This article represents the first in a hopefully long series of articles which aims to address controversial topics in an open and civil manner here in Sunspots. The name was chosen carefully: the agora, the marketplace of ancient Athens, was at once a place where material goods were exchanged and where ideas and conflicting viewpoints could be expressed in the open air for all to hear and criticize. This is therefore the goal of Agora, a bi-weekly column for which writers in Sunspots meet in person and compose a conversational piece in which they summarize their own take on difficult topics, and contribute to conversations that need to be had. This week, two Sunspots writers turn their attention to the issue of trigger warnings. By now, it has become a staple of online writing, a boldfaced prefix to harrowing subject matter: the cw, content warning, or its functional Doppelgänger, tw, trigger warning.
With an open mind and two sides of the story, you’re bound to learn something new. Welcome to the zoo! This is a blog where both the Republican and Democratic viewpoints are represented. The blog is not meant to sway you either way necessarily, just to present both sides of the story. You may not agree with the whole article, but hey, you’re likely to agree with half!
Recently, The University of Chicago notified first-year students that it does not support trigger warnings or safe spaces, going against the current trend in a higher-education system that has been characterized by suppression of uncomfortable ideas. But just when it seemed that the tides had started to turn, Cornell University doubled down on the coddling culture that has consumed American campuses by capitulating to the demands of certain students, with the director of the Cornell Plantations, Christopher Dunn, announcing that he will be recommending the Board of Trustees to rename the Cornell Plantations to the Cornell Botanic Gardens. Black Students United demanded that the name be changed because the word “plantations” invokes imagery of black slavery and causes distress among students. Never mind the fact that there was never a black slave plantation in the state of New York. Never mind the fact that there’s no evidence of Cornell using the name of the Plantations as a means of condoning slavery.
Arbitrarily, the entire premise of college is to expand one’s knowledge of the world and gain new perspective, both of which can be inhibited without open, uncensored dialogue about controversial topics. While such topics can be difficult to digest for many individuals, certain provoking topics such as sexual assault, cancer and war are the brutal realities of the world in which we live. Although it is not innately effortless to immerse oneself in discussion related to such matters, it is vital that students participate to broaden their educations and perspectives. Thus, while professors should be mindful of the ways they expose students to controversial materials (and perhaps caution students of universally graphic material), they should not be required to administer trigger warnings or options to “opt out” of “triggering” topics. College is not the time nor the place to evade disconcerting topics; allowing students to disengage with materials on the basis that they are not rationally capable of handling such discussions is inimical.