‘Safe spaces’: The University of Chicago makes stand
U of C should stand for “University of Common Sense,” said the Chicago Tribunein an editorial. John Ellison, dean of students at the University of Chicago, last week sent a letter of welcome to incoming firstyear students, informing them that Chicago rejects the culture of political correctness that has stifled free speech at campuses across the nation. Although “civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us,” wrote Ellison, “we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate...that may challenge you and even cause discomfort.” He advised students that the university does not support “trigger warnings,” and “we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” It’s a “sad commentary” on the state of higher learning that Ellison’s statement is viewed as “a brave and bold move,” said Mary Ham in TheFederalist.com. Nevertheless, with the PC police hounding administrators from their jobs at colleges like Yale and the University of Missouri, the University of Chicago “should be applauded mightily for stating what used to be obvious.”
The university’s scornful manifesto “isn’t about academic freedom,” said professor Kevin Gannon in Vox.com. “It’s about power.” The clear goal of Ellison’s letter is to spark a national backlash by the privileged elites and send a warning to all black, minority, feminist, and LGBTQ students at any university who might be tempted to challenge existing power structures, be they intellectual or institutional. Trigger warnings are not intended to excuse coddled little snowflakes from dealing with troubling material, said L.V. Anderson in Slate.com.Like “content warnings” preceding violent or sexually explicit TV programs, they’re intended to warn students who’ve been sexually assaulted that a text includes graphic descriptions of rape, or black students that a book includes racist language, so they can steel themselves for the emotional impact. As for “safe spaces,” students from historically marginalized groups are simply asking that colleges make them feel as accepted, as “welcome and yes, as safe” as white, straight students. Is that too much to ask?
Of course it isn’t, said Emily Willingham in Forbes.com. The black, Latino, queer, and feminist activists Ellison is implicitly reprimanding are actually asking for more free speech, not less. They want colleges to be communities where they are safe from the “pressures and oppressions” that silence their voices in the outside world. With his simplistic stance against political correctness, said Jay Michaelson in TheDailyBeast.com,Ellison is actually addressing the University of Chicago’s wealthy, conservative alumni rather than its students. Alumni at many universities are up in arms over the uppity minorities and women challenging the white male hierarchy, and have withheld checks to show their disapproval. But now that Ellison has become a hero on “the right-wing blogosphere,” U of C donors will open their wallets.
Ellison’s letter certainly “could have been a little less provocative,” said Jesse Singal in NYMag.com.The culture war over safe spaces has already become too heated. But Ellison’s essential point needed to be said. A recent poll found that 80 percent of undergraduates “favor the liberal conception of campus free-speech rights” he championed. “The problem is that the loudest students’ voices frequently win out,” intimidating other students and administrators into silence. Those voices can only be countered by the voice of the university itself, making it clear that students cannot censor everything that offends them. Let’s hope Ellison will nudge “other, more timorous university administrators to stand up and do their jobs.”
Only in America
■ A Clemson University official stopped a man from praying on campus because he was not in one of the school’s “free speech areas.” Student Kyra Palange saw the man sitting next to a sign that said “Prayer” and joined him, only to be told by a college administrator to stop. Palange said she was appalled that Clemson limits public prayer and opinions to “a designated area.”
■ An Arizona high school student was told that she couldn’t wear a Black Lives Matter T-shirt because it was “disruptive.” Mariah Havard, 15, was sent to the principal’s office and given a blank white T-shirt to wear instead. “A white T-shirt that’s meaningless has nothing to do with what I’m standing for,” Havard said. School officials said her shirt posed “a potential danger to students.”
Good week for:
Hunting for ET, after astronomers trained their instruments on a star 94 light-years from Earth that is emitting a strong signal. If the signal is not a natural phenomenon, said astronomer Douglas Vakoch, “it was clearly made by a civilization with capabilities beyond those of humankind.”
Getaways, after the lawyer for fugitive Lyle Jeffs suggested in court filings that the Utah polygamist leader is unavailable to stand trial in a food-stamp fraud case because he may have “experienced the miracle of Rapture.”
Image repair, after former Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry announced that he will be a contestant on the upcoming season of Dancing With the Stars. The former Texas governor will compete against a cast of other has-beens, including disgraced Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and rapper Vanilla Ice.
Bad week for:
Vanity, after an Australian fugitive took to Facebook to ask police to use a more flattering picture in place of her mug shot. “Can you use this photo?” Amy Sharp, 18, posted. “Please and thank you.” She was soon captured and returned to jail.
Pretension, after high-end retailer Barneys was widely ridiculed for selling a pair of “distressed” sneakers “outfitted with duct tape” for $585. Critics called the sneakers “poverty appropriation.”
Vladimir Putin, who was arrested on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest in a Publix supermarket in West Palm Beach, Fla. The suspect, whom police said was belligerent and uncooperative, is apparently not the belligerent Vladimir Putin who rules Russia.
Boring but important
Pediatricians push back against anti-vax parents
It is “acceptable” for doctors to drop patients who refuse vaccinations on nonmedical grounds, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced in a new policy statement this week. The advice was issued after a survey revealed that 87 percent of pediatricians have dealt with parents who did not want their children to be vaccinated—up from 75 percent a decade ago. Many parents who refuse to have their kids vaccinated believe immunizations can cause autism, a theory that has been thoroughly debunked. Other parents believe vaccines are an unnecessary discomfort for their children. The academy said that doctors should try to persuade hesitant families of the benefits of vaccines, and only exclude them from a practice as a last resort.