A few days back, a student at Temple filed a grievance against the university with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office on Civil Rights. The student claims officials at the school discriminated against him regarding his request that special accommodations be made for him because he has bipolar disorder. The student, David Harris, wanted extra time to work on a paper “so he could take it to the writing center,” according to Temple’s student paper.
Harris’s beef is that Temple’s “unofficial policy” regarding “accommodations letters” is that they must be hand-delivered to a faculty member. Harris, who is studying social work, claims that disabled students are frequently “abused” by faculty members who are presented with such letters. How? “[O]ftentimes professors take the opportunity to question the student as to why they need this accommodation and what the nature of their disability is,” he explained.
When I read about Mr. Harris, I was reminded of a newspaper story I saw last year about Grand Valley State University in Michigan, which paid a $40,000 settlement to a student who kept an “assistance animal” guinea pig in her dorm room. The school was perfectly fine with letting Kendra Velzen keep the critter in her dorm room, seeing as, as her attorney explained, it “provides her with emotional support and attachment.” (She suffers, the article said, from depression.) Where GVSU dug in was in refusing to allow her to take her support guinea pig to class and to food service areas. So she threatened to sue. And the school paid out.
Which brings us to the topic of trigger warnings. I’m sure you’ve seen them online — those coy little notes at the start of articles on subjects like mental health and sexual violence that are designed to alert readers they might find the contents disturbing. They pop up on some TV shows, too. But according to a piece by Jenny Jarvie in the New Republic, they’re now infiltrating college campuses. The student senate at UC-Santa Barbara recently passed a resolution that would require such warnings regarding schoolwork. Professors whose courses cover “content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” will have to alert students ahead of time in the syllabus, and allow potentially distressed young people to skip any classes in which such material is covered.
Oberlin College has instructed professors to be leery of content that involves “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.” A columnist for the student newspaper at Rutgers recently called for “trauma trigger warnings” for The Great Gatsby (“gory, abusive and misogynistic violence”), Mrs. Dalloway (“suicidal inclinations and post-traumatic experiences”), and Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her (“domestic violence and misogynistic culture in disturbing first-person narrations”). He wants professors to tell students what sections of books are “safe” to read. This, the writer argues, will foster “positive and compassionate intellectual discussion” on campus.
Oh, you poor dear hothouse flowers.
When did college students start to assume they had a right never to be “disturbed”? (And where are these exquisitely attenuated sensibilities when said students are binge-watching Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead?) How do you teach the history of the Holocaust without being “disturbing”? The conflict in Rwanda, or the Crusades? The theory of evolution? Leda and the Swan? The Bible? King Lear? Lolita? Catch-22?
Great literature, great art, the wonders of science, the highest thinking the human mind is capable of — this is what your professors long to share with you, to expose you to. And you prefer to huddle with your companion guinea pig beneath a fluffy blanket of “Do Not Disturb”?
Shame on you. You need counseling? Go get some counseling. There are so many counselors and human resources administrators on campus that schools can’t afford to hire real professors anymore. Meantime, why don’t you all get over yourselves and ask not what your college can do to “accommodate” you, but what you can learn from your college?
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