Category Archives: Free Speech/Censorship

QotD: “Asking questions is being reframed as an act of violence when there are no coherent answers to give”

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QotD: “Bullying Paperchase and the Mail’s other advertisers just hurts everyone”

Long ago, during the Suez crisis, both the Observer and the Guardian endured difficult days as advertisers were pressured to desert their “unpatriotic” pages. It’s a recurrent theme: the covert – and often unprovable – draining of revenue streams to exact retribution or change of editorial policy. And wherever, around the world, press freedoms are at their weakest, so the ad squeeze comes on.

It’s a matter of principle: which is why the digital bullying of Paperchase to renounce marketing deals with the Daily Mail has to be confronted. You don’t have to love the Mail to see the point. Stop Funding Hate may legitimately urge Mail readers to quit (and Mail readers may, equally legitimately, examine the causes SFH espouses and make up their own minds). But trolling rather nervous companies such as Paperchase isn’t legitimate. It’s the thin end of a dangerous wedge – with no winners in sight, from left or right.

As last week’s Ipso complaints ruling on Trevor Kavanagh’s “The Muslim Problem” column for the Sun mordantly observes: “There is no clause in the editors’ code which prohibits publication of offensive content”. Nor should there be.

Peter Preston

QotD: “UK transgender rights row intensifies as book fair is cancelled”

An annual book fair that has served for more than three decades as the most important meeting point for the British anarchist movement has become the latest casualty of widening splits over the issue of transgender rights.

Organisers say that they no longer have “the appetite or the energy” to stage next year’s London Anarchist Bookfair, following fraught scenes at the event last month. A group of feminists were confronted by other activists who accused them of distributing “transphobic” leaflets that promoted prejudice against transgender people.

The acrimony follows highly publicised splits in universities, women’s organisations and political parties over the issue. Lily Madigan, a 19-year-old who has just won a vote in Kent to become Labour’s first women’s officer from a transgender background, has been at the centre of a row within the party.

The executive committee of another constituency Labour party resigned this month in solidarity with Anne Ruzylo, a women’s officer who claimed she had been the focus of complaints by Madigan and others.

This weekend it emerged that Madigan is applying to join the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme, launched after the murder of the MP to encourage female participation in politics.

Meanwhile, the Women’s Equality party has confirmed that its executive committee is considering complaints about one of its members, Heather Brunskell-Evans, an academic whose invitation to speak at King’s College in London was cancelled after she took part in a discussion on transgender issues on Radio 4. On the programme she called for caution to be exercised in relation to children who expressed confusion over their gender. Brunskell-Evans said the party told her that three members had alleged her “conduct” on the programme had “promoted prejudice against the transgender community”. She is also alleged to have said on Twitter: “we have to #ROAR about the harms of transgenderism for children and young people”.

The leaflets handed out at the Anarchist Bookfair suggested that predatory men might be among those who choose to call themselves women, and might abuse the system by gaining access to women-only spaces such as refuges. Trans activists say the issue is being used by opponents – some of whom they label “terfs” (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) – to sow the seeds of hatred.

The increasingly angry disputes follow government proposals to streamline the process for how people can change their gender, under the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). A public consultation is to be held on speeding up and demedicalising the process, with the current need to be assessed and diagnosed by clinicians seen by some as intrusive.

Choosing whether one is a man or a woman is a matter of self-identification, trans activists assert. Some opponents of the GRA have warned that this may lead to young, vulnerable people making decisions they later regret. Others have suggested that self-identifying undermines the status, rights and experience of biological women.

The rows “are going on within all sorts of social movements”, said Helen Steel, the veteran social justice campaigner known for her role in taking on McDonald’s in the 1997 “McLibel” case.

Steel, who is among those caught up in the book fair controversy, said that until now, discussion had “taken place in a bubble that has agreed with itself”. She added: “Now that those ideas are actually going to be translated into law, other people are becoming aware of those proposals and say, ‘hang on – can we have time to consider the implications properly and let women have a say in how our lives may be affected by these changes?’”

She said she had been left traumatised by her experience at the book fair, claiming she was surrounded by a “baying mob” after intervening to stop the bullying of two women who had been distributing leaflets about the GRA.
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“I have been aware that women have been bullied on this issue for a long time now but, until it happened to me, I was not aware of the extent of the bullying and am shocked by it,” Steel said. “I have been an environmental and social justice campaigner for most of my life. In all that time, I have never experienced such a toxic environment.”

