Higher Ed: Safe Spaces, Trigger Warnings And Controversial Campus Speakers

Mar 3, 2019

Safe spaces. Trigger warnings. Disinvited speakers. These campus issues got the attention of a "Higher Ed" podcast listener who wrote in asking about what he has observed to be the proliferation of them. In this episode of KUT's podcast "Higher Ed," Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT's Jennifer Stayton address a listener's question about campus controversies.

A "Higher Ed" listener wrote in asking for Ed's take on what the listener described as "the proliferation of so-called trigger warnings, safe spaces, and demonstrations that aim to force administrators to cancel an invitation to a speaker because their ideas are controversial."

First of all, a few definitions.

"Trigger warning" is definied by Merriam-Webster as "a statement cautioning that content (as in a text, video, or class) may be disturbing or upsetting."

"Safe space" is definied by Merriam-Webster as "a place (as on a college campus) intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations."

In answering the listener, Ed acknowledges that these are complicated issues and a generic response does not suffice to cover all of them. But he does explain some factors that can come into play surrounding these and other occurances such as whether a certain speaker is invited to campus or not:

*Public vs. private institutions: Public institutions may have to adhere to certain rules about allowing anyone to speak on campus. Private institutions may have more freedom to exercise discretion about inviting or disinviting speakers.

* Class vs. event: Compelling a student to experience a certain speaker in a required classroom setting differs from a campus event which students, faculty, staff and others can choose to attend or not.

* Taking sides: Ed says he believes we are living in an "age of extremism" when people are less likely to engage thoughtfully with those who have differing views. He believes we are quick to label others without at least trying to understand their thoughts. (Ed notes he is not referring to hate speech and other obviously extreme, offensive examples).

Listen to the full episode to hear more of the discussion. What happens when a speaker is invited to a campus and then distressing news emerges about that speaker on social media? Listen on for thoughts on that as well as the solution to the latest puzzler. The best way to get the solution? Slow down and listen very carefully - which Ed suggests might serve us well in many arenas outside the puzzler!

This episode was recorded on Jan. 25, 2019.

For all of the Higher Ed episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.