Higher education in the United States has been roiled in recent years by “microaggressions,” leading to demands for “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.”
The issue went viral last fall when a Yale University student concerned about offensive Halloween costumes confronted a school administrator. “These freshmen come here and they think this is what Yale is!” the outraged student yelled.
The resulting national debate revealed that many comedians now avoid college campuses because of the political atmosphere. “I don’t play colleges,” Jerry Seinfeld said, “but I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC.’ I’ll give you an example: My daughter’s 14. My wife says to her, ‘Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends, so you can see boys.’ You know what my daughter says? She says, ‘That’s sexist.’ They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist.’ ‘That’s sexist.’ ‘That’s prejudice.’ They don’t know what the f–k they’re talking about.”
The campaign against offensive speech on campus is the result of good intentions gone bad: the effort by universities in the 1980s and ’90s to be inclusive led to the radicalization of hurt feelings.
But the University of Chicago, one of the country’s premier schools, has had enough of it. The online journal Inside Higher Ed reports that John (Jay) Ellison, the dean of students, sent out a letter to all incoming freshmen that tells them that during their time at the U of C they can expect to be exposed to ideas that make them uncomfortable and that challenge some of their most preciously held views. The letter pointed out that the university expects civility and respect to rule the day. It then added:
“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
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