Want to talk about trigger warnings?

Allow me to suggest that minority students speaking out against oppression aren’t the biggest threat to healthy discourse on college campuses today.

To wit, here is a slide from a “recent campus carry dialogue at UH, in response to faculty concerns about dangers from armed students.” So much is wrong with this slide:

Texas recently passed a law allowing college students at public universities to possess firearms in dorms and classrooms starting August 1st. The law also limits public universities’ abilities to establish gun-free zones elsewhere on their campuses. Private colleges and universities are still allowed to ban guns; Rice and Baylor have done so.

Gun via Shutterstock

Gun, via Shutterstock

As one might imagine, the kind of student who feels the need to bring a gun to class probably has some pretty strong political opinions about, say, the right to bring a gun to class. This being the case, Texas has essentially guaranteed that some of the strongest (and most conservative) political opinions on its college campuses will be backed with the subtle threat of lethal weapons.

Predictably, this has led faculty on these campuses to alter their curricula. According to a resolution passed by the University of Houston faculty senate last year in opposition to the law, “The diverse academic communities and free academic discourse are especially threatened by the presence of deadly weapons in teaching, research and living spaces.”

So, just to be clear, while conservative scolds are wailing about how oppressive students are being when they organize against, say, a college president who shrugs their shoulders at an overtly racist campus culture, those same conservatives are imposing their own threats to free speech from the top down. They try to criminalize politically inconvenient research. They hunt down professors whose findings could cost their donors money. And now they’ve added the specter of lethal force to any spirited debate that happens to take place in the classroom.

As David Perry wrote:

Thesis: The idea that your students have guns will have a vastly more chilling effect on academic freedom than people asking for trigger warnings, less offensive language, or to be thoughtful about microaggressions.

Usually a trigger warning is simply a heads-up that a sensitive subject is about to be discussed. What’s going on here is that professors are being discouraged from discussing sensitive subjects entirely because someone might actually pull a trigger.

So tell me again: Who represents the real threat to free speech on campus?

Update: Georgia’s House of Representatives passed a similar “Campus Carry” law yesterday:


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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