The University of Chicago recently sent a letter to incoming students which has made me – for the first time – embarrassed to be affiliated with my undergraduate institution.
This letter (as Kevin Gannon has noted) seems to be equal parts pedagogical statement and public posture. It certainly needs to be understood in terms of evolving debates about college campuses, academic politics and student life.
I, however, want to address it from the perspective of both an alumna of the college and as a professor.
The call for “civility and mutual respect” in this letter is a heartening one, as is the reminder that “freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others.” A space in which “members of our community [are expected] to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement” and to constructively manage ideas that “may challenge you and even cause discomfort” resonates with what I expected when I first stepped into U(C) classrooms some many years ago.
But I balk at what follows – first because the author of the letter seems not to have fully interrogated what “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” mean, in …read more