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  • UCSBLogoIf 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 they disagree!

    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 of gore." 

    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 set.

    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 campus. 


    Raj Kannappan is the Program Officer for Young Americans for Freedom. 

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