University of Chicago Defends Free Speech Against 'Safe Spaces'

The University of Chicago sent a letter to the incoming Class of 2020, explaining why it values free inquiry and free expression over the politically correct culture of "safe spaces," "trigger warnings," and — unstated but very much implied — "microaggressions."

"You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort," Dean of Students John (Jay) Ellison wrote. The university embraces this discomfort because one of its "defining characteristics is our commitment to freedom of inquiry and expression."

"Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others," Ellison explained. Nevertheless, free inquiry and free expression are much more valuable than the sensitivity of students. The letter makes this very clear, rejecting the political correctness spreading across college campuses.

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.

In a powerful statement of irony, Ellison argued that the very focus on diversity which usually encourages the culture of "safe spaces" is the main reason why the University of Chicago must reject it.

According to the ideology which opposes free speech on college campuses, some speech constitutes a "microaggression" against people of other races, sexes, religions, et cetera. In order to protect the diversity on campus, some words and expressions must be forbidden, and ideas which might cause harm should not be uttered in "safe spaces." When potentially offensive speech must be uttered, or when teachers suggest books to read which may offend some students, a "trigger warning" alerts the student that the material they are about to hear or read might offend them.

But diversity cuts both ways. "Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community," Ellison wrote. "Members of the community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas." Ironically, by trying to protect some diverse students with a "safe space" culture, activists actually harm not just the university's commitment to free speech, but the very diversity they claim to support.

The culture of "safe spaces," "trigger warnings," and "microaggressions" often places some ideas — and even some types of people — off limits. Indeed, the State University of New York at Binghamton announced an RA training entitled "#StopWhitePeople2K16," and "people of color" students at the Claremont Colleges announced their desire to avoid having any white roommates. This newfangled segregation is the exact opposite of the free expression of ideas.

Next Page: How the political correctness on college campuses makes a university no longer a university.