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The Milton Measure

Safe Spaces Facilitate Students’ Growth in an Educational Setting

by John Albright on Friday, September 30th, 2016

In light of racism’s alarming presence in our country, the notion of “political correctness” has developed a negative connotation, due in part to the progressive and accepting nature of our society. Recently, the administration at the University of Chicago opposed this standard by denouncing the presence of “trigger warnings” in academic environments. A trigger warning is essentially the identification of certain content as offensive or potentially evocative of one’s traumatic experiences.

In an academic environment, teachers typically employ trigger warnings to mitigate any potentially destructive controversy. However, the way Chicago sees it, trigger warnings inhibit intellectual growth, prevent productive discourse, and reinforce the notion that one will be exempt from political incorrectness in the real world. In its official letter, the Chicago Maroon, the university’s most prominent independently run newspaper, noted that “members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, without fear of censorship.” The letter proceeds to insist that “at times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort,” reaffirming the University of Chicago’s commitment to free speech and free expression.

According to the letter, safe spaces both limit the freedom of expression, a constitutional right, and halt discussion. Learning and intellectual growth stem from considering others opinions, offensive or not. Trigger warnings and safe spaces distract one from new ideas, which are instrumental to robust and constructive discussion. Chicago suggests that we shouldn’t be shutting people out because of a perceived lack of political correctness. People can disagree, but, regardless, we must respect others’ opinions.

An August article from The Federalist notes that open, unfiltered discourse benefits all, including those who dislike it most. A New York Times article from August also cites the University of Chicago’s student body president who says that safe spaces also seem to suppress campus activism.  However, the denouncement was in no way specific to Chicago; many institutions, including Princeton and Columbia, have shifted towards a free speech-based classroom environment.

Milton is an exceedingly opinionated place. Without the formal declaration of something as a safe space, we adhere to political correctness yet sustain rigorous dialogue. Contrary to Chicago, a comprehensive safe space engulfs our campus. Yet, we still continue to grow intellectually.

Truth be told, we have not yet reached the point in which political correctness has become a hindrance. Above all, political correctness has been accepted as a foundation to all Milton discourse. In the case of the University of Chicago, trigger warnings and safe spaces subdue productive discussion by limiting the range and complexity of the content. In the case of Milton Academy, trigger warnings are virtually absent, but political correctness is accepted.

The necessity for and effects of trigger warnings depend on the student demographic and the extent to which political correctness is actually preclusive. Furthermore, it depends on campus environments. College prepares its students for the real world, so it’s arguably more appropriate to omit trigger warnings in that environment.

However, in high school, students are still in a developmental stage where levels of sensitivity and maturity differ from those at college. Thus, trigger warnings and safe spaces are probably more appropriate in a high school environment. At Milton, every classroom fashions a safe and comfortable environment, and these securities foster boundless and hardy debate. The freedom of expression is prominent and accepted in the Milton community – a place replete with respected opinions. Here, safe spaces don’t hinder growth. They champion it.


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Posted by John Albright on Sep 30 2016. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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