We took my daughter Jessica back to college this week, lugging her mini-fridge, boxes, and a mammoth suitcase across the parking lot and up into her dorm room overlooking the quad. Karla and I helped Jess set up her room, searched the halls and campus for any sign of micro-aggressions or hate speech, gave her a loaded handgun, hugged her, and tearfully headed home, secure in the knowledge that she was in a safe space. OK, I wasn’t serious about the micro-aggressions or the gun. B ut on college campuses, the pursuit of safety now rivals the pursuit of knowledge as the ultimate goal, and some people are willing to go to great extremes to achieve it.
In fact, the demand for “safe spaces” has grown so clamorous that the University of Chicago felt it necessary to advise incoming students this year that they can expect to encounter “ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” including some that may “cause discomfort.” (See Controversy.) That statement of free speech principles should be unremarkable, but it has triggered an aggrieved pushback from students and academics. The University of Texas, meanwhile, has adopted a very different definition of “safe spaces.” State legislators have authorized students to carry concealed firearms into classrooms and dorms, on the premise that “gun-free zones” only serve to invite attacks by deranged mass killers. (See Talking Points.) This is such an interesting country, isn’t it? At some colleges, students are seeking protection from “triggering” works of literature, such as The Great Gatsby and The Merchant of Venice, and bans on The Vagina Monologues because it is offensive to “women without vaginas.” Another college has deputized people in an age group known for its impulsivity and intense emotionality to carry lethal weapons—and pull actual triggers if they deem it necessary. an education has become so much more complicated than it used to be.