Trigger Warning: Elitism, Gatekeeping, and Other Academic Crap

Making the rounds on Twitter today was a letter from the University of Chicago (more specifically, the Dean of Students) to the incoming students of the Class of 2020 with the purpose, I guess, of letting them know they were in for a real education. More of a full-on broadside than a welcome letter, the dean let the incoming students know in no uncertain terms, that the University is totally committed to academic freedom and “freedom of expression” from its faculty and students. 

What this means in practice, the letter continues, is that “we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” And, if you’ve watched students at other campuses, the Dean warns, don’t get any crazy ideas about protesting invited speakers: “we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial.” And, for the love of Milton Friedman, “Our commitment to academic freedom means we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings.’” WE ARE A MIGHTY RACE OF INTELLECTUAL WARRIORS.

Defender of Academic Integrity
Defender of Academic Integrity

As you might imagine, there’s been a wave of support from the usual quarters for the letter and its sentiments; I assume that’s what such a blatant attempt at elitist posturing was aiming for in the first place. On the surface, the points seem hard to argue with. Academic freedom is the sine qua non of higher education. Students ought to be challenged, even made uncomfortable, in order to learn in deep and meaningful ways. And, of course, collegiate education is where students must encounter perspectives different from their own. No one who genuinely believes in higher education is going to dispute any of that. And that’s what this Dean and the anti-trigger-warnings, no-safe-spaces crowd are counting on–that the surface veneer of reasonableness in these admonitions to the Class of 2020 will obscure the rotten pedagogy and logical fallacies that infest this entire screed.

Even the timing of this missive raises questions. Why go full blast against this purported scourge of wimpy, touchy-feely educational malpractice right up front? Is there a safe-spaces petition percolating in the ranks of the first-years? Are the dean and the university worried that people will lose respect for the almighty maroon if they didn’t stake out the tough-guy intellectual turf from the beginning? Did they sit around and ask themselves what Milton Friedman would have done? From the outside, it looks like a lot of smoke without much heat. I suspect that this letter is not intended as an orientation statement, but rather a public rebuke to what its authors see as a threat to their vision of what higher education ought to be. It’s not a welcome letter, it’s a manifesto looking for an audience.

And as a statement of principle, the letter-as does much of the general argument against trigger warnings and safe spaces-relies on caricature and bogeymen rather than reason and nuance. The document comes from a place, I imagine, where the true defenders of Academic Rigor™ man the parapets against the encroaching legions of namby-pamby liberals who want to coddle students instead of teach them. Ohhh, you want a safe space so the mean nasty Truths of the world won’t hurt your wittle feewings. You want to be “warned” before we discuss “sensitive” subjects. WELL HEY JUNIOR, “WAR AND PEACE” HAS WAR IN IT. If you don’t like it, go sit on the quad and sing kum-ba-yah with the other flower children. That’s the specter that arguments like this conjure up: the greatest threat to genuine academic freedom comes from within. Coddled students who are used to getting trophies for everything don’t want to engage with stuff they don’t like, so they wrap themselves in entitlement and demand trigger warnings to protect their feelz. Or they want safe spaces to hide from the big, bad world. Or they want the university to cancel a lecture because the speaker is from the wrong demographic. And if universities don’t make a stand against this foolishness, Western Civilization itself will collapse.

That’s a comforting narrative to the academic elite who feel like they’re faced with an existential crisis. Rather than seeing themselves as clinging to the last vestiges of the 1950s, they get to paint themselves as staunch advocates of all that is good and worthy. And there’s an audience for this fiction-people still read Alan Bloom. But as critiques of inequality have shown time and again, when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the backlash against so-called “political correctness” in higher education has intensified in direct variation with the diversification of the academy, areas of scholarship, and-most significantly-the student population. Underlying much of the hand-wringing about the state of the academy is a simple desire to have the gatekeepers remain in place. The perception of the threat is entirely out of alignment with the reality on the ground. For every ginned-up hypothetical scenario of spoiled brats having a sit-in to protest too many white guys in the lit course, there are very real cases where trigger warnings or safe spaces aren’t absurdities, but pedagogical imperatives. If I’m teaching historical material that describes war crimes like mass rape, shouldn’t I disclose to my students what awaits them in these texts? If I have a student suffering from trauma due to a prior sexual assault, isn’t a timely caution the empathetic and humane thing for me to do? And what does it cost? A student may choose an alternate text I provide, but this material isn’t savagely ripped out of my course to satiate the PC police.

To move from the hypothetical to the real, the Virginia Tech students who protested their university’s invitation to Charles Murray to deliver a lecture weren’t some sort of intellectual gestapo, they were members of a community calling out other members’ violation of the community’s ethos. Murray is a racist charlatan who’s made a career out of pseudoscientific social darwinist assertions that certain “races” are inherently inferior to others.To bring him to campus is to tell segments of your student community that, according to the ideas the university is endorsing by inviting Murray, they don’t belong there. This isn’t a violation of academic freedom. It’s an upholding of scientific standards and the norms of educated discourse-you know, the type of stuff that colleges and universities are supposed to stand for, right?

These two examples-one centered in an individual classroom and the other involving institutional decisions-speak to the diversity and complexity of the issues involved. It’s easy to inveigh against silly scenarios. It’s much harder to address real things that really happen. Do I tell my student that, even though she was the victim of a brutal assault in her past, that she must read testimony of gang-rape survivors in my course in order to uphold the sacred values of free intellectual inquiry? Sure, Charles Murray has a right to his views. But is it OK for us to use student fees paid in part by African American students to bring him to campus, fete him, and give him a rostrum to tell those students they’re doomed by genetics to be inferior to whites? Well, he makes a strong argument and isn’t bound by conventional “niceties.” Yes, that’s true. But that’s also the reason people claim to like Donald Trump, and I don’t see universities lining up to bring him in as a guest lecturer.

Ignoring the complexity of real-life situations is a common accusation hurled at academics and the academy in general. Why on earth would we be so eager, in this case, to prove those accusations true? To prevent imaginary sit-down strikes against Victorian Literature, we’re willing to force students into a predetermined path where to deviate is to compromise academic integrity? Are we so scared of losing the intellectual heft of our curricula that we want to muzzle our students and deprive them of agency?

Or are we just afraid of our students challenging us and holding us accountable to the very values we profess?

