- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The University of Chicago faculty is defending safe spaces and trigger warnings in the aftermath of an administrative letter denouncing the practices.

Published on Tuesday in the Chicago Maroon, a campus newspaper, and signed by more than 140 faculty, the brief letter encourages incoming students to “speak up loudly and fearlessly” about their demands for specifically designated areas on campus free from conflicting points of view.

It says requests for warnings about difficult ideas with which students may disagree “often touch on substantive, ongoing issues of bias, intolerance, and trauma that affect our intellectual exchanges.”

Furthermore, the faculty says safe spaces and trigger warnings are essential to the free exchange of ideas — serving as “incubators of new ideas” that challenge the status quo, but are vulnerable to the “censure of the very authorities threatened by these movements.”

“The history of ‘safe spaces’ goes back to gay, civil rights, and feminist efforts of the mid-20th century to create places protected from quite real forces of violence and intimidation,” the letter says, adding that it “would be naïve to think that the University of Chicago is immune from social problems.”

The professors upbraid the administration for starting a conversation on the topic by “declaring that such requests are not worth making,” calling it an “affront to the basic principles of liberal education and participatory democracy.”

“You will find the University of Chicago to be a diverse place full of strong-minded people,” the professors reassure. “We hope you will become one of them.”

In his letter to the incoming freshman class, Dean of Students Jay Ellison said the university expects students to be “engaged in rigorous debate and discussion, even in disagreement,” and even when such discussions “cause discomfort.”

“Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” Mr. Ellison wrote.

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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