As someone who values our Constitution specifically the 1st Amendment, some trends and news as of late have been alarming to say the least. Where do I begin, well lets start with “microaggressions” and “trigger warnings”.
First, I want to give credit where credit is due. I had no idea about microaggressions until I read the shockingly fascinating article “The Coddling of the American Mind” by Greg Lukiano and Jonathan Hardt which appeared in The Atlantic. I have attached a link to the article and of course, I highly recommend that you read it. (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/)
Their article has permanently caused facial damage as my jaw kept dropping as I read. In short, some Universities have found it to be sound practice to make students aware of statements that they have labeled as microaggressions. Microaggressions are statements which may be interpreted as violent, racist or offensive even though the words on their surface or standing alone, don’t seem harmful. Some Universities are even policing the use of these microaggressions through their rules and polices. The article provided a great example when the authors said it may be considered a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American, where they were born, which then implies ‘they are not a real American’.
My fear as an educator and a human being is that this erects an unnecessary brick wall against conversing as a whole. In teaching philosophy, history, or any social science for that matter, it is important to be able to have honest conversations, and ask real questions. As an educator, I may avoid subjects which historically are true, worth knowing, and enlightening all because I fear using the wrong term. The result may then be constantly fearing if I use the wrong term, phrase, or example; What will be the consequences? Do I need to memorize the ever-changing politically correct lexicon in order to communicate ideas that I know are not racist or bigoted but may be construed to be so? Even as I write this post, I find myself constantly reviewing and asking if the last written statement will cost me a job. This is no way to educate, as a fear of microaggressions may come to cripple our ability to connect on real issues that need to be discussed. A healthy, honest, civil, discussion is what a democracy needs to not only thrive, but survive.
The second term that I learned from The Atlantic article was “trigger warning”. This is the practice of college professors, who will provide a disclaimer for their students about the potentially offensive subjects in their curriculum, literature, lectures etc. Once again I ask; Should I avoid teaching specific material out of fear that some special interest or group has declared it to be violent, offensive, or capable of inciting post traumatic stress disorder? If this is the case, then higher learning is in danger as is our democracy, because the strength of any democracy rests on the proper education of its’ citizens. The premises behind these trigger warnings is to provide an emotionally safe environment. Once again, to restrict human responses or emotion inhibits the human experience as a whole and can serve as an obstacle to authentic learning. I believe being offended doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative experience but rather one can use this emotion as a catalyst for response and a call to action. I am confident that Martin Luther King Jr. was offended by the segregation that existed in his community and nation. But rather than sheltering himself from the situation; he was immersed, even uncomfortable, and at times found himself in life threatening situations. I am sure that this experience and environment proved to be the motivation that generated change. Great things do not happen in a safe, comfortable, environment. Rather than omit, or declare something as a transgression, we should acknowledge information for what it is then possibly confront, debate, analyze, whatever we may need to do in order to enlighten those around us on the validity or invalidity of the issue or comment. For another example, albeit not as grand of a scale, I know a student who was offended by Donald Trump’s recent comments concerning Mexican immigrants coming across the border. He did not want to discuss Trump as a candidate at all but to simply dismiss him as a racist, ignore all of his policy statements, label him as offensive and move on. He believed discussing Trump and his policies would create an uncomfortable environment and would trigger some negative emotional responses, so therefore it should just be avoided. My suggestion to the student was rather than simply blocking out Donald Trump, why not confront, analyze, and in this scenario, prove his statements to be ultimately false and ridiculous. To simply label Trump, therefore refusing to address or confront his statements, does nothing for the learning experience and can really retard a person’s intellectual growth.
We must remember that people in this country have the constitutional right to be offensive and I rather have an open conversation because at least those statements or opinions are out in the open with ownership to hold people accountable to their opinions and positions. After all, we ultimately have the power to choose whether or not we are offended because it is a reaction. So now I find myself being offended by the words; microaggressions, trigger warnings, and even the word “offensive”. All of these terms represent censorship, hinder our first amendment right, and represent a threat to the heath of our democracy.