As a faculty member, I would be enormously dismayed if my dean sent this letter to my incoming students. Because now they’ll come into my class already having received a clear message about what my institution seems to value-and it isn’t them. The Chicago letter reeks of arrogance, of a sense of entitlement, of an exclusionary mindset; in other words, the very things it seeks to inveigh against. It’s not about academic freedom, it’s about power. Know your place, and acknowledge ours, it tells the students. We’ll be the judge of what you need to know and how you need to know it. And professors and students are thus handcuffed to a high-stakes ideological creed. Do it this way, in the name of all that is holy and true in the academy. There is no room here for empathy, for student agency, or for faculty discretion. 

Displaying empathy for the different experiences our students bring to the classroom is not a threat to our academic freedom. Allowing for a diversity of perspectives to flourish, even when that diversity might challenge the very structure of our course and its material, is not a threat but an opportunity. Our first reaction to expressions of student agency, even when they seem misguided or perhaps frivolous, should not be to shut it down. If we really value academic freedom, then we need to model that with and for our students. Ableism, misogyny, racism, elitism, and intellectual sloppiness deserve to be called out. That’s not a threat, that’s our students doing what they’re supposed to as engaged citizens of an academic community. This year, we should challenge ourselves to quit fixating on caricatures and hypotheticals and instead acknowledge the actual landscape of teaching and learning in all its messiness and complexity. When we act out of fear, we do harm. When we assume the worst from our students, that’s what we often end up getting-from them and from ourselves. We can do better than this.

(Note: I turned off the comments because some folks thought jumping into the comments and personally abusing others was a cool thing to do. For all those who left thoughtful comments and kept the conversation going for all of us to learn from, thank you. For those who came to abuse others, you’re the reason we can’t have nice things.)

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110 thoughts on “Trigger Warning: Elitism, Gatekeeping, and Other Academic Crap”

  1. Excellent post, thank you. When I was a grad student at Chicago in the mid-90s, numerous profs actually assigned Charles Murray’s ‘Bell Curve’ as a class text when it came out (as one could tell from surveying the bookstore’s textbook section), and I lost track of the number of profs who insisted in conversations that we needed to take the work seriously – because that was somehow seen as an emblem of anti-PC intellectual toughness rather than simply a sign that vapid minds are easily seduced by garbage scholarship comfortable to their existing prejudices.

    1. Perhaps it was important so people are better able to recognize that vapid minds are easily seduced by garbage scholarship comfortable to their existing prejudices? Take the bats*** crazy seriously because other people do, and there’s no better way of understanding and perhaps countering an opposing view than learning about it?

      1. We don’t need to learn more about misogyny or racism to understand them. A victim of rape doesn’t need to understand the mindset of the rapist – she already knows far more than she needed.
        This isn’t about learning how to counter reasonable opposition. This is a clear last-gasp power grab by the People Of Last Century who are feeling their own irrelevance and terrified by it.

        1. This kind of condescending hate is why people are tired of elitists. Everyone who disagrees with you is a “racist”. How convenient.

          1. This kind of condescending hate is why people are tired of racists. Everyone who calls you on your racism is an elitist.

        2. I’ve read all the comments on this post thus far, and yours is the one which rang the greatest alarm bells.

          You said, “A victim of rape doesn’t need to understand the mindset of the rapist – she already knows far more than she needed.”

          I’m a victim of rape and, having experienced that trauma, I most certainly want research done, debate about, and a better understanding of the “mindset of the rapist”. We are not going to prevent rape if we don’t have an understanding of the various motivations which cause people to rape and evidence-based solutions which address those motivations. It’s a complex issue which isn’t solved by throwing around words like “misogyny”.

          1. With all respect to your experience, aren’t you misunderstanding the point? Of course we should understand why rapists rape. But the victims of rape aren’t obligated to be the ones doing that research. They can study rape if they want to, but they shouldn’t have that material sprung on them. If we’re sensitive to how trauma works — if, no matter how strong-willed someone is, certain triggers can cause harms to be relived and repeated — the least we can do is offer content warnings so our students can prepare themselves or seek alternatives. These issues are complex, but I think that, at least, is pretty simple.

          2. I’m not saying that the victims of rape have to do the research, but at least some of us must be willing to play a part in the research. How are we going to learn about rape if the victims are unwilling to talk about their experiences? Are we just supposed to base our thinking solely on what rapists are willing to tell us? I’m not demanding that all victims must be willing to talk about their experiences, but I’m not going to have comments like “A victim of rape doesn’t need to understand the mindset of the rapist – she already knows far more than she needed.” pass without comment. Do all rape victims “know far more than they need to know”? They had the traumatic experience but that does not necessarily make than them an expert on how to prevent the trauma from happening again.

            I would very much like the answer to the following questions:

            1) Can the demand for trigger warnings and safe spaces aggravate the problem of sexual assault on campuses by sending the message that a rape is unlikely to be reported because victims cannot endure the additional trauma of talking about it?

            2) Is it a good idea to make public announcements of weakness which may result in further victimization?

            I don’t know the answers to these questions but I would certainly like to know the answers. I think all victims of rape need to know the answers which means they don’t “know far more than they need to know.”

          3. My life has taught me that each time I review, relive, talk about or analyse a particularly upsetting experience, a little of the charge is released and the next mental visit is a little less upsetting. After months or years the event loses its initial impact on my emotions and physical being. It becomes closer to just another memory than an seemingly life altering horror. your thoughts on this would be appreciated.

          4. AlMax said, “My life has taught me that each time I review, relive, talk about or analyse a particularly upsetting experience, a little of the charge is released and the next mental visit is a little less upsetting. After months or years the event loses its initial impact on my emotions and physical being. It becomes closer to just another memory than an seemingly life altering horror. your thoughts on this would be appreciated.”

            This has been my experience as well. The sexual abuse I endured started when I was 13 and ended when I was 17. I’m 60 now and through the years of thinking about it and talking about it the memory is far less painful. Obviously, the sexual abuse was occurring in my home, so when I went off to college, college felt much safer because my abuser no longer had access to me. I didn’t need trigger warnings or safe spaces to feel safer.

