In the wake of protests at the University of Missouri and Yale, a new dialogue has emerged around what colleges and universities should be doing to make campus a welcoming environment for all students. Things like safe spaces (which Mizzou students used to keep media at bay during their protests) and trigger warnings have come into play on some campuses, but the University of Chicago’s dean of students, Dr. Jay Ellison, penned a letter to incoming freshmen declaring that neither will be tolerated at the school.
“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” Ellison wrote. He went on to say that these policies are designed to “[Foster] the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related University priority — building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds.”
The debate over whether to accept safe spaces and trigger warnings has raged for years, with some claiming they coddle students from unfamiliar perspectives, and others maintaining that they encourage “civility and mutual respect” for students who might otherwise feel marginalized. Given the reactions to Ellison’s letter, it’s safe to say the University of Chicago did more to add fuel to the fire of that debate than it did to quench the flames.