The University of Chicago says it won’t condone trigger warnings or safe spaces on campus.
Amid a nationwide debate over academic freedom and student health and safety, the university’s dean of students tells incoming freshmen not to expect opportunities to excuse themselves from intellectual challenges and uncomfortable conversations, according to the college newspaper, Chicago Maroon.
“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 adds with their own,” read the letter from Dean John Ellison, sent Wednesday to the class of 2020.
“Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, without fear of censorship,” the letter added. “You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times the may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”
The letter included a link to a report by the Committee on Freedom of Expression that articulates the university’s stance on the free exchange of ideas.
“It is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive,” the report states. “…concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.”
As the letter prompted firestorm, reaction has been mixed.
“It’s about time that a university administration stood up to the bullies who are trying to repress free speech on campus,” Harvard law professor and Constitutional law expert, Alan Dershowitz told NBC News Thursday.
“If it said, ‘We are going to shut down all conservative speech or all speech that offends students,’ it wouldn’t be violating the First Amendment. It would be violating basic academic principles and would be undermining what it is that makes a modern university great,” Eugene Volokh, a UCLA professor of First Amendment law, told NBC News.
Some people criticised the university’s letter harshly.
Positing “safe space” & intellectual freedom as though they are at odds actually diminishes the intellectual freedom of marginalized people.
— wikipedia brown (@eveewing) August 25, 2016
The letter came amid a growing strife over race and gender relations on college campuses around the country. The promotion of so-called “safe spaces,” according to supporters, is meant to give minorities room to express dissent against perceived bias in instituional settings like college campuses.
The effects of the movement have been far-reaching.
At the University of Chicago, several high-profile speakers were forced to leave or interrupted by protesters calling for safe spaces earlier this year, according to the Chicago Maroon.
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