            All that being said, my experience isn’t what all victims experience. I know I’m not an expert on the mental health issues that may result as an aftermath of experiencing a traumatic event. This is part of the reason why we need to do more research on this issue and why at least some victims need to be willing to talk about their experiences rather than just trying to avoid all discussions of traumatic events. And, quite frankly, it’s part of the reason I’m opposed to trigger warnings and safe spaces at this point. We need to do the research to find out if these demands help or harm victims in the longterm. Victims don’t necessary know what is in their best interest to insure they will be able to overcome the emotional damage that traumatic events can cause.

    2. Seriously? Why do I find this comment to be dubious? Because I am a statistician and psychometrician. When the book came out, a lot of people did take it seriously, but not as a work of scholarship, but rather as something to be debunked. You appear to confuse “critical thought and examination” with “mindless approval”. The two are not the same. A work can be examined, as Murray’s was, by many to determine if the claims and comments were valid. Murray was debunked BECAUSE he was taken seriously. Did you actually graduate from U Chicago?

  2. Your essay can be summed up in this sentence you write: “Because now they’ll come into my class already having received a clear message about what my institution seems to value-and it isn’t them.”

    Exactly as it should be. The institution ought to value education, the free exchange of ideas, and not the peculiar feelings of each incoming student. To take one example, how was it proper to shut down a question/answer session by Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez at the U of C Institute of Politics? That is where the road of safe spaces and trigger warnings lead. I am a public defender, and I have seen lots of bs from prosecutors and police. But I wanted to question Anita Alvarez and hear her thoughts, not shut her down.

    1. How can an institution value “education” and not students? I’m not arguing for soliciting everyone’s feelings, I’m arguing against a preemptive strike targeting diversity and expression cloaked in the language of academic freedom.

      1. But how is shouting down an invited speaker no less a preemptive strike targeting diversity and expression cloaked in the language of empathy and inclusiveness?
        I agree, the caricatures levied against the safe-space crowd are unfair, and this letter was precisely what you called it out as, a mean-spirited cry for attention. But some of the arguments in favor of the New Sensitivity partake in some extreme intellectual sloppiness as well. There’s a real discussion somewhere in here, but all I hear is self-righteous sneering from both sides.

  3. Judging from your final paragraph – which talks about “displaying empathy for different experiences”, “allowing for a diversity of perspectives to flourish”, calling out ugly ideas, and seeing the landscape of learning as a complex thing – you are in complete agreement with the spirit of the letter, i.e. that free expression and the free exchange of ideas ought to be promoted.

    1. I don’t see that letter as endorsing free expression or the free exchange of ideas at all. I see it as a preemptive strike against dissent and a ratification of existing power structures. If you read my post carefully, you’ll find that I think the letter cloaks bad motives in righteous language.

      1. “I don’t see that letter as endorsing free expression or the free exchange of ideas at all.”
        That’s mystifying. The letter goes on and on and on about exactly those subjects. Perhaps if it walks, quacks, swims and looks like a duck..

        In your essay, you exemplify exactly the kind of misconception that the author of the letter is trying to prevent, i.e. by claiming that a speaker being invited to a university is the same as the university endorsing that speaker’s ideas. Furthermore, you’re patronizing African American students by assuming that they wouldn’t condone inviting someone like Charles Murray to come and make a fool of himself in public, and face appropriate scrutiny.

        Unpleasant ideas and opinions must first come out into the open for society to be able to counter, sharpen its arguments against, and ultimately build a resistance toward them. Censorship is completely counterproductive. It just serves to drive these ideas underground, feed a victimhood complex, and build a frustration that helps the popularity of “non-PC truthtellers” like Donald Trump.

        1. This only works in an environment where power dynamics don’t exist. Kind of like the physics experiments that only work in a vacuum. And if you read the post carefully, I’m not advocating censorship at all. I *am* advocating treating students as active agents and not adversaries who are prone to make the “wrong” decisions. I think you misread my piece, but people of good will can disagree.

          1. Somebody who has not yet read a relevant text or taken a course on something (hence them signing up for a course on it or needing to be warned about said text), is indeed more prone to do PRECISELY that: make a much greater number of wrong decisions about the appropriate treatment and coverage of the topic, compared to a person who has studied the topic for one or more decades, read hundreds of books on it, routinely publishes original research on it, etc. This seems logically straightforward.

            Is the professor going to be right 100% of the time and the naive student wrong 100% of the time? No, but when you have to make rules about these things, it still makes little sense to base university policy on defaulting to the relatively very rare outcome (student is right about critical and necessary content in a given instance, sight unseen) rather than defaulting to the relatively very likely outcome (prof is right about critical and necessary content in a given instance, with a career’s worth of experience), when there is a disagreement.

          2. You speak of faculties and administrators treating students like adults and “active agents” (redundant?) as opposed to adversaries. Without taking a swipe at their maturity, it still seems like a prerequisite for students making adult decisions is possessing all the relevant background information. Contempt prior to investigation and outright refusal to engage with the course material seems to preclude that, no? Students always think they know everything already. The purpose of a liberal education is to disabuse them of this fiction.
            As for agency, the fact is a student’s agency is bounded by definition. You’re right, there is a power dynamic at play, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It may sound unfashionable to speak of an “erosion” of authority, but one should not confuse legitimate authority with authoritarianism. Professors require final authority over any number of decisions respecting their classes, most visibly in assigning final grades, but equally in the editorial selection of course materials. There may certainly be room to work out reasonable compromises when genuinely pathological trauma is at risk, but that is a far cry from ceding editorial power to uninformed students lest one hazard a unilateral boycott.
            As for your objection to the adversarial stance of the letter, I agree with you to a point. The Dean and others of his stripe do sound unnecessarily patronizing and engage in some unfair and petty mischaracterization. That said, my sense is that the student activists, and not the administration, are more responsible for initially injecting an adversarial tone into the broader discussion. Hyperbolic language suggesting that assigning certain texts is tantamount to”violence” against certain members of the student body tends to do have that effect. Not that “they started it” is a winning posture either, but it’s worth noting that bad faith has occurred on all sides.

  4. A lot of words to defend the indefensable. If there is any place in our country where the public square should be open to all ideas, it is a university campus. Trigger warnings and safe spaces are not the answer, and only open the left up to easy attacks from the right.

    Instead, students should always have a right to vigorously engage with any speaker that wants to come onto a campus amd speak. To engage in an open debate should be a requirement of every invite. Require the invitees openly engage with students.

