The Fragile Collegiate Mind

America’s favorite pastime these days seems to be being offended by things that are not all that offensive or being offended on the behalf of somebody who is not even offended. In an article from The Atlantic titled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” authors Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff discuss at length the detrimental effects of microaggressions, trigger warnings, and safe spaces. “Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless;” these perceived transgressions can be as innocent as asking where a person is from or reading a book in public whose subject matter could be deemed offensive. (Hadit) Another buzzword that has been making its way around college campuses is “trigger warning,” which is an alert“ that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response.” (Haidt) Some students expect professors to issues warnings not just for the truly grotesque sights and subjects, but also when covering novels such as The Fault in Our Stars or when the topic of classism and privilege is discussed. These “protections” are sought out by students and some faculty to protect students from ideas, words, subjects, discussions, and values that are deemed harmful or hateful. In reality, they lull students into a false sense of security and create an unrealistic expectation of the postgraduate world.

        Today’s tense political climate coupled with the introduction of social media as well the constant message of life is dangerous but adults will protect you that was ingrained into Millennials and the need for a movement of protection is born. (Haidt) Tensions between the parties that dominate the political arena have been rising over the past few years and have created a us versus them mentality when it comes to not only political crusades but social crusades as well. With the introduction of social media, it is easier than ever for people to not only stay politically informed on all aspects of on issue, but to also be easily caught up in the group think mentality. Joining a social or political campaign was made effortless by Facebook and Twitter thus allowing people to have their voices heard, but in hearing those voices sometimes people hear something they disagree with. When confronted with an idea we as people find discomforting there is only two real options: argue against it or protect against it. Arguing against it could lead to acknowledging that the other side’s viewpoint has merit which is risky because the people who share your viewpoint may view you as a traitor to the cause and shun you from the group. (Haidt) Through the use of barriers, like safe spaces, people never have to be confronted with ideas or opinions they deem discomforting, but this can be harmful to the person.

        Mental illness is on the rise on and off college campuses across the United States, especially anxiety and depression. More people are reporting it and more people are talking about it which could account for the upward shift in numbers “but most exports seem to agree that some portion of the trend is real.” (Haidt) This trend could also contribute to the need for a movement of intellectual protection of college students. Many suffering from mental illness feel a need to avoid the discomforts of their mental illness. Creating safe spaces and instituting trigger warnings would create a false sense of comfort knowing that nothing possibly distressing would be shown or discussed. “The very idea of helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided.” (Haidt) The most amount of healing and growth is done when there is discomfort with process. Avoiding normalcy to avoid anxiety or other mental health issues only worsens the issue. A college or university campus is hallowed spot of academia, it is where people go to expand on knowledge and ideas, to take part in intellectual debates and discussions, experience different people, and experience personal growth. Learning should never be a comfortable process there should always be new opinions, issues, and dialogs going on in the classroom. Many things in life are unpleasant and will make you feel unpleasant, whether you like it or not. After graduating from the safety of the cocoon of college or university students will be ill prepared for what the postgraduate world looks like. College should equip students for post-grad life in the workplace not cocoon them in a false security blanket, in doing so they are just doing the students a great disservice.  Everyday people do not come with trigger warnings when talking about potentially emotionally charged topics and workplaces do not come with safe spaces.

Works Cited

Haidt, Jonathan and Greg Lukianoff. “The Coddling of the American Mind.”  The Atlantic, September 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/. Accessed 6 June 2017.

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