison’s words are insensitive and can impact students’ mental health and well-being.
While the University of Chicago’s endorsement of freedom of speech and engagement in intellectual discourse are justified, their discriminatory stance against those who could seriously benefit from trigger warnings and safe spaces is the penultimate act of backwards thinking. No one should have to withhold their opinions or be penalized for expressing them; however, this brand of logic dictates that one should also have the freedom to remove themselves from the same conversations.