University of Chicago freshmen may have been surprised when they opened their welcome package this past week to find a letter denouncing the use of safe spaces and trigger warnings. As an editorial board, we were astonished to hear of this decision, as our very own university has embraced a variation of this model. The decision by the University of Chicago goes against a wider trend many campuses across the country are adopting. There is a time and place for safe spaces and trigger warnings to create an environment where all identities, experiences, and backgrounds are respected. It is of our concern, however, that diversity of thought may not be valued within these structures.
The term political correctness can be thrown around with such little thought that it is easy to become polarized on the issue. A movement towards politically correct culture can be beneficial in creating an environment for individuals who would otherwise be discriminated against. If a student has experienced sexual assault, it is understandable why a warning before a potentially triggering presentation is rooted in being aware of the background of individuals.
On the other hand, the adoption of these structures do not always bring good to a campus. The University of Chicago specifically states in their letter they will “not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial.” This specific aspect of the letter may be a step in the right direction. When we applied to college, we signed up for an opportunity to grow and have our preconceived thoughts confronted. If our beliefs aren’t being challenged and we aren’t reacting through defending them and reevaluating them, what is the value of our education? If a speaker’s topics are so inflammatory, then we as a university must use our knowledge to debate and condemn such remarks. Rather than ignoring a bigoted voice, we must reveal its ugliness to the university for all to see, think critically, debate and grow in our own discourse.
While our country is approaching one of the most contentious elections in recent history, free speech and censorship on campus remain national issues. The University of Chicago seems to broaching this subject by not pursuing the mainstream adoption of safe spaces and trigger warnings, but reaching a sort of middle path with it’s letter. Recognition of various backgrounds must be the goal of safe spaces and trigger warnings. With a campus as diverse as ours, it is crucial we all carry empathy and awareness of where we are all coming from. At the same time, this should not come at the expense of the free course of ideas. We will only grow only less aware of each other’s backgrounds here on campus if we restrict and suppress certain ideas. The University of Chicago is not asking its students to be less respectful, rather to build an environment where together, the students can find a middle path in acknowledging and addressing the ideas they disagree with.