I’ve commented before – and cited articles – about the crazy growth of “trigger warnings” on campuses: the sanitizing of all material to eliminate any content that can be even mildly upsetting. Most of the discussion has been framed around the issue of “political correctness,” and as such, necessarily focuses on the content itself, and whether or not the censorship reflects a left-wing (yes) or right-wing (are you kidding) bias on the part of university administrators.
But now comes an article that talks about the dangers in the process itself, independent of whether or not content is being censored for ideological reasons.
The article has generated a huge amount of discussion and comment – mostly positive – and I urge you to read it. The authors point out that the protection of students from disturbing material is actually psychologically damaging. Learning how to confront and cope with diverse or even hostile ideas — even those that play into past stressful experiences in the lives of the students (e.g., being a victim of racism or sexual harassment) — is an important skill that contributes to better mental health. Hiding from those ideas does the opposite.
This seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Yet here we are.
Of course it’s fair to pay attention to how the ideas are packaged and presented. And it’s reasonable to be sensitive to individual situations: a student who has directly experienced violence or oppression may indeed require some special allowances to be made if certain texts vividly force the replaying of highly disturbing events. But such cases are a tiny minority, and they seem to have been handled in the past without much fuss. What marks the “trigger warning” movement today is the laughably trivial nature of the “disturbing” material from which students claim to need protection. And the equally laughable remedies, including “safe rooms” where students can take refuge, literally, from troublesome content. If you wanted to damage the entire American economy by producing a generation of new workers who are completely unfit to compete in the modern world, you couldn’t do much better than this.