When anyone walks onto a college campus, it should imply a safe space. A safe space is a place to grow academically as adults and to be productive and contributing members of society.
College is a place to learn in an environment free from censorship. As students, we all deserve the ability to decide for ourselves about what we believe and be free from watered down information and censorship that may rob us from knowledge.
The objective for any student is to learn and earn a well-rounded education, but, in doing so, we are met by differences of opinion.
In life there are obstacles that we are prepared for and not, but as students we learn, grow and become evermore resilient.
The University of Chicago’s recent letter that was sent to the class of 2020 stated the college would not support labeling course content with “trigger warnings” or the creation of “intellectual safe spaces,” and has caused controversy. The university’s position doesn’t prevent professors from informing their classes about the material or act as a safe haven from perceived threats or hostility. The university’s objective is to promote the freedom to exchange ideas on a wide spectrum and not limit or prohibit that ability. However, this begs the question, what purpose does a warning serve on a course at a liberal college or any college for that matter?
As a student, I believe that we should challenge our beliefs by questioning them, reexamining what we are taught in the classroom and becoming effective critical thinkers. I expect to be confronted by lectures, lessons, and material with which I may not agree. I expect that my classmates may or may not agree with me, and that is no reason for me to retreat from opposing ideas.
In a letter written on April 22, 1800, from Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton, Jefferson wrote,“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” I have had plenty of discussions with friends about controversial topics and we didn’t always see eye to eye, but we listened to each other. The process was fun, but if the discussion grew too intense then we would take a break and come back to it later.
So how true and relevant it is to have discussions about topics in a classroom with classmates, guest speakers and faculty?
College is not meant to persuade or satisfy someone’s beliefs, but to inform and allow the student to decide what he or she believes as they move on in the next stage of their life.
College is that place in our lives where we are exposed to controversial material and people who have different beliefs, values and life experiences. We should thoroughly hear out each other. We don’t have to look farther than the news headlines to read stories about college student debt and homelessness on the rise, a shrinking middle-class and a criminal justice system that isn’t working justly for everyone.
We should acknowledge different perspectives and understand that it doesn’t mean someone’s beliefs have to be right or wrong. Nor does this mean we should change what we believe unless we decide to do so. In a world with people who believe in things that we don’t is perfectly fine. I will respect a person who thinks differently on a matter even if I don’t think much of it. That is a part of life.
In my Intro to the Bible course, the professor informed the class that we would read the Bible and use critical and analytical skills. The class learned about the development of monotheism, traditions of the prophets, Hebrew scripture, the “Jesus problem” and examined the development of the early Christian church. We were discussing the Book of Jeremiah, and verse 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” I remember the professor asking the class what they thought it meant. A student said, this is saying that God already knew you before you were starting off as a human in the womb. The professor without missing a beat asked why isn’t this an argument for reincarnation?
The student at first was appalled. After hearing the professor out even I asked why couldn’t this be an argument for reincarnation. The professor wasn’t trying to convert or change beliefs, but to make students examine what they were reading from a different perspective.
We all should be encouraged to discuss issues in any disciplines on campus. Retreating should not be the first option when faced with someone with an opposing viewpoint, but if someone feels that they must, then do so. But find the courage to hear people out in a world full of diverse opinions.