The University of Chicago is the first place that made me feel safe
Yangyang Cheng

Thanks for your point of view.

I think that a university should absolutely support freedom of inquiry and expression. That you felt personally supported by University of Chicago is wonderful and should be cherished. I think your position as an immigrant woman of color who has experienced trauma is an important one, and it’s important to acknowledge that you found a safe space for the first time at the University of Chicago.

However, this does not prove that University of Chicago’s stance against trigger warnings and against creating safe space has also created a safe space for other marginalized people. There are plenty of other people who’ve attended the University of Chicago who felt it to be violent and damaging precisely because of the kind of stance taken in this letter.

The letter highlights the following in a somewhat derisive tone instructional modes that it will not support: ‘so-called “trigger warnings”’; cancelling invited speakers if their topics are controversial; or the creation of intellectual “safe spaces.”

Note: The letter doesn’t state that it is against mandatory trigger warnings. It states that it does not support trigger warnings, period — and further invalidates their function by putting them in quotation marks. If an instructor chooses to use a trigger warning and a student complains of its usage, what will happen to the instructor? By openly stating non-support of a pedagogical technique, isn’t the school limiting the instructor’s pedagogical freedom?

Note, also: Schools cancel invited speakers, typically, when students and community members voice their concerns over ideas presented. The decision for a school to cancel happens precisely because students are exercising their right to inquiry and free expression. This sort of notice communicates to students that the administration is in charge and does not care to listen to students’ concerns. How does that promote an atmosphere of intellectual freedom and inquiry?

Finally, the letter makes the false assumption that intellectual freedom is at odds with the creation of a safe space for people who have been historically oppressed and marginalized. To add insult, it places a value judgement by claiming that this is some kind of “retreat” from having to face opposing viewpoints. Acknowledging historical oppression does not necessarily limit intellectual freedom or expression; trigger warnings do not either. Sometimes, not creating a safe space is a primary way of shutting down expression — primarily the free expression of people who have been historically silenced.

Rather than creating an atmosphere that welcomes all perspectives, the letter shuts down considerations behind what creates triggering experiences, why safe spaces are needed in the first place.

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