    1. A university-sanctioned invitation to speak publicly is a privilege and an honor, and should never be extended to those whose ideas are quackery, regardless of politics. And the entire policy section of the Bell Curve is quackery. Lest there be accusations of liberal conspiracies, it should be pointed out that Thomas Sowell, a conservative libertarian, criticized The Bell Curve’s treatment of race.

      1. You stated, “and should never be extended to those whose ideas are quackery.” Who gets to decide that? All opinions, all religious faiths, all politics should be heard at the university, that will encourage debate among those that disagree and possibly learning on both sides of the debate/argument. No one should be the gatekeeper of free speech. With that said, no one should be able to “shout down” speakers. The speaker should be able to speak and the audience should be given a chance to respond. Safe spaces and trigger warnings have been taken to far. If you don’t have PTSD, anxiety, or some other mental health issue, someone’s speech shouldn’t affect you so bad that you can’t handle hearing an opposing view.

    2. What do “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” mean to you?

      They seem to mean something exclusive from “the public square” and being “open to all ideas.” I don’t see that.

      “Trigger warnings” in classes that I’ve attended and taught function as fair warning. They signal that some rough content may be coming, and leave it up to the attendee to decide how to respond.

      “Safe spaces” may function by being selective in membership, but they do not seek to impose this selectiveness on the university in general. There is no normative push to make the whole university x-group. Instead, they function as spaces for people already on the margins of the university community to talk about issues particular to them.

      Neither seem to impose a burden on “open debate” or the general university space in which everyone participates.

      1. The issue about safe spaces isn’t a BLM group holding a closed meeting on campus. The problem–as I see it from my perspective as a PhD student on a left-wing campus–is when misguided instructors turn their _classrooms_ into ‘safe spaces’ for discussing certain topics (typically race, gender, and sexuality, rarely class). Essentially the professor brings up an issue she knows to be controversial, and constrains the conversation so that people of a certain identity can’t be disagreed with or challenged. The problem with having a classroom discussion where personal experience and identity validate arguments and claims is that these discussions quickly become fact-resistant. It’s really not the best way to develop positions, minds, or create knowledge.

  5. I saw your post on a University of Chicago alumni page and hope you’ll accept a different perspective. Warnings about graphic materials (like “war crimes like mass rape”) are not what make trigger warnings controversial. The difficulty comes with the assertion that viewpoints of particular authors, like “racist charlatan” Charles Murray, merit trigger warnings or, further, a ban from campus speeches. That is what causes public controversy about trigger warnings and is the issue to which the College, appropriately in my view, reacted.

    Providing a trigger warning before discussing a particular author’s viewpoint allows faculty or administrators to signal that there is something wrong if you agree with that “controversial” author. Students of uncommon courage may embrace being the lightning rod in class, but most students are not seeking ridicule or scorn – and many will respond to a trigger warning with “safe,” quiet behavior in class which lessens fear of grade retaliation or peer bullying. Rather than provide a trigger warning about viewpoints, faculty should provide security and support for all students, encourage them to explore their own ideas (including possibly agreeing with a “controversial” viewpoint) and then allow students with poorly developed positions to feel the appropriate nervousness that comes with reasoned counter-argument.

    I loved my time at the University of Chicago and believe it equipped me with the skills to persevere in a complicated, competitive world. U of C never reeked of “arrogance” and administrators never conveyed a “know your place” attitude. To the contrary, they respected us enough to let us explore all ideas.

    My son is currently a high school senior and I hope he will apply to U of C. If he would be fortunate enough to enroll, I have every expectation that he would enjoy the rigor, learn to disagree agreeably, and graduate as a thoughtful, caring person ready to contribute to society.

    1. I don’t really buy your reasoning. This is anecdotal, but to your point:

      “Providing a trigger warning before discussing a particular author’s viewpoint allows faculty or administrators to signal that there is something wrong if you agree with that “controversial” author.”

      I have never seen or heard of this happening at my various institutions of higher education, and frankly, I can’t even imagine how it would go down. A “trigger warning” for Nabokov’s “Lolita” would not be something like “Trigger warning! The Narrator’s sexual interests are wrong and bad,” but rather “Be advised; this class will feature discussions of sexual attraction to underage people. Please contact the instructor privately if this is personally distressing.” This way, if someone in the class had been molested as a child (vel sim.), and somehow wasn’t familiar with Nabokov, they wouldn’t be blindsided. Who could possibly object to this?

      1. I object to this because it teaches people that you get to cherry pick what you get to participate it based on what makes you comfortable or uncomfortable and that’s not how life or your future job works. The world does not accommodate you, you have to find a way to make it work. I’m bipolar, I can’t just go up to my boss and go “Hey I’m having a manic episode today and can’t focus so I know people are depending on me to get stuff done but if you could just all stop and accommodate me instead of me finding ways to deal with my problem that would be great.”

        1. I disagree. It’s not about letting students cherry pick. It’s about respecting them enough that you trust they’ll make an adult decision about what they can handle, which very often includes the students going ahead anyway but “finding ways to deal with [their] problem[s].”

          Trigger warnings are not obligatory. They’re a point of respect for students. On the other hand, forbidding trigger warnings cuts down on the free speech of the university, eliminating a key point for establishing respect and (yes) open debate. While you might think that fitting because “the world does not accommodate [as much free speech as a university],” that’s directly contrary to the values ostensibly advocated by the U of Chicago letter.

        2. what you say in your last sentence is exactly what would happen in a civilised, humane situation (as opposed to a dehumanised capitalist prison culture)

    2. “Providing a trigger warning before discussing a particular author’s viewpoint allows faculty or administrators to signal that there is something wrong if you agree with that “controversial” author.”

      Are you suggesting that faculty be forbidden from introducing a particular work in order to disagree with it or use it as an example of poor argument? In my experience, professors don’t put works on their syllabi without having opinions about them. I don’t see how having that opinion in the form of a trigger warning is any better or worse than having it in the form of, “As I’m sure you all discovered on reading this excerpt, the U of C chancellor is a reactionary oldie cloaking themself in academic purity.”

