University of Chicago statement on trigger warnings and intellectual “safe places”

A trigger warning is a statement at a beginning of a piece of writing that tells the reader there may be potentially distressing material within the article.  That material may be in the form of words, pictures or videos.  An intellectual safe space is designed to protect a person from material that may be offensive to them.

While trigger warnings are often cited as being used for sensitive issues relating to race or sexually sensitive subjects, they are also used by many in the autism community for writings that may include ableism (ableism is a set of beliefs that assign inferior value to people who have disabilities) or evoke memories of personal trauma. For example, an article about an autistic child being abused may include a trigger warning.

Some universities have created “safe places” where students can relax free from distressing ideas. Last year Brown University created a room “with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies” because a debate on sexual assault was taking place on campus.

There is much controversy around trigger warnings. This week the University of Chicago has made a formal statement to its incoming Freshman with this letter outlining why they will not be honoring trigger warnings and intellectual safe places.

University of Chicago letter to students about trigger warnings

The University of Chicago will not cancel controversial speakers because they may offend some students.  They will also not change class content. They are calling out for civility and mutual respect. “Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community.”

“The right thing to do is empower the students, help them understand how to fight, combat and respond, not to insulate them from things they will have to face later,” University Chair of the Committee Geoffrey Stone and law professor said.

Censorship, intolerance of dissenting opinions, political correctness and the inability to discuss controversial topics in a civil manner creates echo chambers, closed-mindedness,  and shuts down the potential for understanding.  However, many people on the autism spectrum are highly sensitive to thoughts, ideas, images, and emotions. The heightened sensitivity can be attributed to their autism.

At the Art of Autism we will include trigger warnings by writers if they wish to include them in their writings. We won’t include them by default as we believe that discussion of controversial subjects is important as long as all parties are respectful. For a more detailed article about trigger warnings and the University of Chicago letter please visit this site.

2 replies on “University of Chicago statement on trigger warnings and intellectual “safe places””
  1. Holy cow. I don’t know whether to be incredulous or envious of the sensitivity-coddling in major universities today. In the fall of 1971, as members of the third class of freshman women entering Yale, we were forced to fend for ourselves against overwhelmingly male chauvinist classmates and professors. My then-undiagnosed Aspie sensitivities/weaknesses were sneered at as female foibles I’d just have to “get over” to survive at a top Ivy. The first and only time I asked for an accommodation, my dean told me that, “If I wasn’t prepared for Yale College, perhaps I shouldn’t be at Yale College.”

    Okay, envious. I’m definitely envious.

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