Full article here

QotD: “If trans activists truly cared about feminism, they would respect women’s spaces”

In The Guardian this week, lawyer and writer Shon Faye claims “trans people in Britain have recently been subjected to a media onslaught” — an almost laughable irony, if it weren’t so dishonest. The truth is that, while indeed many women and journalists in the UK have been covering and speaking out about questions surrounding the transitioning of children, proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, potential conflicts between gender identity legislation and women’s rights, and the attacks on those who question gender identity ideology, these articles and that activism do not by any stretch constitute an attack on trans-identified people.

By contrast, this week, a talk by author of Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body and spokeswoman for the Women’s Equality Party, Heather Brunskell-Evans, on pornography and the sexualization of young women was cancelled after she questioned the practice of transitioning children. A couple of weeks ago, a lecture journalist Julie Bindel was scheduled to give about her new book, The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth, at St. Edward’s University in Texas was cancelled, due supposedly to her arguments around gender identity and support for woman-only space. Anne Ruzylo, a woman’s officer with the Labour Party was subjected to months of bullying by a fellow party member, and smeared as “transphobic.” Pushed to resign last week, every member of the executive committee quit in solidarity with Ruzylo, though the young trans-identified male responsible for the harassment was elected as women’s officer in his local party shortly thereafter. Last month, Linda Bellos, a longtime lesbian feminist activist, was uninvited from speaking at Cambridge University after saying she planned to publicly question “some of the trans politics … which seems to assert the power of those who were previously designated male to tell lesbians, and especially lesbian feminists, what to say and what to think.”

In other words, it is very clear who is under attack within the transgender debate: women.

Meghan Murphy, Feminist Current, continue reading here (links in original)

QotD: “Bullies everywhere delight in coming up with new insults”

If so, the potential damage doesn’t conspicuously trouble many of the trusted adults associated, on the left, with Corbyn’s “kinder politics”. Some prominent supporters of proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) have been wondering, for instance, whether, if there really are diminishing returns in writing off as a “terf” anyone who disagrees, there might not be a better slur. What’s mean enough to mute the nervous, without actually being hate speech? Feminazi? Too Daily Mail. Nasty woman? Also taken. Transmisogynist? A popular option, but it uses up so many characters.

Progressive head scratching as to what word might project the same corrective menace as terf (originally a small group’s chosen acronym, now applied at random), seems to have ended officially with this offering from my Guardian colleague, Owen Jones. “If,” he mused last week, “TERF’ [Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist] is unacceptable, let’s just use ‘transphobe’ and ‘transphobic’, problem solved.” Given that this guidance comes from the man who admirably closed down “chav” because it “demonised” the working classes, there seems every chance that “transphobe” will become the approved term for people who think, for instance, that there might be one or two arguments for preserving certain women-only spaces.

Yes, given the heightened imputation of backward irrationality to women who might question, say, the value attributed by the proposed legislation to cultural norms of gendered behaviour, transphobe could well be the more effective insult.

And given that phobic is probably more widely understood than “terf” – even on the left – as being shameful, it could well be a better means of muting anyone who wonders, for example, whether if more and more children find their bodies and gender to be mismatched, it could be worth trying to ask what and where they are learning about gender.

Where the advance of terf, as a bullying tool, has already succeeded in repressing speech – and maybe even research – “transphobe”, while being less snarl-friendly, has the advantage of implying that any child-related caution – about, say, lack of research on the longer term outcomes of early transition – could never be reasoned, only pathological. To many campaigners, even to dispute that would be tantamount to ignoring trans suicides, and therefore tantamount to transphobia.

True, different views on the surge in female-to-male transition were reported brilliantly last week by the Times’s Janice Turner, one of the strikingly few women willing, in the face of concerted abuse, publicly to examine complex social and medical changes the authorities seem disinclined to explore. That such women are frequently and correctly described as “brave”, for all the world as if they were war correspondents, only underlines the extent to which conventionally abhorrent exhibitions of bullying and hate-speech have been allowed to flourish here – with some of our most trusted adults leading by example.

