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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Supposedly, students at some of our most prestigious universities find themselves confronted with existential challenges. Some are required to read books and watch films that could conceivably upset them emotionally. Hence many campuses are considering “trigger warnings” to alert the more delicate flowers against getting their little feelings hurt.

“The warnings,” reports Jennifer Medina in The New York Times “which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them. But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University,” etc.

Apparently, we’ve come full circle if “feminist thought” now means shielding what fools once called “the weaker sex” from unpleasant realities. At Ohio’s Oberlin College, which in 2013 suspended classes due to an imaginary intruder in KKK regalia, they’ve circulated a “trigger” guide for professors.

“Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,” the guide said. “Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand.”

“Cissexism,” for readers innocent of the jargon, means hurtfully implying that most people are either male or female. “Ableism” is making persons with physical handicaps feel inferior, as if any decent human being would do that. Not that everybody’s decent, mind you. My objection’s to cant, not morals.

The guide stipulated that while, say, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart may be great literature, it could also “trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide,” etc.

One would certainly hope so. Otherwise, what’s the point of teaching literature?

I can still remember my own moral horror at reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment as a Rutgers freshman years ago. Many classmates felt the same; we sat up half the night talking about it. Richard Wright’s Native Son made a similar impact.

What fascinated us was less Raskolnikov’s axe murder of an aged pawnbroker than his seductive rationalization of the crime. And while Native Son was set in Chicago, we understood that it could easily have been Newark.

But no, I don’t believe people suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from storybooks. And I have trouble believing Jersey kids have gone so soft as to demand to be protected from a damn novel. Back then, we thought growing up was what college was for.

Actually, I doubt many Rutgers students do demand “trigger warnings.” Merely an impassioned clique of immature students and crackpot faculty that administrators find it easier to humor than to resist.

Meanwhile, an equally ludicrous fracas has broken out down at Princeton. There, a freshman named Tal Fortgang wrote a column for The Princeton Tory objecting to the allegedly common practice of admonishing people who stray from campus orthodoxy to “Check your privilege.”

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  • Carol Woodruff

    Seriously? To the little darlings: grow the hell up. You are in college, not preschool. You are there to learn about things as they are and not the sanitized version. Go home to Mommy if it’s too much for you. And to the colleges: What the hell are YOU thinking by giving in to this lunacy???

    • Murf Mensch

      Liberal arts schools are not and their students are not asking them to.

  • Murf Mensch

    I have read a few of these articles, including the ones you cite. All that is requested is saying something about the material ahead of time. There has not been a single request to remove material or exempt anyone from reading. (By the way, there have been much stronger demands from religious circles, who have started whole schools in order to avoid disturbing cultural work. Harding and Baylor have more problems than, say, Smith.)

    I assign some very disturbing material and I always say something ahead of time. This is just responsible.

    There is no need for the condemnation of a generation.

  • sigrid28

    Why are we picking on the college kids–because they are an easy target? We just “cover” the Koch brothers, who have money to burn, yet have the gall to deny pensions to 300,000 desperate pensioners in Detroit because they don’t like them, I guess. They and other rich folk in this country can be as callous and cruel as they like with total impunity as far as media satire is concerned, even contriving to all but steal fine art from the Detroit museum. What does the liberal media do. We put up a sign: “Please take note–theft about to occur.” The current generation of adolescents decides to explore its sensitive side (instead of slashing people with machetes as they did in Rwanda or spraying them with bullets as they do in Mexico), and for our part, in the liberal media (at that), we devote precious inches of self-indulgent ridicule to the excesses of adolescents–whose lives are a blood bath of emotion and whose frontal lobes need another ten years to mature. Will our ridicule fix them?

    I spent twenty years teaching these characters after I spent twenty years being one.

    First of all, they don’t listen to us.

    Second, they are much meaner and funnier to each other: It’s a miracle so many of them survive.

    Third, when we’re in our dotage and largely dependent on their good graces, I’d rather have a hypersensitive generation in charge than the misogynistic xenophobes who were once freedom-loving Baby Boomers and have now taken over the Republican Party.

    Fourth, I can remember when Trigger was a horse.

  • tdm3624

    “The guide stipulated that while, say, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart may be great literature, it could also “trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide,” etc.”

    There can’t be too many people in college who have experienced colonialism. And not everyone who has experienced colonialism would say it was negative.