I’ve just finished reading an article in this month’s The Atlantic concerning how surreal things have gotten on college campuses concerning (among other things) potentially hurtful or offensive language in the classroom. It seems that students, in opposition to something called microaggression, have banded together to rid higher education of questionable language that could (unintentionally or not) invoke images of racism, sexism, violence, etc. Their mission is to create a “safe” environment.
The Atlantic finds this disturbing and is concerned that by caving to the hyper-sensitive demands of students we are not only homogenizing education but failing to prepare students for the real world – full of diverse, and yes…hurtful people and opinions.
All of this reassures me that I made the right decision rejecting the traditional professor path and moving on. I promise you that I would not react well to a student dictating what I said in class. I specialize in nineteenth-century United States history and guess what. People said some pretty nasty things back then. Call me crazy, but I think it is important we know exactly what those folks said – in their own words – and to whom they said it. Who knows…? Maybe we might learn something.
Back when I was at UC Riverside, I taught a class in Reconstruction Era history. On the syllabus, I mentioned – in a very short paragraph on the syllabus – that language and images would come up that most would (and should) find very disturbing. But that was it. Trust me, some things were mentioned in class, uttered or shown only in the context of the history, that I would never consider conveying outside of the classroom. And I never had a single indecent in which a student complained to the department or came to me in distress.
Of course, I was thinking of the obvious. It turns folks can construe nearly anything as offensive. So who knows what I might have said that ruffled some feathers…
To my fellow educators – what is your experience with these triggers? Are things as bad as the article makes it seem? Let’s talk…