At a growing number of campuses, professors now attach “trigger warnings” to texts that may upset students, and there is a campaign to eradicate “microaggressions,” or small social slights that might cause searing trauma. These newly fashionable terms merely repackage a central tenet of the first p.c. movement: that people should be expected to treat even faintly unpleasant ideas or behaviors as full-scale offenses.
Read his whole discussion, but he more or less disapproves. I’ve long wanted to disagree with Chait “from the left,” and it seems this is my chance, I had better grab it while I can.
While teaching Law and Literature this year, I attached very gentle, low key “trigger warnings” to a number of items on the syllabus, namely those dealing with extreme violence, rape, and some other very unpleasant situations. I am glad I did this. I told students that if they preferred to do a substitute assignment, I could arrange that. Is that so unreasonable? There were no takers, but I don’t see it did anyone harm or limited free speech in the classroom (or outside of it) to make this offer. If anything, it may have eased speech a slight amount by noting it is OK to feel uncomfortable with some topics, or at least serving up that possibility into the realm of common knowledge. That struck me as better and wiser than simply pretending we were studying the successful operation of the Coase theorem the whole time.
I don’t doubt that trigger warnings may be misused in some situations by some professors, but overall they seem to me like another small step to a better world. I do agree we need to liberate trigger warnings from the strictures of the PC movement, no argument there.
Addendum: I am pleased to see that GMU was moved into the highest category for university free speech, according to FIRE.