WARNING: This article contains brief mentions of sexual assault.
See that? That is what a “trigger warning” looks like.
It’s only nine words. But those nine words may protect a survivor of sexual assault from having flashbacks or a panic attack triggered by the content of this article. Doesn’t that seem like a thoughtful and logical thing to do?
The University of Chicago disagrees.
In a welcome letter sent to all incoming freshmen at the beginning of this school year, the university made it clear that there will be no trigger warnings or “safe spaces” anywhere on campus.
Administrators claim this new policy is in the interest of “academic freedom” and “freedom of expression,” in that it will allow students, faculty and guest speakers to speak and debate with one another candidly and “without fear of censorship.”
This university and others around the country who have implemented similar policies for similar reasons aren’t thinking clearly.
The right and ability of the University of Chicago community to speak freely is not threatened by the implementation of trigger warnings and safe spaces.
These resources provide ways for someone who is offended, perhaps even endangered, by certain rhetoric or content to steer clear.
The University of Chicago seems to think that safe spaces are places where “individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
A recent column written by the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board even went so far as to call those who benefit from the use of safe spaces “babies.”
The Safe Space Network, an online community that advocates for the implementation and normalization of institutional safe spaces, defines a safe space as a “place where anyone can…be able to freely express [themselves], without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe.”
A safe space is a place where LGBTQIA people know they will not encounter homophobia, transphobia or cissexism.
It is a place where people of color know they will not encounter racism.
It is a place where people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder know they will not encounter anything that may cause them to panic.
Simply put, it is safe.
The University of Chicago hasn’t grasped the definition of a psychological “trigger.” A trigger is a “stimulus such as a smell, sound or sight that [causes] feelings of trauma,” as explained by GoodTherapy.org, an online therapist directory.
Therefore, a trigger warning is a notice to individuals with certain dispositions that they may be traumatized by a piece of content, and not simply offended them.
Banning safe spaces and trigger warnings is on par with outlawing movie ratings and handicap-accessible public bathrooms. Without these things, 10-year-olds would be able to view films with graphic content. People in wheelchairs would be forced to navigate tiny bathroom stalls with no support bars. Would that experience benefit them in any way? Would it build character or make them tougher? Of course not.
Safe spaces and trigger warnings are not tools used to coddle and shelter, as the University of Chicago seems to believe. They are tools of self-preservation to which all marginalized students should be entitled.
Loyola embraces safe spaces, particularly for LGBTQIA students. Madonna della Strada Chapel holds “Masses of Inclusion” specifically for these students.
We have 11 gender-neutral bathrooms between both of our campuses. The annual Student Drag Show, organized by Advocate, on of the university’s LGBTQIA groups, is one of the most popular events on campus. All of this has resulted in one of the most welcoming environments I have ever encountered.
Respecting the voices and needs of marginalized students is important. The University of Chicago needs to realize that its new policy does not encourage universal freedom for its students — it prevents freedom.