In 2013 at UCLA, education Professor Val Rust experienced a sit-in during a class he was teaching. The reason? While grading a student’s paper, Rust had lowercased the “i” in “indigenous,” since the student had wrongly left it capitalized.
Rust was then accused of insulting the student’s race and her ideology, and was labeled a racist. This incident was featured in an article by The Atlantic titled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” from their September issue.
“Triggering” is a term that has experienced major mainstream attention recently. The word itself is defined as to “cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist.” The article gives a great example of students nowadays complaining of being triggered by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book “The Great Gatsby” because of the misogyny and physical abuse. They think there should be a “trigger warning” before reading the book, or the choice to avoid it because it could potentially reawaken past traumatic experiences.
While it’s basic common sense to be aware and respectful of people’s backgrounds and cultures, perceived “microaggressions,” words or actions with no intended threat that are interpreted as actually being threatening, are taking things too far.
There are a variety of contributors to this epidemic, and it’s hard not to start with social media. The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota had a planned event called “hump day,” which would have let students pet a camel. It was canceled after a Facebook protest group was formed against it, citing reasons such as being a waste of money, animal cruelty and, above all, being insensitive to Middle Eastern people. The event was inspired by a popular commercial where a camel walks around an office.
It’s hard to overlook the generational and political forces at work in this scenario as well. Consider the increasing demonization of one political party by the other. Journalism Professor Sue Hinton told me that “back in the day,” there used to be a Democratic and a Republican newspaper for most towns, and if you were smart, you knew you had to read both of them to get the full political scope of things.
Now, if you meet a person of another political party than your own, you might as well not have met them in the first place. Common ground is hard to find. It seems the current lack of political compromise has translated over to the realm of academia, and influenced millennials’ ideas of how compromise works.
It would be easy to chalk this up to the generation war — the old generation just doesn’t get the young generation and its new, progressive ideas. However, this type of thinking seems more regressive than progressive to me.
One of the basic tenets of psychology is that helping someone with anxiety avoid the things they fear is not only fundamentally wrong, but misguided.
The institutionalization of hypersensitivity that is taking place in the U.S. is doing just that by enabling students’ feelings to override logic and compromise.
When a college grad is at that first job and finds something or someone they disagree with, they may be a little bit surprised to find that trigger warnings don’t exist in the real world.