Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason calls attention to a Columbia Spectator op-ed from the “student Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board,” in which professors are read the riot act for daring to explore classical literature without abundant “trigger warnings”:
During the week spent on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.
Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.
The MAAB, an extension of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, is an advocacy group dedicated to ensuring that Columbia’s campus is welcoming and safe for students of all backgrounds. This year, we explored possible interventions in Core classrooms, where transgressions concerning student identities are common. Beyond the texts themselves, class discussions can disregard the impacts that the Western canon has had and continues to have on marginalized groups.
At Reason, Brown very charitably tries to make sense of this totalitarian gobbledygook by proposing hypothetical reasons for the student’s extreme reaction – “was there an assignment or further lectures on Persephone she wished out of?” – while also noting the “hyperbolic language of trauma that’s used.” She observes that the student described in this complaint needs individual therapy, not a university-wide injunction against teaching the livelier Greek legends. (Trigger warning: she uses a very bad word to describe trigger warnings.)
Allow me to ask a follow-up question: who do we hold responsible for miseducating this college student so thoroughly that she got to Columbia University without knowing about the Rape of Persephone? Which miserable failures in the public-school establishment should we haul before a jury and sue into penury for perpetrating academic fraud against her?
I learned this story in grade school. It’s a sizable brick in the foundation of Western literature. But somehow this young woman encountered the story for the very first time at Columbia, where she was startled into a shivering neurotic heap and made to feel physically unsafe because the professor didn’t warn her before dropping the Ovid bomb?
Note the op-ed’s unironic, non-quoted use of the word triggered, as if that’s just a normal thing that happens all the time now. Children who matriculate in such an environment are totally unprepared for life in the outside world. They’re also cheated of the priceless heritage of knowledge schools are supposed to pass along. Op-eds like this are a call for academic vandalism, defacing culture and history with the ugly graffiti of modern class, race, and sex-war politics.
“The student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text…” What was he supposed to focus on? An hour of carefully prepared political statements about how virtually everything chronicled by the Greek poets is utterly inappropriate for modern consumption, perhaps followed by a ceremonial book-burning?
The game is given away by another incident related by our Multicultural Affairs Enforcers… er, Advisers:
For example, another student who attended the forum shared that her Lit Hum professor gave her class the opportunity to choose their own text to add to their syllabus for the year. When she suggested the class read a Toni Morrison text, another student declared that texts by authors of the African Diaspora are a staple in most high school English classes, and therefore they did not need to reread them. Toni Morrison is a writer of both the African Diaspora and the Western world, and her novels—aside from being some of the most intellectually and emotionally compelling writing in the last century—should be valued as founding texts of the Western canon.
The student’s remark regarding Toni Morrison was not merely insensitive, but also revealing of larger ideological divides. This would have been an opportune moment for the professor to intervene.
No, this would be an opportune moment for an adult to inform these deluded children that whatever Toni Morrison’s virtues might be, her work cannot be counted among the “founding texts of the Western canon,” because the Western canon was founded long before she was born. The adult in the room should also inform all children within earshot that the student who thinks Toni Morrison is overrated and over-emphasized in high-school is entitled to his or her opinion, without suffering accusations of race-crime.
There is nothing “insensitive” about critiquing the work of any writer, from Ovid to Toni Morrison. They are people, and artists, not towering avatars of racial ideology whose worship requires disengagement of our critical faculties.
The intellectual vandals destroying our educational system are intent on exerting their political will across the entire span of history and literature, erasing all that displeases them or challenges their ideas. Why should anyone take on six figures of debt so their child can be herded into a life of blighted ignorance and political indoctrination by a blizzard of Special Snowflakes? It is said that those who would trade essential liberty for security deserve neither. That goes for the liberty of ideas as well. Ideas that cannot survive the slightest contact with contrary thought are not worth having.