Recently my colleague, Isabella Niesten, gave a great talk about political correctness. Originally, this was about limiting hate speech in order to stop homophobes, racists, xenophobes and other lunatics who undermine democratic society. Good, right? However, today, it seems to be about something quite different. For example, in Canada, they now have a law that instructs you to address a gender indefinite human being as ‘it’, and not respecting this is not just ‘incorrect’, but considered to be a hate crime. So, this ‘cure’ against dangerous extremists now starts to develop into a new disease by cracking its way into everyday language.
Nowadays, it seems we all turned into snowflakes, so there are countless things we need to protect ourselves from. Apparently, for this generation of Oxford University law students it can be potentially traumatic to hear about sexual felony cases such as rape. Thus, students are presented with a trigger warning beforehand and are given a permission to leave if the lecture is overwhelming for them. And that’s not all. The University of Sydney even includes trigger warnings for topics related to religion, body image, insects, pregnancy, vomit and so on. As expected, this has caused many debates within academia. The supportive side says that students should feel safe and comfortable, and that they could be traumatized without these warnings. Others (including me) raise the issue of freedom of speech, and its value, especially in an academic setting. Yet, maybe more important is a matter of common sense. If studies should prepare a person for a real life, having those warnings does seem odd. As we all know, in life nobody gives you a warning of what’s about to happen so that you can just leave.
Another important consideration is that we often insult others by treating them in this ‘protective’ manner. A perfect example is war veterans, who experience frustration serving as an object in warnings such as: “Be courteous with fireworks, a veteran lives here”, or “Please remember pets and veterans do not like fireworks”. The perverse logic is that by being treated as ‘terrified Chihuahuas’, veterans should feel safer.
So, taking the same logic to students - treating young, intelligent, and functional students as fragile, and warning them about any topic that might be emotional or can cause discomfort will help them feel more safe. Safe from what? Truth? Well, truth should trigger, and we should be ready to hear it. Otherwise, we might be politically correct but definitely not free.
Irena Boskovic, PhD Candidate, FPN, Forensic Psychology Department