Warning: College can be upsetting

Trigger warning

Professors should warn their students about potentially traumatic material, writes Philip Wythe, a Rutgers student, in the Daily Targum.

For instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s critically acclaimed novel, “The Great Gatsby,” possesses a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence. Virginia Woolf’s famous cerebral narrative, “Mrs. Dalloway,” paints a disturbing narrative that examines the suicidal inclinations and post-traumatic experiences of an English war veteran.

“Trigger warnings” about potentially upsetting material are the latest campus fad, reports the New York Times. Advocates believe many students suffer from post-traumatic stress due to rape, domestic violence, racism, sexism, classism, ableism, military service or other things.

Professors aren’t happy about it, reports the Times. “Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace.”

“Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom,” said Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor at (University of California at Santa Barbara), who often uses graphic depictions of torture in her courses about war. “Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong. The presumption there is that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous.”

Trigger proponents believe the classroom is supposed to be a “safe space” in which “no one should feel upset, anxious or uncomfortable,” writes Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic. He proposes a warning during registration:

“The world is rife with racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,” the Oberlin course catalog might say. “Students taking courses in the humanities and social sciences should expect to grapple regularly with those phenomena and other fraught, uncomfortable subjects besides, in both course materials and classroom discussions with people who don’t share their values, judgments, or assumptions.”

That this doesn’t go without saying is an indictment of leading universities.

Yes, life can be a “hostile environment.”

America’s college kids are mollycoddled babies, writes Checker Finn. “These are the same kids who would riot in the streets if their colleges asserted any form of in loco parentis when it comes to such old-fashioned concerns as inebriation and fornication. God forbid they should be treated as responsible, independent adults!”

Jonathan Zimmerman offers a sample syllabus for a U.S. history course with warnings.

OK, I’ve checked my privilege

“Check your privilege”is used to silence white male college students, writes Tal Fortgang in the Princeton Tory.

“Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.

The phrase judges people based on their skin color and attributes their success “to some invisible patron saint of white maleness,” writes Fortgang, a first-year student who plans to major in history or political science.

As it happens, Fortgang’s grandfather and brother fled the Nazi invasion of Poland and spent World War II laboring in a Siberian camp.  Their mother and five younger were shot and dumped into an open grave.

His grandmother survived — barely — a death march to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

They came to America.

It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.

His grandfather started a wicker business and prospered. They educated their children and taught them their values.

I am privileged that values like faith and education were passed along to me. My grandparents played an active role in my parents’ education, and some of my earliest memories included learning the Hebrew alphabet with my Dad. It’s been made clear to me that education begins in the home, and the importance of parents’ involvement with their kids’ education—from mathematics to morality—cannot be overstated.

The values we pass on perpetuate privilege, Fortgang writes. And it’s not something we need to apologize for.

Critics say he doesn’t understand white privilege.

In the Columbia Spectator students Dunni Oduyemi and Parul Guliani wrote that Fortgang shouldn’t take “check your privilege” personally. “Recognizing the fact that white men benefit from the kinds of racist and sexist structures on which American society is built isn’t meant to diminish his accomplishments,” they write. “It’s meant to remind us that white men don’t have an inherent predilection for success — the odds have just been stacked in their favor.”

I think those two sentences contradict each other.  If the odds were stacked in his favor that diminishes his accomplishments.

And it ignores the real privileges he enjoyed: He was born in the U.S., healthy and intelligent, and raised by loving and supportive parents. That’s a huge advantage in life, but not one reserved for white males.

It’s not PC or censorship

Common Core State Standards “and standardized testing are trying to make teachers into KAPOs, a Nazi concentration camp prisoner who was given privileges if they would supervise work gangs,” wrote a reader commenting on Diane Ravitch’s blog. She goes on to reference Schindler’s List and her relatives killed in the Holocaust.

When readers objected to the analogy, Ravitch wrote: “I find this argument to be a form of political correctness that is used to censor opinion. If anyone wants to use an analogy to make a point, that is their choice.” She defended the posting on Twitter as a free speech issue.

This isn’t about political correctness or censorship, responds Daniel Willingham.

