By Dalton White
The University of Chicago is taking a new direction in trying to prepare its students for the “real world” with an insistence that no safe spaces or trigger warnings will exist on the campus. John Ellison, the Dean of Students, seems to think this is the best choice. For those who haven’t heard, check out this link to the story.
Safe to say that this situation is very controversial and multifaceted in its own way. I’m sure that the dean’s decision will appear to many as aggressive and uncalled for. However, some merit exists in his belief that he is honoring the University’s “commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression”. In some ways safe spaces can isolate certain students from others, yet safe spaces are first and foremost to create a positive and helpful environment. As for trigger warnings, the concept creates a strong set of clashing ideals: a person’s own personal responsibility versus possible incalculable mental trauma. Still, the dean’s belief that no one will be harassed while at the University is very idealistic. The possibility always exists, especially at colleges, where there are different students from different backgrounds and lifestyles.
Personally, I believe that while it is important to give everyone an equal voice, a lack of safe spaces seems like an extreme measure. These safe spaces are for individuals who might feel threatened and can be a haven in the sometimes tempestuous journey that is a person’s college education. Ellison’s perspective on that university’s campus harassment is idealistic, bordering on naïveté. As for trigger warnings, sometimes students won’t know something is mentally traumatizing until they are experiencing said trauma. The difficulty behind this situation is trying to balance out the complex dynamic between the overall student population and the individuals in a contained area like a university. Finally, the University’s actions don’t exactly provide a buffer for the incoming freshmen, something that college itself is partially responsible for. This decision does have a reasonable rationale behind it, but it simultaneously causes so much damage to the college’s responsibility to prepare its student’s for the “real world”.
Now to the issue of how it applies to independent schools and their students: this situation is an excellent example of the complex world that college life is. In most independent schools, the rules are very cut and dry. Beginning at the college level and going forth most issues that concern various human rights, become much more complicated. Despite the pre-collegiate educational system promoting a right and wrong frame of mind, it is these complex human matters that college students will face regularly.
The situation at the University of Chicago should be an eye-opener to the fact that, soon, your high school students are going to experience similar situations on college campuses. Now this isn’t some giant, evil specter hovering over soon-to-be college students but just another complicated part of the human process of growing up. In my experience, from 3rd grade onward, independent schools work hard to promote inclusivity, celebrate differences and emphasize community. This is an extremely beneficial environment, but eventually the student citizens of independent schools have to leave the bubble. Preparing students for these challenges by flat out addressing the complexity of mental triggers and safe spaces on college campuses may seem simple, but it also gives them experience and knowledge that may prepare them for the next level and help them grow as individuals.
What do you think? Do you have a strong stance on the issue at the University of Chicago or do you have your own “shade of grey” about the situation? Leave a comment and speak your mind.
Dalton White is a recent graduate from Kenyon College. He majored in English with a creative concentration and is happy to use those skills while at Kalix.