Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Roxanne Gay on Safe Spaces and Trigger Warnings

This week before Labor Day, news about economics tends to be scarce, while academics and teachers are looking ahead to the next term. In that spirit, I'm going to pass along some thoughts about teaching this week.

In the last year or two, many campuses and classroom have seen arguments that seemed to pit robust debate against "safe spaces." I liked what Roxane Gay, a professor of English at Purdue University, had to say on this subject in a piece written for the New York Times last fall called “The Seduction of Safety, on Campus and Beyond” (November 13, 2015).

“On college campuses, we are having continuing debates about safe spaces. As a teacher, I think carefully about the intellectual space I want to foster in my classroom — a space where debate, dissent and even protest are encouraged. I want to challenge students and be challenged. I don’t want to shape their opinions. I want to shape how they articulate and support those opinions. I do not believe in using trigger warnings because that feels like the unnecessary segregation of students from reality, which is complex and sometimes difficult.
“Rather than use trigger warnings, I try to provide students with the context they will need to engage productively in complicated discussions. I consider my classroom a safe space in that students can come as they are, regardless of their identities or sociopolitical affiliations. They can trust that they might become uncomfortable but they won’t be persecuted or judged. They can trust that they will be challenged but they won’t be tormented.”
I like the definitiveness of Gay's statements that students will be challenged but won't be tormented, and the emphasis that a good class is built on trust.