Warning: This Column may be Inappropriate to College Students

CROSBY CHRONICLE:  trigger warnings

You know the warnings that are shown at the beginning of TV programs that content may be inappropriate for some people?  Well, some college students want those warnings issued by professors before they enter a classroom.

A few weeks ago, Cornell University’s student assembly unanimously voted to send a resolution to President Martha E. Pollack that required all professors to issue content or trigger warnings on material that some may deem inappropriate. 

In a matter of days Pollack vetoed the resolution.  She said in a statement that such a recommendation “would infringe on our core commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry, and are at odds with the goals of a Cornell education.”

Alex Morey, the director of campus rights advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, told the New York Times that, “what was unique about the Cornell situation is they rapidly turned in a response that was a ‘hard no . . . a very firm defense of what it means to get an education.”

This was a rare rebuke of the current trend at college campuses of students not wishing to hear subject matter or speakers who espouse views that differ with their own.

Just last month at Stanford University, an invited speaker, a Trump-appointed judge, was interrupted by hecklers.  What made matters worse was that an administrator who was present at the event defended the students, refusing to support the guest speaker even after he asked for her help in settling down the unruly crowd.

Neeli Bendapudi, president of Pennsylvania State University, defended Penn State’s legal and moral obligation to host speakers whose views some students may find counter to their own.  “For centuries, higher education has fought against censorship and for the principle that the best way to combat speech is with more speech,” she said in a video.

Amna Khalid, a history professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., claims that issuing such warnings don’t work, “reducing [student] identities to traumatic events and “infantilizes” students whom professors should be preparing for adult life, she told the New York Times.  Mandating warnings on academic materials infringes on professors’ role in helping student sharpen thinking skills.

“Life happens to you while you are driving, while you are walking, while you are in the supermarket,” she said. “The most challenging moments in life rarely come with warning.”

Hear, hear. 

Universities are institutions where freedom of speech can thrive, where young people are exposed to a wide array of ideas which may challenge their own view of life.  Ideally, graduates exit college not only with a diploma, but with a wider acceptance of divergent views; in other words, more tolerant people enter society—which is best for everyone.

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