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University Of Chicago: 'Trigger Warnings,' Safe Spaces Violate Free Speech

By Sam Cholke | August 25, 2016 8:44am | Updated on August 25, 2016 8:50am
 The University of Chicago sent a letter to freshmen saying it would not shield them from difficult ideas with
The University of Chicago sent a letter to freshmen saying it would not shield them from difficult ideas with "trigger warnings" or "intellectual safe spaces."
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DNAInfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago is warning freshmen that they will not be shielded from controversial topics, saying there will be no “trigger warnings” or “intellectual safe spaces” at the university.

In a letter to freshmen sent Wednesday, the university told new students that it has a tradition of rigorous debate about sensitive topics and would not tolerate censorship.

“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,” Jay Ellison, dean of students, says in the letter.

Trigger warnings and safe spaces started on university campuses as a way to prepare students grappling with controversial ideas and providing a space for the discussion where students were guaranteed their views would not be challenged.

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Both concepts have now gained a reputation as a way for students to avoid confronting ideas that conflict with their own and to shut such ideas out of conversation.

Trigger warnings and safe spaces have received a lot of attention from people who claim culture has become too “politically correct,” but it is unclear how widespread either practice is.

“You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement,” Ellison writes. “At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”

He said this expectation of dialog does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others.

“Fostering the free exchange of ideas reinforces a related university priority — building a campus that welcomes people of all backgrounds,” Ellison writes. “Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community. The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.”

The letter also included a copy of Dean John Boyer’s “Academic Freedom and the Modern University: The Experience of the University of Chicago.”

More than 200 people commented on the story about the letter on the student newspaper website, The Chicago Maroon, with writers overwhelmingly applauding the move against what they describe as "political correctness."

"A college that expects a student to be exposed to differing points of view? A college with a backbone? Say it ain't so," wrote one.

Said another: "Our Democracy was and is founded on free speech and expression, which seems to have been overridden by the PC Police. Congrats to the University of Chicago."

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