  6. Institutions may always be more conservative than the students they teach or than their younger faculty. Certainly, things have changed in the 45 years since I was an undergraduate. We are much more student centered and more knowledgeable about how students learn. We encounter more diversity in our student bodies. Some faculty and administrators may be comfortable with these changes; others may not. It seems, though, as if we experience similar conflicts over where authority should reside and a similar lack of empathy in negotiating them. In this context, the letter seems like a preemptive strike. Given the perennial nature of this tension, isn’t it time for those of us who teach and lead to model and encourage appropriate communication about difficult issues? That may mean honing our own skills in listening and responding sensitively. Students and faculty shouldn’t have to resort to organizing and demonstrating to be heard, especially since this is likely to provoke a defensive response. To echo what’s been said, many students come to university without a strong sense of their own authority, and they may be unsure of their own ideas and tentative in expressing them. They can benefit from exposure to different perspectives and by evaluating them in light of evidence and experience, but not if their efforts to communicate their responses are dismissed. Students may express themselves in ways that seem awkward, insensitive, and poorly considered, but if we, in turn, label this as evidence of hypersensitivity or entitlement, we really aren’t preparing them to deal with “the big bad world.” So, yes, empathy.

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  8. “But is it OK for us to use student fees paid in part by African American students to bring [Charles Murray] to campus, fete him, and give him a rostrum to tell those students they’re doomed by genetics to be inferior to whites?”

    If the listener cannot understand that Murray’s views say nothing about individuals (rather than ethnic groups in aggregate)—whatever the truth of those claims—then your university has failed badly in that listener’s education.

    1. Murray’s view are racist quackery which belong in the dustbin of history next to Phrenology and Geocentrism. What’s next, inviting young earth creationists to give biology lectures? Maybe some Lost Causers to extol the virtues of the old Confederacy?

      Spending student fees to support such nonsense has no educational value, except maybe to show students that a successful career can be had if you can shovel some fresh sounding BS to people who want to be comfortable in their own prejudices. Ironic, since those are the types of people who typically rail against “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”.

      1. we should allow people to come and make fools of themselves in open debate, so that their terrible ideas can be discredited so as not to give bigots any ammunition

        1. I think “debates” might be acceptable and even desirable, but that’s not the way typical speaker events work. They often function as lectures, perhaps with a Q&A, which give the speaker a lot more time to talk about their views. That’s not an even debate, which may be one reason why protests often spill out of the event and into the doorways. Certainly, protesting a speaker is a free speech act, and it’s up to the university and the other parties involved to decide whether and how to respond.

        2. But most of these speaker’s events aren’t “debates”, they’re more likely to be lecture format.

          In Murray’s case his work has long since been discredited. Why should a university pretend otherwise, even as an exercise in disproving his work?

          If someone wants to engage with Murray they are free to do so. His books are readily available for purchase and probably even available in many university libraries. But I don’t see why a university should invest its money, time and integrity to give a platform to someone who has already been discredited.

      2. I’m betting you haven’t read any of his books.

        J.C. Salomon is exactly right. The Bell Curve relied upon an extensive array of available data. Objections to the book were primarily about premises the book’s theses relied upon; those premises were not racial.

        If you can find racist statements in the book, then by all means quote them. Absent that, however, phrases like “racist quackery” and “racist charlatan” are perfect examples of what the University of Chicago letter is all about: progressive opinions are correct because progressives think them; disagreement is, by definition wrong, and must be banned.

  9. Thank you for the reminder that trigger warnings are not about making people feel “comfortable,” but about helping them stay safe. It is important that we remember that people who suffer (for instance) from PTSD, when something triggers destructive behavior, usually do damage to themselves, not to others. I recognize that I cannot foresee every single trigger; that does not absolve me of the responsibility (or the courtesy) of announcing those that are most common as we struggle with difficult subjects in my classrooms.

    1. Stop using PTSD as a shield for trigger warnings. Trigger warning don’t protect those with PTSD, and equating people with deep trauma to those who don’t want to read Shakespeare, for example is laughable.

      1. As someone with PTSD who finds trigger warnings very valuable, your comment doesn’t reflect the reality of everyone living with PTSD. In fact, I find that I usually don’t avoid engaging in discussions about sexual violence because of a trigger warning, but I’m better able to mentally prepare myself for it when it comes up. If it’s a particularly rough period, then I have the ability to avoid whatever might trigger me. To use your own argument: stop equating people with PTSD with those who don’t want to read their assigned coursework.

  10. Part of the problem is that triggering often happens to students who have not yet addressed certain traumas – such as child sex abuse. So it’s a serious medical issue for people who could literally decompensate if unprepared for the effect of triggering information on their psyche. In addition, there’s a fine line between offensive speech and incitement. An anti-Semite “intellectual” might have strong arguments about why Israel should not exist, but if a campus speech moves people to commit acts of violence against Jewish students, isn’t the school responsible? Provocative ideas are not the issue – it’s the causal relationship between SOME ideas and people willing to act on those ideas that schools should restrict – even at the expense of free speech and academic freedom. Schools restrict all sorts of speech – like libel and slander and civil rights offense – to prevent “severe or pervasive” words that rise to a level of discrimination “based on” sex, race, etc. They cannot lawfully declare as a matter of policy that incitement, libel and discrimination are acceptable in the name of academic freedom. Sending out an “anything goes” letter that fails to draw lines is just dumb.

  11. “Because now they’ll come into my class already having received a clear message about what my institution seems to value-and it isn’t them.”

    I never expected my university to care about my feelings nor did I want them to. From what I can tell, trigger warning mentality has led students to believe the world is out to hurt them, that great authors aren’t worth reading because of a single comment that doesn’t align with their worldview, and the safest thing to do is withdraw from all forms discourse. It is on all front – weak.

    Literature is to confront. If you do not want to confront ideas, why go to university?

    That said, some examples of trigger warnings you mentioned will always have their place (historical war crimes) but it’s no secret that the most vocal voices on campus come from banal students who haven’t suffered the slightest injustice and use anything they can find to leverage power.

    1. “From what I can tell, trigger warning mentality has led students to believe the world is out to hurt them, that great authors aren’t worth reading because of a single comment that doesn’t align with their worldview, and the safest thing to do is withdraw from all forms discourse. ”

      From what you can tell? Have you actually encountered this, or only seen it second or third hand through the media. Because what you’re describing doesn’t sound anything like what I know of how trigger warnings are used.

      “Literature is to confront. If you do not want to confront ideas, why go to university?”

      Because it’s pretty much a prerequisite to a higher quality of life? There are plenty of college paths and college grads who never had their ideas “challenged” during their years in school.

      And where are you getting the idea that “trigger warnings” are some kind of out for wannabe lit majors who don’t want to confront “scary ideas”. That’s not how they work.

