By Benedict Carrizzo
The trigger warning and safe spaces debate is trite; there is nothing to discuss anymore. Instead, these by-products of political correctness are either praised or condemned as run amuck. (I tend to believe the latter.) Though it would be a breach of academic freedom to ban either of these, the decision to disavow them by the University of Chicago was a good one, and a great model for other schools to follow.
Proponents of trigger warnings say they help victims of trauma. If people with PTSD get these warnings before sensitive content, they will be better equipped to handle it in the classroom. These are great intentions, but a one-size-fits-all approach will end up being disastrous for the class as a whole. Victims of trauma can absolutely get special accommodation, but to have everyone receive a warning before required material creates a culture of sensitivity, and it is not unusual to see a liberal bias where these warnings are allocated.
Oberlin College’s Office of Equity Concerns recently advised professors to avoid all the tough subjects like racism, misogyny, colonialism and a whole host of other “-isms.” And who gets accused of all of these things? Not just conservatives, but practically anyone who questions the prevailing campus ideologies. If you get a warning of bigotry before a “classist” reading of Milton Friedman, and none before a Keynesian such as Paul Krugman, whom are you going to believe? It does not benefit the students to be indoctrinated like this by professors, especially at universities that pride themselves in having intellectual freedom and freedom of speech. The works done by many of the great intellectuals of both our time and the past need to be judged on their effectiveness, not their popularity or social convenience.
Safe spaces are a little bit different. These are designed to be places where the LGBTQ community, people of color and other disadvantaged groups can have private discussions away from the bigotry afflicting them in the outside world. Though they claim to be a way to keep students comfortable in the university, they end up being counterproductive. If multiculturalism is going to work, we need to be having honest and open discussions on race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality. Instead of avoiding them or euphemizing these discussions (since those with unpopular opinions tend to keep quiet about them for social convenience), we ought to speak about them with a politically incorrect honesty that will create a culture of empathy rather than a culture of suppression.
As we have seen with the rise of far-right parties across Europe, suppressing ideas upsetting to particular groups of people do not make them go away; in fact, it may even do the opposite, brewing bigotry instead of alleviating it. Only when Muslims and “Islamophobes” can talk to each other, when Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter can engage in open dialogue and understand each other, can bigotry be absolved. Going into our corners and debating amongst people with similar ideas will only reinforce our own.
Former Islamist Extremist Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation, a counter extremist think-tank in Britain, is one who would understand what I mean. After serving on the board of an Islamist organization, he reformed his ways and now serves as an arbiter on how Islamist extremists think. Recently, he co-wrote a book with famous atheist and religion critic Sam Harris called “Islam and the Future of Tolerance.” Normally, we would see a Muslim and someone branded an “Islamophobe” to be bitter enemies, but they learned how to both intellectually and morally empathize with each other. Maajid Nawaz said quite honestly on a popular Big Think video, “No idea is above scrutiny, and no people are beneath dignity.” This should be the model for contentious debate, because it allows intellectual adversaries to get out of their bubbles and engage with each other. Meanwhile at UCLA, a bastion of political correctness, a student president left the university after a barrage of anti-Israel harassment against him. Clearly, a safe-space culture is not working, but I am sure the university will continue to preserve its PC culture by sheltering students instead of fostering beneficial discussions.
Trigger warnings and safe spaces, though individual problems on their own, are symptoms of a larger PC culture, a cancer on the political left that dominates university dialogue. Thankfully, I do not see this to be a particularly bad issue on Fordham’s campus. Here, students seem eager to step out of their comfort zones and debate. Nevertheless, at other schools, the problem is rampant, and I hope that other universities will follow the University of Chicago in trying to stop the loud but influential minority of students who advocate for this PC nonsense.
Benedict Carrizzo, FCRH ’18, is an English and communication and media studies double major from Kings Park, New York.