First, he writes, the analogy trivializes enormous suffering. Test takers are not in any way like Holocaust victims just as students asked to perform public service are not comparable to slaves.

If a reformer said schools are concentration camps where teachers brutalize their students . . . It’s insulting, isn’t it?

Willingham also disagrees that it’s censorship to tell people you think their analogy is “ill-considered and offensive.”

 . . .  if she had asked the author to change the analogy or had refused to post the piece because of the analogy, I would not call that censorship. The author does not have a guaranteed right to post what she likes in Diane’s blog, a right that Diane would have been infringing. Diane was a offering a platform for this author’s voice, and obviously she offers that platform to voices she thinks are worth amplifying.

This situation is not comparable to that documented in The Language Police, in which enormous power was concentrated in the hands of few publishers. If an author wanted to publish a textbook they had to toe the line drawn by the publishers or give up on publishing the book. That power relationship does not exist in this case. This is the internet, for crying out loud.

He asks Ravitch to rethink her position.

I agree with Willingham. I’d add that the analogy is ridiculous and therefore unpersuasive.

Ed student expelled for Facebook comment

A graduate education student at Syracuse University, Matthew Werenczak signed up to tutor at a predominantly black middle school. On his first day, a community leader said the school should hire teachers from historically black colleges.

“Just making sure we’re okay with racism,” wrote Werenczak on his Facebook page. “It’s not enough I’m … tutoring in the worst school in the city, I suppose I oughta be black or stay in my own side of town.”

The School of Education expelled him for “unprofessional, offensive, and insensitive” comments. When FIRE went public with the case, he was readmitted and earned his master’s degree.

Teen back in school — in NRA shirt

A West Virginia 14-year-old is back in middle school — wearing a National Rifle Association T-shirt — after being suspended and arrested for refusing to take it off last week. On Monday, Jared Marcum and about 100 other Logan County students wore shirts with gun rights themes provided by the Sons of the Second Amendment, a gun rights group.

Jared, an eighth grader at Logan Middle School, attended his morning classes wearing a shirt with an NRA logo, a picture of a hunting rifle and the slogan, “Protect your right.” He was standing in a cafeteria line when a teacher told him to turn his shirt inside out. He refused. He was sent to the office, where he again refused to remove the shirt, and arrested on charges of disrupting the educational process and obstructing an officer. He was released to his mother and suspended for a day.

Jared’s attorney, Ben White, said video evidence shows the cafeteria was orderly until the teacher raised his voice while confronting Jared. “I think the disruption came from the teacher,” he said, predicting all charges will be dropped.

The student believes the Second Amendment is being threatened and wore the shirt as an “expression of political speech,” White said.

“What the video shows is that students did step up on the benches to the tables in the lunchroom when they were escorting Jared out of building. Kids jumped up, clapping. Teachers said to get off and be quiet, and they did.”

Logan County schools’ dress code bans clothing and accessories that display profanity, violence, discriminatory messages or sexual language, along with ads for alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

Jared is an honor roll student who plans a career in the military, his attorney said. The 14-year-old certainly understands his legal rights.

A veteran Chicago teacher is suing to reverse a four-day suspension for bringing a pocket knife to school. Douglas Bartlett showed second graders the knife, a box cutter, various wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers “as part of a curriculum-mandated ‘tool discussion’,” his lawsuit states.

Blackface vs. make-up

A second-grader in Colorado was assigned to dress up as a historical figure for a “wax museum day”.

Given the sheer amount of time and attention given to Martin Luther King in the typical school year, it might come as no surprise that this second-grader wanted to come as King.

Sean’s mother, Michelle King-Roca, told Denver’s 7News her son was really excited about the project.

“He said, ‘Mom, I want to wear a black suit because that’s what he wore, a black tie, a white shirt, and also I want to do my face black and wear a mustache,’” said King-Roca.

Hilarity ensues.  Well, sort of.

After complaints from a faculty member that took issue with the blackface, the principal asked Sean to remove the face paint or leave the school.

* * * *

A spokeswoman for the principal told KRDO that some students, as well as the faculty member who initially complained, felt the costume was offensive. It’s the principal’s job to make sure the school is a safe environment for students, she said.

Face paint violates the school’s dress code policy, she said.