      “but it’s no secret that the most vocal voices on campus come from banal students who haven’t suffered the slightest injustice and use anything they can find to leverage power.”

      So that’s what you think this is? Some kind of weird game where the privileged students hijack “trigger warnings” to leverage power? To what ends?

      I fear you have some odd ideas about college and college students.

      1. “…some kind of weird game where the privileged students hijack “trigger warnings” to leverage power? To what ends?”

        It’s not “weird” at all — you described the obvious motivation to do EXACTLY this earlier in your post, when you wrote:

        “‘…[if not ideas,] why go to university?’ Because it’s pretty much a prerequisite to a higher quality of life?”

        So, asked and answered, by you yourself. Student wants a higher salary. Degree promises higher salary. Student doesn’t care about the difficult ideas, though, just the salary, and would prefer to avoid those difficult ideas if convenient. Easy out exists for avoiding any difficult ideas that is flexible enough to be applied to almost any situation with minimal creativity and the almost guaranteed compliance of most administrations. Obviously, student is likely to take advantage of that out. At least a good portion of such students will.

        Unfortunately, most of what employers are paying you for with a typical college degree (outside of super narrow applied fields), **IS** explicitly the difficult stuff that is being avoided: exposure to diverse and difficult ideas and opinions, critical thinking, having proven able to hold your ground in arguments if graduating well from a quality university, etc.

        So if/when that is watered down, not only does the principle of university suffer, but so likely will the $$$ advantage of the degree be watered down, even for those who, as you point out, may be attending purely for that. It’s lose-lose-lose.

        1. “Student wants a higher salary. Degree promises higher salary. Student doesn’t care about the difficult ideas, though, just the salary, and would prefer to avoid those difficult ideas if convenient. Easy out exists for avoiding any difficult ideas that is flexible enough to be applied to almost any situation with minimal creativity and the almost guaranteed compliance of most administrations”

          LOL. Do you think students try to use trigger warnings to get out of learning Calculus or something?

          No, I would never consider picking a fight with the faculty in order to get away from “difficult ideas” to be the “easy out”. The “easy out” is picking one of the dozens of college majors that never has to deal with these supposed “difficult ideas”.

          I think it’s really funny that you think the “privileged” students would do this in some attempt to game the system. News flash: The privileged students don’t need to! That’s part of privilege, having the system already set up to accommodate you.

          You seem to have an image of college as some sort of long running Socratic debate where students have to constantly prove their intellectual rigor before the faculty firing squad in order to get a degree. That doesn’t square with my experience as either a student or teacher.

  12. “But that’s also the reason people claim to like Donald Trump, and I don’t see universities lining up to bring him in as a guest lecturer.” …Oral Roberts University did this. The students protested. The University and basically the entire city, shut them down.

  13. All schools should be like U of C and it should go without saying. Our schools should not offer an education that consists of listening to the echo of your own voice. That’s meaningless. Our schools should teach their students how to stand up and defend what they believe in, with evidence and reason, not to retreat into a cocoon of reassuring familiarity when confronted with a different view point even hate and bigotry. College education is a privilege that comes with an obligation to stand up for those who cannot defend themselves. Our history is full of fearless civil rights leaders who did just that. That is the standard we should hold ourselves and our kids up to and it should start way sooner than college.

    1. My primary disagreement with your statement is that a college education is not a privilege; it is a commodity. I believe we should stop treating it as such immediately, but that is its current state.

      1. It is a privilege. In most universities, only a tiny portion of the budget comes from tuition. They are massively subsidized. Both public and private.

        And even if you were paying close to 100% of the cost of your education as a student (which you are not), that should not mean you get to just dictate whatever you want it to be like to go there, even if it is treated like any other commodity. No more than me buying a shoe from Nike for full retail price means I get to submit my own custom design and expect them to produce that for me, or paying full retail price at McDonalds for an egg McMuffin means I get to specify that I’d like duck eggs substituted please, or whatever else I desire.

        1. “Only a tiny portion” – no.

          50% of revenue comes from tuition and fees at the University of Tennessee,
          20% at the University of Illinois,
          44% at CUNY,
          62% at Temple.

          These are the first ones I researched. There are schools with much lower percentages, at 10% or 5%.

          Then I found this, a study about tuition and fees.
          http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cud.asp

          Your overall point seems dilatory. Students are not dictating what they want it to be like to go there. The tone of the letter from the University of Chicago makes it clear that it isn’t accommodating, and schools where faculty use trigger warnings are no more permissive.

  14. As someone who very much considers himself a liberal, I find myself far more supportive of this letter than of the administrative responses to last year’s campus protests in Yale, Brown, and elsewhere. And I wouldn’t say that on the surface, the letter’s points seem hard to argue with–I would say they are hard to argue with, even if they are being espoused from a conservative perspective (and even if elements of that perspective, like the assumption that there are clear-eyed conservatives with a monopoly on the hard truths of life, are absurd on their face).

    A trigger warning can often be a simple courtesy and/or sound pedagogy in as much as it lays the groundwork for student buy-in that the next 40 minutes will handle difficult material. On the other hand, the demand for trigger warnings and/or safe spaces when placed within a larger context of hypersensitive students, a uniformly progressive faculty, and a burgeoning and corporate administrative structure can work to effectively inhibit speech and the exchange of ideas in a fairly pernicious way. I think the problem is probably overstated–and certainly the character and motivation of students is routinely misunderstood and misrepresented by people who are not in daily contact with them–but I do think there is a point where the grown ups need to act like grown ups, and if this is the hill that the U of C administration wants to fight on, I have no real issue with it.

  15. Thank you for talking about this. I attended a school briefly where trigger warnings were taboo. As a survivor of rape and torture suffering from PTSD from those events, this made my time there extremely challenging as these subjects came up not infrequently. It was a large part of my decision to leave. Forcing me to relive that trauma under the guise of free exchange of ideas was absurd. Taking the few seconds to warn about what was coming up took nothing away from other students but would have made all the difference to me. Thankfully I was able to continue my education elsewhere, but considering the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses these people need to pull their heads out of their asses. Trigger warnings are necessary for many students to be able to learn and take nothing away from anyone else.

  16. I’m wondering if this is not a reaction to the recent efforts to enforce (or pretend to enforce) Title IX more stringently in the wake of public revelations of institutional sexual harassment on college campuses.

