By IceUnshattered (Own work), CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

An Annotated Guide to the University of Chicago’s Letter to Students

Or, a decoding of reactionary social conservatism.*

*contains discussions of the sexual violence, racism, and mental health shaming that were embedded in the letter

Dear Class of 2020 Student:
Welcome…

Get ready to feel unwelcome.

…Earning a place in our community of scholars is no small achievement…

You are now part of the elite. Now that you have this privilege, we’ll need you to check your trauma at the door. We can’t have you coming in here with that mess. (Privilege is fine, though.)

…and we are delighted that you selected Chicago to continue your intellectual journey.

N.B., and this is key: We are a strictly intellectual enterprise. There is nothing except intellectualism here. Nothing. At. All.

Once here you will discover that one of the University of Chicago’s defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression.

Unless, of course, your free expression is about your feeling that you are unwelcome.

Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, without fear of censorship.

You see, censorship is the greatest plague upon us in our time. Certainly there is no epidemic of campus sexual assault that we should protect you from. Censorship is everything.

Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us…

Except if you think that “civility” and “respect” mean something as simple as letting you know that we’re going to talk in class about that thing that you still don’t know how to talk about with your therapist. We’re only forcing you to talk about it intellectually. Pipe down, kids.

…and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others.

See? We really do care!

You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement.

You see, it’s only disagreement when men blame women for getting raped. I can’t stress this enough: It’s just intellectual disagreement. The cis straight men who disagree with you about why you were raped have no personal investment in defending behaviors of other cis straight men. It’s all very simple if you look at it objectively.

At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.

Your mental illness and response to forcibly reliving your trauma is just your own discomfort. You should control yourself.

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called “trigger warnings…”

I doubt I need to explain this to you very smart, very elite students (who are privileged to attend UChicago!) why advising you of what content is in the syllabus constitutes an assault on the syllabus itself. It’s all a slippery slope! If we put warnings on the syllabus, what’s next? Dolphins on the syllabus? Kittens?!?! Perish the thought!

…we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial…

We might pull a Rutgers and invite an avowed racist, alt-right Breitbart contributor to join us, and YOU CAN’T STOP US!

…and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Did you get that? Let’s make it really clear: You do not get to engage safely with ideas in the classroom, because we think that when you say “safe space” you really mean “retreat.” There are certainly no inherent power dynamics in classrooms that might make you feel unsafe. There can’t be! Racism is over and everyone is equal. Speaking of which, we need to make it okay to say that there is no racism, heterosexism, or transphobia in the world. Oh, and it needs to be okay to say there is no rape culture! It’s your fault if you feel unsafe when white people say Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin deserved to be shot. These ideas deserve equal credit from the University of Chicago. And we intend to give it to them.

Fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related University priority — building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds.

See, now, don’t you feel welcome?

I am enclosing a short monograph by Dean John W. Boyer, the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in History and Dean of the College, which provides a helpful primer. This monograph, entitled Academic Freedom and the Modern University: The Experience of the University of Chicago, recounts the history of debate, and even scandal, resulting from our commitment to academic freedom.

What the white man says goes. (By the way, he has this fancy title for his position which was endowed by another white man. Isn’t diversity fun?)

Again, welcome to the University of Chicago.

Aren’t you thankful you chose us?

See you in September!

And don’t forget to check your trauma at the door!


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