Sigh.  These people (and by “these people” I mean the morons who perpetuate this sort of stupidity — morons of all races) never get tired of proclaiming perfectly well-intentioned things to be offensive, do they?

I had always thought that there was an obvious (and reasonable) distinction between “Blackface” proper — the gross cariacature of Black people using extremely dark make-up that gave an illusion of giant-sized lips, usually coupled with vulgarly offensive steretyped acting or singing — and simple stage make-up to alter one’s apparent skin tone in an attempt to make one’s costume a better costume.    Was I wrong?

I was once in a production of Fiddler on the Roof once as a Russian Dancer.  It occurred to me, as I was doing make-up on opening night, that there weren’t many Mexican-Americans in turn of the century Russia.  So I thought for a moment, and decided to make myself into something of a Mongol-blooded Cossack — with a slightly darker foundation and some clever eye make-up.  I certainly didn’t think I was being racist.

But maybe I was mistaken.  Maybe really dark foundation isn’t just make-up, to be used when the appropriate need arises… but is really foundation exclusively for use by black people.  I mean, nothing says racial harmony like having a make-up counter with products you can’t buy because of your race, right?

You might be forgiven if you thought that the point of a costume was to, you know, look like the person as whom you are dressing.  If I’m going to dress as Kareem Abdul Jabbar, I’m not just going to need some darker make-up — I’m going to need stilts and a nametag that says “Roger Murdock”.

My friend Bradley (who is quite dark-skinned, as such things go) is going to need some pale make-up and a wheelchair if he wants to be FDR.

But maybe that would be offensive, too.

Could we all agree that, were it possible to buy an MLK silicone or latex mask, that wouldn’t be racist?  But what’s the difference, really?

(Good luck trying to find one, though.  I looked for twenty minutes; maybe it is offensive.)

 

UPDATE: Minor ambiguity in the second sentence corrected.

‘Harassment’ rules threaten free speech

“Overly broad harassment codes remain the weapon of choice on campus to punish speech that administrators dislike,” writes Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, in the Washington Post op-ed.

In a decade fighting campus censorship, I have seen harassment defined as expressions as mild as “inappropriately directed laughter” and used to police students for references to a student government candidate as a “jerk and a fool” (at the University of Central Florida in 2006) and a factually verifiable if unflattering piece on Islamic extremism in a conservative student magazine (at Tufts University in 2007). Other examples abound. Worryingly, such broad codes and heavy-handed enforcement are teaching a generation of students that it may be safer to keep their mouths shut when important or controversial issues arise. Such illiberal lessons on how to live in a free society are poison to freewheeling debate and thought experimentation and, therefore, to the innovative thinking that both higher education and our democracy need.

In April, the Office of Civil Rights told colleges to use “the lowest possible standard of evidence” in sexual harassment and assault cases, Lukianoff writes. “The letter makes no mention of the First Amendment or free speech.”

In the 1999 case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court defined harassment as discriminatory conduct, directed at an individual, that is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that “victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.” FIRE and other groups want OCR to adopt the Davis definition of harassment.

 

College ‘beach books’ are new, easy

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a 2010 book on a black cancer victim whose cells were used for medical research, is by far the most popular book assigned to new college students as “common summer reading,” concludes a survey by the National Association of Scholars.

Almost 90 percent of college chose books published since the start of 2000; only two selected books published before 1972. Only two books — one by Mark Twain and one by Aldous Huxley — could be considered classics.

It’s not just political correctness, says Peter Wood, president of NAS. “Colleges have lowered their expectations of what college students are capable of understanding.”

Federalist Papers: Where's the sex?

On Jay Nordlinger’s corner of The Corner, a reader writes about disclaimers:

Our home library needed a new copy of the Federalist Papers (the old copy having succumbed to 25 years of thumbing, page-turning, and note-taking). The new copy, published by Wilder Publications in 2008, offers this disclaimer:

“This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.”

Nordlinger is rereading the Federalist Papers to look for the sex. (In Federalist 6, Alexander Hamilton mentions Pericles going to war at a prostitute’s behest. Maybe that’s it.)

One does wonder what values the disclaimer writers were disclaiming.