BOD MAGAZINE – Political correctness: How PC is too PC?

Alexis Simmons

University campuses are places of intellectual exploration and discovery. They are designated spaces for creative expression both in the classroom and extracurriculars, giving students an opportunity to break out of their comfort zones. The conversations and debates that stem from dissenting opinions are often times of the greatest growth for students, both personally and intellectually. Recently, some have argued that an increasingly prominent culture of political correctness in the classroom is making it more difficult for these kinds of discussions to happen. A desire to create “safe spaces” for students drives this concept, but it also causes people to ask, “What is a safe space?”

Syracuse University recently reneged an invitation to Shimon Dotan, renowned Israeli documentarian, due to fear of negative repercussions from Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) activists, whose purpose is to support the Palestinian cause for boycott, divestment and international sanctions against Israel. Professor M. Gail Hamner disinvited Dotan from “The Place of Religion in Film” academic conference. She wrote to him, “I now am embarrassed to share that my SU colleagues, on hearing about my attempt to secure your presentation, have warned me that the BDS faction on campus will make matters very unpleasant for you and for me if you come.” The Atlantic described the film, The Settlers, “[The film] chronicles the history and present state of the religious settler movement in the West Bank, where more than 400,000 Israeli Jews live on occupied land.” This was apparently too controversial for the university.

On a college campus, a student is there to grow and mature as they study. People grow the most when taken out of their comfort zones. This does not mean that trigger warnings and a general appreciation for political correctness are all wrong. When used correctly, in an intellectually stimulating environment, they are extremely useful in allowing for thought-provoking and heated discussions.

“Trigger warnings”, originating from a context of sexual assault or harassment, are a common way to forewarn people of forthcoming information that may provoke a strong emotional response. A common example of a trigger warning can be seen in many syllabi. If an assigned reading has a graphic description of a sexual assault, it is common for the professor to warn the students of the upcoming language. This is done for the purpose of allowing more controversial content to be presented because, in theory, it would be less alarming with a warning.

University of Chicago recently sent a letter out to its incoming freshmen preparing them for a trigger warning-free college experience, justifying this decision ultimately by citing academic freedom. Some claimed that trigger warnings provided a vehicle to prepare students for controversial material while others say they are being used to hinder students.