A Chicago university’s dean wants the class of 2020 to know they should be prepared to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Incoming freshman at the University of Chicago were sent a letter from Dean of Students John Ellison informing them the university “does not support so-called ‘trigger warnings.’”
Ellison said in the letter that “freedom of inquiry and expression” is one of the university’s “defining characteristics,” before reaffirming that freedom of expression does not mean “freedom to harass or threaten others.”
The letter comes in the wake of DePaul University’s rejection of hosting conservative writer and speaker Ben Shapiro, which itself came on the heels of controversial speaker and blogger Milo Yiannopoulos’s event being interrupted and shut down by protesters on DePaul’s campus.
“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,” Ellison wrote in the letter. “And we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
At the University of Chicago — a private research university with more than 5,800 undergrads and nearly 10,000 graduate students — several high-profile speakers were interrupted or shut down by calls for space spaces earlier in 2016, according to The Chicago Maroon, the campus newspaper.
Three speakers at the University of Chicago were forced to leave or were interrupted by protesters between February and April of this year, according to The Chicago Maroon: Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid and University of Louisville professor Justin McCarthy, who students said denies the Armenian genocide.
Ellison also included in the letter a copy of “Academic Freedom and the Modern University: The Experience of the University of Chicago” which he says will articulate the university’s stance on “academic freedom.”
“Fostering the exchange of ideas reinforces a related university priority—building a campus that welcomes people of all background,” the letter reads. “Diversity of opinion and background is a fundamental strength of our community. The members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas.”
Constitutional law experts praised the University of Chicago's move.
"It's about time that a university administration stood up to the bullies who are trying to repress free speech on campus," renowned civil liberties lawyer and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told NBC News. "I'm ashamed that Harvard was not the first to do it."