If it were not already evident, the University of
California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) has revealed itself to be an
institution not only unwelcome to individuals with opinions
different from those of the campus majority, but also obsessed with
the concept of political correctness.
Last month on the UCSB campus, Associate Professor Mireille
Miller-Young assaulted a teenage pro-life activist who, along with
others, was merely distributing informational pamphlets and holding
signs--in a university-designated free speech zone! Vice Chancellor
for Student Affairs Michael Young responded to this controversy by
ultimately defending freedom of expression at UCSB, but only after
encouraging those who disagree with the message of these activists
to avoid the free-speech areas where they generally distribute
their materials. In other words, a university administrator whose
job is to "foster intellectual and personal development" actually
recommended that students avoid--not engage with--those with whom
Sadly, this case of information control is not an isolated one.
Recently, the UCSB student Senate passed a resolution demanding
that mandatory "trigger warnings"--essentially, statements of
caution from faculty members to students--be included in syllabi for
academic courses. These statements would indicate which days'
lectures during the semester would include material that could
potentially cause emotional distress for students. The initial list
of "triggers" would include any content referring to or relating to
"rape, sexual assault, abuse, self-injurious behavior, suicide,
graphic violence, pornography, kidnapping, and graphic depictions
As with all administrative boondoggles--particularly at large
universities--this resolution demands more staff input. It "directs"
the Student Advocate General "to appoint a staff member to review
and update the list of Trigger Warnings." In other words, this
resolution would merely add yet another layer of bureaucracy in
order to filter the information that faculty members provide and
students receive. One can understand that a student who has been
sexually assaulted does not want to relive that experience.
However, according to the resolution, one particular staff member would have the authority to add various other "warnings" as he or she sees fit.
Apparently, supporters of this resolution do not feel that the
bevy of already existing campus administrative resources is
adequate to address potential emotional issues that may arise in
academic courses. These existing entities include the following:
Academic Senate Committee on Diversity and Equity; Chancellor's
Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion;
Chancellor's Advisory Committee on the Status of Women; Office of
Academic Preparation; and the Office of the Associate Vice
Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Academic Policy. The list
goes on and on.
The resolution also urges course instructors "to not dock points
from a student's overall grade for being absent or leaving class
early if the reason for the absence is the triggering content." One
wonders whether these students have considered even for a moment
the destructive academic precedent that such a policy would
Exactly what kinds of cases would pass the criteria for being
classified as including "triggering content"? Would a student who
claims that he or she suffers from depression be permitted to skip
a class in a psychology course if it were to include a test on
various mental health issues? Would a student with a queasy stomach
be allowed to skip a lecture in a course on human biology if it
were to include a video of a doctor delivering a baby? Would a
student-athlete who recently sustained an injury be permitted to
skip a lecture (on the grounds of emotional trauma) in an exercise
science course if that class were to include a video depicting some
common ways sports injuries occur? Where would this
open-ended policy stop?
UCSB's mission statement claims that the institution provides
its students with the opportunity to participate in an "educational
journey of discovery that stimulates independent thought, critical
reasoning, and creativity." If UCSB truly believes in and supports
this mission, then the last thing it should do is institute another
rule regulating the content to which students are exposed on
Raj Kannappan is the Program Officer for Young Americans for Freedom.