    I find it amusing that people don’t seem to realize that privileged classes have always been cherry-picking the content of courses including literature. The whole concept of meritocracy is inherently based in a white cis male institution which reinforces and reifies itself by means of cherry-picking literature and pedagogy which agree with the status quo.

    I would say the emperor has no clothes, but actually he’s wearing a ridiculous and uncomfortable suit that someone told him represented meritocracy.

  17. “What does it cost?” It costs me as a teacher having to preemptively anticipate every possible thing that anybody sight unseen might possibly take offense to ahead of time, and then somehow warn everyone of all those things. How big of a list should I make? I could probably come up with HUNDREDS of things somebody might possible be offended by with almost any given book. Am I supposed to list all of them ahead of time? How many hours am I expected to put into this task?

    And the author doesn’t stop there. No, I’m also expected to provide “an alternate text” too. Oh okay, no big deal, I’ll just come up with 300 alternate texts, each of which covers the same themes but conveniently removing each of the possible sources of offense separately. That will only take 4 weeks of my time out of teaching the course. No problem.

    THen what exactly do I give that student or those studentS in terms of tests and homework materials and so on during the course, with their alternate text? Do you expect me to have a class with 5 trigger based alternate text students in it, and therefore provide 6 separate syllabi and 6 tests every test period and grade 6 different sets of assignments?

    Are you going to pay me 6x as much for that extra work? I didn’t think so.

    I would be okay with it if a university listed, say, 4 specific, LIMITED types of triggers that could be expected to have warnings, and if it stopped at warnings alone, up front before registration. No substitutions, just warnings. That would be both empathetic and also logistically reasonable. If you see a warning for something you don’t want to learn about, don’t sign up for the course. No extra syllabi, limited list means a half hour of extra work for a course, that would be fine.

    1. I am going to guess that you are a white male (lowest difficulty setting, as they say in gaming parlance) and you’ve probably been teaching your courses the same way for 5 years or more. On auto-pilot, and with little change in the syllabus except to insert new dates each new term.

      Your intellect is so stagnant that you don’t even know what a trigger warning actually is, or why it’s a useful mechanism to foster discussion, rather than impede it.

      1. Of course it fosters discussion. I have direct personal experience with that, since it just DID foster discussion in the form of my very own comment to this article. And I was hoping (and still do hope) to make that discussion one of logic, ideas and civility.

        Unfortunately, your first response to that fostered discussion was not to continue a productive exchange of ideas… but rather to immediately turn to an ad hominem attack, negatively judging a stranger based on stereotyped assumptions and unnecessarily linking those negative judgments directly to further assumptions about melanin content of skin and genitals between legs. Is that the sort of discourse you prefer from universities?

      2. I am a mid-aged Japanese woman with 16 years of teaching experience, don’t know how that ranges on your ‘difficulty scale’, and I wholeheartedly agree with (I assume) my colleague DrWesley. Since when one’s gender, race or ethnicity determines whether someone’s argument has merit or not?

      3. If your first line is to ask for the identity card of the previous poster and then to make a sweeping generalization based on it, you’ve already lost the argument, and done so in the laziest way imaginable.

    2. That’s exactly what the expectation would be. And no that’s not coming from an experienced, male professor ( though heaven- forbid I’m white). I’m willing, and find it reasonable to say a topic / reading may be challenging, debatable or disturbing (hopefully not the latter) but to go beyond that, which would be an expectation, would be an overload when you teach up to 100 students. Instead it can become a discussion in the class. Clearly some commenters have not been teaching in a university lately.

    3. Do you not make any accommodations for students with particular learning challenges? That’s a fundamental part of your job. Nobody is suggesting you have to use a trigger warning for every possible piece of material someone might be uncomfortable with, but a certain amount of common sense is appropriate. If you have women in your classroom and will be discussing sexual violence, a trigger warning is a must. To reiterate my comment above, as a student with PTSD from sexual violence, I almost had to give up on my education because of professors who couldn’t be bothered to let me know what was coming up. Why do I have to be punished for years because of the actions of someone else just because you don’t want to take a little bit more time (a few seconds) out of a class period to say, “we’re about to discuss topics of sexual violence/torture, if you need to leave class during these discussions for a moment, feel free.” Is that really going to impact you or anyone else in the classroom that much? No. Is it going to potentially save someone from flashbacks, panic attacks, anxiety, ect. that could prevent them from learning. Quite possibly. And if you aren’t willing to take into consideration the needs of your students, then you’re lacking as a teacher and that’s absolutely on you, not your students.

      1. One crucial aspect of this debate depends on individual definitions of “trigger warnings.” Is it right to tell students that what they will read (and then discuss) contains controversial or sensitive material? Yes.

        However, at my institution, every student receives an email every time a sexual assault on campus occurs. This email leads with “Trigger Warning:” Guess what other emails begin this way? None of them. Therefore, trigger warning=sexual assault occurred. In this situation, it seems the trigger warnings themselves could produce anxiety, distress, etc.

        Also, let’s not forget that men are sexually assaulted and may be adversely affected by stories of sexual violence. Or that there are wide variety of traumatic experiences that people across the gender spectrum are adversely affected by that never garner trigger warnings.

  18. Funniest response to this that I say–sorry I can’t remember who said it– was that if Chicago “do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” then they must be eliminating their economics department.

  19. Like so many areas of recent expressions of personal vs. institutional rights (religious freedom, bathroom issues, political correctness etc.) people need and have a right to personal ( safe ) space. The problem lies in where the line is drawn. In to many cases the opinion is based on personal, often prejudicial, comfort and not on a reality look at individual rights. Therefore the existing attitudes will fight to avoid appropriate and necessary change. Academia has always believed they are the final arbiter of what others need, usually to advance their own stand without consideration of the impact of those it hopes to convince. That is why different students try to go to different schools. The example cited is nothing more than a dogmatic statement of their stand with a strong ” or else”. The shame of it is that it comes from a school that one would hope would be above that, if there is such a place.

  20. What is with the seemingly recent fascination with the word “nuance?” It is a buzzword that often appears in the writings of the social justice crowd. (Not saying social justice is a bad thing). Are Sociology 101 professors pushing the word on students? It reminds me of the old Seinfeld joke, “Yada, yada, yada.” I can’t, or don’t want to, explain something, so I will just say “nuance.” I’m curious as to why this particular word has become so overused in the past few years. It’s a strange phenomenon.

