University of Chicago rejects ‘trigger warnings’ and ‘safe spaces’ on campus

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CHICAGO — The University of Chicago’s class of 2020 may have just learned their new school’s fight song, but they’re already caught up in a fight over free speech that’s happening on campuses across the country.

In a letter to new students obtained by the Chicago Maroon, Dean of Students John Ellison outlines the school’s stance on speech on campus, writing that while civility is encouraged, topics shouldn’t be considered off-limits solely because they may cause “discomfort” for some students.

“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,” Ellison said in the letter.

In practice, “trigger warnings” alert students to the discussion of sensitive topics, like race and sexual assault, that they may find offensive or traumatic so they can opt out of the discussion. And the concept of “safe spaces,” originally created to provide a judgement-free zone for LGBTQ students, has been expanded to mean that students should be able to avoid upsetting topics or speakers. A survey found that only 17 percent of college educators report favorable views of trigger warnings, while 15 percent said students had requested them in their courses, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But some fear these well-intentioned policies actually have a chilling effect on speech. Earlier this month, DePaul University denied a request for conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to speak on campus after protests forced the cancellation of a speech by conservative blogger Milo Yiannopoulos there last May. A Knight Foundation survey found that 54 percent of students said some people are afraid of saying what they believe on campus because they “are fearful of offending others,” TIME Magazine reports.

Whatever the case may be, the debate is sure to continue.

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