University Of Chicago Tells Freshmen It Does Not Support ‘Trigger Warnings’

Aug 29, 2016

By David Schaper

The University of Chicago is welcoming new students to campus by warning them that they might hear things that might make them uncomfortable.

A letter sent by the school this week tells incoming freshmen that the university does not support “trigger warnings” as part of its commitment to freedom of expression.

“Dear Class of 2020 student,” the welcome letter from the school’s Dean of Students John Ellison begins. It goes on to explain the university’s commitment to freedom of expression and inquiry. Students “are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn without fear of censorship.”

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11 comments on “University Of Chicago Tells Freshmen It Does Not Support ‘Trigger Warnings’

  • Yay, indeed.

    This story came in handy when trying to tease some sense out of a bunch of SJWs here

    Sadly a decidedly ugly anti SJW has been banned which rather played against their case. (I want to winkle them out into proper debate not have them retreat further into their safe shell.) Any (gentle) assistance appreciated. There are people whose minds may be changed.

    Cantaz, I promise a philosophical/psychological reply soon.

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  • Hi Phil [#2],

    It is truly extraordinary how far some people will go to avoid hearing something they don’t like.

    The idea that we have a right of some kind to not be offended – or, even more subjectively, emotionally upset – is without any merit. Either we value public discourse, or we don’t – it really is that simple. If there’s anyone out there with a different view I’d like to hear your argument.

    As far as your comparison between a university campus and an on-line discussion goes, I agree. That said there has been a parallel rise in two aspects of public discourse in recent years – authoritarianism and passionate grand-standing (although my own view is that what politicians call ‘passion’ the rest of us call all mouth and no trousers megalomania.

    We saw this explicitly with a Brexit politician saying that if their campaign had one thing on their side that was different from the Remain side, it was “passion”.

    We see it in a less explicit, though still blindingly obvious, way in Donald Trump’s campaign for POTUS.

    I’m even tempted to conclude that a tenet of authoritarianism is that passion somehow relates to a correct point of view. That would be in direct opposition to the idea that democracy is based on a public discourse based on the known facts. But I digress.

    The banning of a person from a discussion for being passionate and unyielding (obstinacy, the celebration of ignorance and arrogance being the hallmarks of the Authoritarian) is often defended as a battle against trolls (people who write deliberately offensive or provocative on-line posts). This is a hangover of five to six decades of the media vilifying any politician who had the temerity to change their minds (i.e. actually using their minds) on the one hand and the coarsening of the public discourse on the other – not forgetting the rise (alongside authoritarianism and ‘passion’) of The Victim. Playing the victim has practically become a national sport, in all the countries of the English-Speaking World, and with it have come the ‘offended’. But, again, I digress.

    Trigger warnings – and the expectation of them – are essentially the same as labelling someone a troll on-line, and banning them.

    I agree with you Phil, this is a social evil that needs to be addressed head-on.

    If someone appears to be trolling that says as much about you as it does about them. In my experience there are very few stupid people – though they do, unfortunately, exist. The majority of us are merely ignorant, and a growing and large minority – as is concomitant with authoritarian support in the general public – lack the ability to empathise. A lack of empathy is, of course, a natural consequence of the staggering amounts of propaganda used to promote the in-group / out-group emotional reactions generated by privately held media for motivations about which that I dare not speculate … and, again, to explore further would be a tangent too far.

    The Troll is actually providing a useful social service. The Site Owner and their friends want to have a cosy chat about shades of grey – the Troll is telling them that there are people out there thinking in black and white – and they have the good sense to say so in order to let you know that the subject you want to discuss needs more nuance, not less, and that educating our fellow citizens is an important social responsibility that far too few of us take seriously.

    The way ahead is changing minds – not battles over hearts.

    A book publisher, and the Professor setting out the coursework, are doing the same job as the Troll. They have a very different agenda to the Troll – they want to teach critical thinking, not just different points of view – but the end result is the same: They want to start by kicking you, metaphorically speaking, in the head. Both rely on an ability to simply speak out and be heard.

    Is there a line to be drawn? Is there a point where we say: “Sorry, but enough is enough, your done here – seek a platform elsewhere”?

    I’m very reluctant to say so but even as a (passionate!) free-speech-first-now-and-always advocate my answer has to be: Yes. Unfortunately, where this line lies in each and every conversation is, to a degree, subjective. Continually referring, directly, to some personal history, or natural trait, or inclination obviously crosses that line – while many similar approaches do not. Site owners, professors and politicians need to be clear on what and why is considered relevant, reasonable and realistic.

    The discourse has to be dynamic. If we fall for the Authoritarians’ trope that passion is right (and in some highly esoteric and subjective way, it is so promoted) then we fall for the idea that ideas in-and-of-themselves are sacrosanct. If a Troll’s post, or some part of a course curriculum, contains a message that is likely to push you off the top of the emotional roller-coaster, what should you do? My answer is: Be prepared to take the ride and don’t ask for an emergency stop handle to be fitted. The ride on the roller-coaster is always much shorter than you imagined at the start, and you’ll feel exhilarated when you step off.