  21. I am somewhat astonished at this piece. It takes a reasonable foundation (“we shouldn’t needlessly inflict pain on the vulnerable”) and uses it to endlessly spin excuses and justifications for absolutely horrendous behavior on the part of both Universities and “empowered” students.

    As an academic, surely you recognize that you are burning strawmen with gusto, cherry-picking with extreme prejudice, and whistling past the graveyard from beginning to end.

    The UofC letter was not an attempt to prevent “imaginary” disruptions of valid pedagogy in an age when speakers like Condi Rice or Emily Wong are disinvited, students demand a puppy-filled “safe space” when a feminist like Christina Hoff Sommers – who is apparently not “feminist enough”- appears on campus, and students scream denouncements of Academics who propose that, just maybe, they could pick their own Halloween outfits.

    To pretend otherwise is profoundly dishonest.

    Again, no one will stop you from helping students grapple with truly honest concerns about difficult material. But to insist that the University, built atop centuries of scholarship across a wide range of ancient and modern cultures, has no more claim to truth than an 18-year old is just bizarre. Similarly, claiming that “old white men” are “denying the agency” of students when a University insists that they learn the foundations of science or literature in order to secure a degree, is engaging in profoundly dishonest, emotionally-laden propaganda.

  22. ‘Murray is a racist charlatan who’s made a career out of pseudoscientific social Darwinist assertions that certain “races” are inherently inferior to others. To bring him to campus is to tell segments of your student community that, according to the ideas the university is endorsing by inviting Murray, they don’t belong there. This isn’t a violation of academic freedom. It’s an upholding of scientific standards and the norms of educated discourse — you know, the type of stuff that colleges and universities are supposed to stand for, right?’

    First, that a speaker is invited does not mean his ideas are endorsed. Rather, it means they should be grappled with. It certainly does not imply that a student of any opinion or background is not welcome, especially if the university also invites speakers of the opposite persuasion, possibly alongside each other for puproses of debate, as they often do. To make your point, you would have to show that there is a university that only invites speakers aligned with Murray’s views. Are you aware of such?

    Second, the “scientific standard” has no application to humanitues, or more broadly, to discussion of values. As Weber pointed out, science can only establish the means appropriate to certain ends, not the ends themselves. Murray’s exclusion from the debate, on the basis of disagreement with his view on social issues, would contribute precisely to the danger UoC warns about — shutting up of people with whom we morally or politically disagree.

  23. I actually see this less as a threat to the students, and more a clever advertisement for UofC’s apparent market strategy to become a sort of conservative Harvard, characterized by a rigorous education unfettered by squishy liberal distractions.

    But, taking your interpretation:

    If students were fully realized, discerning free actors in the way you describe, they wouldn’t need an education.
    Or is it that you disagree and see the university as a place to simply foster curiosity and exploration without informing and guiding it? That is a valid interpretation for the role of a university but not one in the didactic tradition. And UofC is highly traditional.
    I do think a good education pushes one out of one’s own echo chamber. However, I will also say, in my following of this debate and interactions with undergrads, the kids are just under too much pressure, from various sources. I think that’s why they lash out at administration and faculty, and why they want these protected spaces in the first place.

  24. Being a U of C grad (class of ’78), this letter didn’t surprise me at all. It’s entirely consistent with the adversarial attitude the administration had towards the students in my era. At least this incoming class is getting fair warning about the administration’s contemptuous attitude towards its students.

  25. Trigger warnings seem self defeating. If the mention of sex assault triggers bad memories, then wouldn’t a trigger warning forewarning of sex assault subject matter stir those same memories?

  26. «Sure, Charles Murray has a right to his views. But is it OK for us to use student fees paid in part by African American students to bring him to campus, fete him, and give him a rostrum to tell those students they’re doomed by genetics to be inferior to whites? Well, he makes a strong argument and isn’t bound by conventional “niceties.” Yes, that’s true. But that’s also the reason people claim to like Donald Trump, and I don’t see universities lining up to bring him in as a guest lecturer.»

    As long as you make exactly the same point about Noam Chomsky or Cornell West, and won’t invite both either to your university, I am fine with your stand. But if they were invited and feted and what not, on the expense of the fees of conservative students … etc., etc.

    On the other hand, no student is forced to attend lectures by people like Charles Murray; they choose to, and can choose otherwise. It’s about responsibility and being an adult, not to be cuddled and treated like a toddler.

    Which brings me to your repeated demand to show “empathy” : There is a difference between being a teacher and being a therapist. To confuse both roles may score you high points with your students, but will not enhance (rather: harm) their education. Which is NOT to condone violence, but simply to stress the fact that you can respect a person and still tell her what to do or to read or to learn.

    There is, and it should be stressed, a difference between authority that is based on experience and skill, and authority that is based on hierarchy. One learns from the first, and is discouraged by the latter. One, thus, can accept the former and should, in my opinion, reject the latter. You, on the other hand, seem to conflate (thus: confuse) both. In trying to ignore both subsequently, you may become your students’ best buddy, and it may give you nice warm feelings, but it shows that you’re relinquishing your responsibilities as a teacher.

    I don’t know how you got your teaching position. But your blog post pretty much confirms everything that is problematic with the pedagogy of «safe-spaces», «micro-aggression», and shielding students from content in order not to reactivate «trauma». Leave psychology where it belongs, in the therapy session.

    1. Well put, sir/madam. It does make a person wonder how anyone with the attitudes of this blog author could possibly be a teacher.

  27. Should Donald Trump even be ALLOWED to run for president? Certainly he shouldn’t be allowed to speak. Let’s sanitize the world.

  28. Most disturbing to me, is the author’s assumption that Mr. Murray, for example, are best dealt with by boycotts, rather than by allowing him to speak. Somebody on campus decided he had a valid viewpoint. He wasn’t just standing on the fountain in the quad. He was invited by someone in authority to do so who believed his views should be heard. Hearing does not equal agreement. Sometimes it is wisest to let idiots speak rather than be censored.

  29. Quite a few religious people find tattoos offensive so is it safe to assume that you notify people of your tattoos before they sign up for the classes you teach?

    1. He wouldn’t have to if people took it upon themselves to discover the readily ascertainable, and took whatever measures they required.

      It isn’t at all clear why the rest of us have to do the bleeding obvious for them.

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