Trigger warnings still have a place at UChicago
Even after the 2020 letter
Most of you read Dean Boyer’s book that was mailed out with the infamous 2020 letter but if you didn’t, you probably didn’t find Ellison’s inflammatory statement controversial.
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, was couched by the soothing words of everyone’s favorite dean.
During the aims of education address, Boyer was quick to point out that this was not a policy change for the University of Chicago, and it didn’t mean what the mainstream media seemed to think it meant.
The dean explained that professors would still be allowed to give trigger warnings, just like they always have been, but they simply were not required to do so.
Essentially, this places the responsibility on the professor as a person, not as a professional to care for their students’ emotional well-being. As for the safe spaces, he admitted that there had been some difficult wording here, as safe spaces are poorly defined, but the idea being that students and professors should not be afraid of academics.
The college thinks that this gives the professors freedom to teach without fear of being censored.
One professor, Jonathan Lyon, came and spoke to Delgiorno House after the address. He spoke at length about what the letter meant to him, saying this letter essentially was meant to affirm that the administration would back professors and allow them to push the boundaries of their fields without worrying about repercussions of potentially controversial topics.
He spoke about how he often will give trigger warnings when he asks his students to read something particularly horrifying, but that sometimes he does not hoping to have students “go in cold” and be appropriately horrified by a horrifying text. He hedged this statement, saying that he also has had students who have expressed emotional health concerns and made sure to accommodate them.
Personally, I have been offered many trigger warnings and safe spaces on the UChicago campus. The first time I had heard of a “safe space” was when I was offered a room with a counselor to retreat to during an Israel/Palestine peace circle hosted by the Chicago Peace Corps. This semester, I have been offered trigger warnings in three classes, Physiology, The American West, and Introduction to Fiction and most recently I was warned by Professor Lauren Jackson that Benito Cereno, the famous Herman Melville short, contains racial violence and violent descriptions.
Plenty of people at UChicago provide trigger warnings, safe spaces, and other attempts to people who feel disadvantaged or who have gone through emotional trauma cope.
With the letter the administration has simply reaffirmed that it does not have a hard set of guidelines as to how this should be done, which, I feel reflects the necessarily case-by-case basis of this sort of issue