The University of Chicago’s Unconventional Stand
BY: NICK SAWICKI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
“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.”
In a recent letter to the incoming freshman of the University of Chicago’s class of 2020, Dean of Students, John Ellison, voiced the University’s commitment to “academic freedom,” by renouncing the concept of safe spaces and trigger warnings. In his letter, Ellison takes a jab at the many universities in the 2015-2016 school year who have bent to the will of the vocal few by canceling campus events, and uninviting speakers, simply because some students felt “violated” by a individuals possessing a different opinion.
The University of Chicago had two instances of civil disorder this past school year, with interruptions of Cook County State Attorney, Anita Alverez, and human right’s activist, Bassem Eid’s, speeches from the “Black Lives Matter movement” and “students advocating for the Palestinian cause,” respectively. After making comments that were considered to be “pro-Israeli,” Eid, a Palestinian himself, was forced to stop his speech when students shouted at him to “not speak on the behalf of Palestinians again.”
Alverez was forced to stop her speech as both students and nonstudents protested that she was “responsible” for much of the “state violence against Black and brown people in the City of Chicago.”
While in both cases, students and faculty are merely exercising their first amendment right to free speech, their decision to silence an opposing viewpoint, or an individual with whom they disagree with did nothing to fix any of the issues they had with the speakers.
Let us pause for a moment, and think back to when we were little children.
At such a young age, our educators, try to instill within us the virtues of patience, tolerance, and respect, with, and for others. We practice such virtues while we grow up, with the hope that when we leave home on our journey to adulthood, basic civility and respect for others is natural in our daily interactions. Yet it seems that as soon as we enter the vast and diverse world of college, the lessons seemingly drilled into our heads from such a young age fly right out the window. Many college students today, feel as though the voice and opinions of others simply do not matter, that it somehow behooves them to strip individuals who may clash with their beliefs of their given first amendment right. Flowing in and out of college campuses across America, are students and faculty who see themselves as the center of the universe, carrying with them an ego that all but rivals the monstrous size of their student loans.
With such a mindset, it is virtually impossible for progress to be made. An inability to listen thoughtfully to differing opinions and engage in polite discourse only serves to deepen the chasm of difference between opposing viewpoints.
As a millennial, I find nothing wrong with John Ellison and the University of Chicago’s stand against the recent explosion of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” across college campuses. In theory, safe spaces and trigger warnings serve to ensure that all students are treated with dignity and inclusivity, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Such basic etiquette of social interaction between students is essential to have an environment conducive to learning. Institutions of higher education had only the best intentions when they began implementing safe spaces and trigger warnings – we do need some boundaries to ensure everyone’s identity is respected. But the censorship of others is not ok.
As the future of this nation, we need to be able to listen to one another, even if what is being said is offensive and wrong. This attitude of constant victimization of ourselves and subsequent censorship of others under the pretext of a safe space or being triggered does not make us progressive, and will move us backwards as a nation. So thank you, University of Chicago, for saying what needed to be said and doing what needs to be done on your campus. It’s a big step in the right direction.