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May 26, 2014

LYONS: College students can protect themselves

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.

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