    But that’s not all: Society as a whole will be better off – because you’ll have sown the seeds for a different way of thinking.

    By-the-by, this social trend of people insulating themselves against different ideas is taking an insidious turn.

    Like you Phil I recently found a friendly looking site at Patheos – on the Catholic Channel – and, against my better judgement (because trading in personal information is sleazy, and my personal information is a part of me) I created a Comment Platform account (no names no pack drill) to take part.

    To cut a long story short: Some of my posts didn’t appear and, upon investigation, it seems that the Comment Platform in question has two things in place:

    A Spam Filter
    A Policy of Site Owner labelling spam

    Result: The Site Owner appears to be labelling my posts as spam (unsolicited messages – wait they run an ‘open’ forum’, how does that work … ?). What appears to be happening (I’ve only waited nine days so far for a response from the Site Owner, they may be on holiday – I’m guessing not) is that the Site Owner is using the Spam Policy as a Troll filter.

    Now, I try very hard to keep my posts friendly, on topic, and open – even here where I feel more at ease and use provocative language freely – but on a Catholic site I’m extra cautious. Do I think, therefore, that any reasonable person would read my post that is labelled spam, and conclude that I’m trolling? No.

    But it gets worse. The Discussion Platform explicitly states that it uses Owners’ reports on Users (like me) who have previously had comments/posts labelled as ‘spam’ to downgrade our Discussion Platform Reputation. Thus; the Site Owner is effectively dissing me in front of every potential site where I might use the so-called Discussion Platform. As it happens this is no hardship for me personally, but might it put off someone who genuinely just wanted to have an inter-faith discussion? I believe the answer to be an emphatic: Yes!

    I give you this story only in order to illustrate the, frankly, bizarre lengths that some people appear to be prepared to go to in order to live in a bubble and not have their ideas challenged. It is a measure of just how very bad the situation has become.

    In a World where emotions, victim-hood and the disgust reflex are played in ordinary social situations like trump cards the Net is becoming a place where we have the expectation that to live in a bubble is both the norm and an aspiration. The universities are merely seeing the product of that social shift. It’s good that some, like the University of Chicago, are pushing back – but there are still many more universities that need to get the message.


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  • 5
    Pinball1970 says:

    Good- I hope more will follow.

    I like the urban dictionary version of “trigger warning”

    “Its purpose is to warn weak minded people who are easily offended that they might find what is being posted offensive in some way due to its content, causing them to overreact or otherwise start acting like a dipshit.”

    We had these people in the 80s and the reactions to debates, political events, demos seemed to be rarely about the issue.

    It was about the event, the confrontation, being anti establishment, rage against the machine and demonstrating how passionate you were regarding the issue.

    ….and acting like a dip sh1t.

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  • I think these things start out of empathy and turn into over broad monsters.

    I was gratified to see the college’s position, until I read that teachers are still free to give trigger warnings and create safe spaces.

    I think the part of the confusion for students is that they’ve been told that their college is their “home”. I think this is wrong. I think they should be told college is their place of intellectual work.

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  • 7
    Pinball1970 says:

    @6I think the part of the confusion for students is that they’ve been told that their college is their “home”. I think this is wrong. I think they should be told college is their place of intellectual work.


    Come to uni to study and work hard, if you want to act like a spoilt child expect to be treated like one.

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  • I really don’t see the point. Maybe my university-time was too long ago, maybe it is because I went to university in Germany, but isn’t beeing confronted with new and maybe uncomfortable ideas what university is all about?

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  • Stephen of Wimbledon #3
    Aug 30, 2016 at 10:57 am

    We saw this explicitly with a Brexit politician saying that if their campaign had one thing on their side that was different from the Remain side, it was “passion”.

    Indeed! – Passionate rhetoric and anti-establishment hype from lying politicians, pushed out the real issues which were being raised by professional and expert bodies!
    Apparently even Trump had an effect on Brexit with those who were wallowing in aggravated ignorance, but being made to feel important!
    The Electoral Reform Society, which campaigns for “democratic reform”, said its polling showed Mr Cameron and other political “big beasts” had failed to convince the public.

    When asked about eight prominent politicians, most people said they had had no effect on the way they voted.

    The only high-profile figures who, according to the poll, persuaded more voters of their position than drove them to vote the other way were Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who backed Brexit.

    “Above all, what these numbers tell us is that people had by and large lost faith in established political figures as opinion-leaders – except where those figures might be said to be kicking against the establishment,” the society said.

    The society’s chief executive Katie Ghose said: “This report shows without a shadow of a doubt just how dire the EU referendum debate really was.

    There were glaring democratic deficiencies in the run-up to the vote, with the public feeling totally ill-informed. Both sides were viewed as highly negative by voters, while the top-down, personality-based nature of the debate failed to address major policies and issues, leaving the public in the dark.”

    On the plus side, the society said it had heard “time and again” from people who felt the referendum was the first time their vote “had truly counted”.

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