When noted equalities campaigners endorse the use of “terf”, events such as the recent walkout of Labour officials in Bexhill and Battle, following allegedly uninhibited bullying of a women’s officer, Anne Ruzylo, must be the predictable consequence. “If we can’t talk about gender laws and get shut down on that,” says Ruzylo, “what’s next?”

One thing that followed was an online compliment to one of her alleged denigrators, saying he looked, compared with her, “the more feminine one”. Sometimes, irked pioneers of gender inclusiveness can recall, more than anything, the instincts of a David Davis when denied a hug: “I am not blind.”

Even if one agreed, which I don’t, that the expression of any doubts about the GRA instantly identifies the speaker as a member of what our mentors call the “doomed anti-trans lobby”, the degree to which this debate has legitimised intolerance, targeting and recently, the physical harassment of women surely indicates a responsibility, on the part of undeviatingly debate-averse progressives, to do more than offer synonyms.
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At Speakers’ Corner, a woman was punched last month as she filmed women gathering for an event called “What is Gender?”. More recently, at the Anarchist Book Fair, Helen Steel was surrounded, she writes, by “around 30 trans activists who shouted misogynistic abuse in my face and at others, and who would not leave me alone. This included: ugly terf, fucking terf scum, bitch, fascist and more.”

To suggest that transphobe makes the more acceptable insult is like saying the Telegraph should have written slightly different words over its target practice; that the Daily Mail should have called its three pilloried judges something a wee bit nicer than enemies: the intent to bully remains.

“Stop, speak, support”, then. Though not if the banter has only escalated as far as transphobe. That’s just the progressive way of telling women to shut up.

Catherine Bennett

QotD: All Labour officials on local committee resign in support of colleague who was ‘bullied by transgender activist for months’

Every member of a local Labour Party executive committee has quit in support of a colleague who was allegedly bullied by a transgender rights campaigner.

The unnamed male activist is said to have harassed women’s officer Anne Ruzylo for months after they disagreed over ‘gender identity’ issues.

Miss Ruzylo, 52, claims the fellow party member carried out a smear campaign against her.

A leaked letter revealed the committee all resigned over what they believe to be Labour’s failure to deal with ‘disciplinary complaints’ regarding the reported abuse.

The six executive committee members in Bexhill and Battle, East Sussex, wrote that the alleged bullying had ‘seriously damaged’ their ability to function, and they had been forced to spend their time ‘being siphoned away into internal disciplinary matters’ instead of ‘fighting the Tories’.

‘We have been deeply disappointed by a lack of meaningful, timely and decisive action from regional and national party structures to support the executive committee in addressing these disciplinary issues,’ the letter added.

The unidentified activist, who is not transgender but is a passionate supporter of those who are, allegedly tried to prevent Miss Ruzylo, from Bexhill-on-Sea, from voicing her concerns at meetings. He supports Government plans to reform the legal definition of man and woman, but Miss Ruzylo believes critics’ fears of appearing politically incorrect could prevent proper scrutiny of the legislation.

[…]

Former prison officer Miss Ruzylo, who is a lesbian, told The Times she felt ‘violated’, adding that the way she had been silenced was ‘disgusting’.

She added: ‘Debate is not hate. If we can’t talk about gender laws and get shut down on that, what’s next? We’re going back to the days of McCarthyism. It is disgraceful.’

The local Labour Party has now been left without an executive committee and will have to call an early AGM to elect new members. Bexhill and Battle is a Conservative constituency.

A Labour South-East spokesman insisted the party took all complaints ‘extremely seriously’ and had ‘robust procedures’.

Full article here

(Hat-tip to atranswidow in this Gender Trender thread)

QotD: “Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value”

Propaganda works by sanctifying a single value, such as faith, or patriotism. Anyone who questions it puts themselves outside the circle of respectable opinion. The sacred value is used to obscure the intentions of those who champion it. Today the value is freedom. Freedom is a word that powerful people use to shut down thought.

When thinktanks and the billionaire press call for freedom, they are careful not to specify whose freedoms they mean. Freedom for some, they suggest, means freedom for all. In certain cases, this is true. You can exercise freedom of thought and expression, for example, without harming other people. In other cases, one person’s freedom is another’s captivity.

[…]

When we confront a system of propaganda, our first task is to decode it. This begins by interrogating its sacred value. Whenever we hear the word freedom, we should ask ourselves, “freedom for whom, at whose expense?”.

George Monbiot

QotD: “Passionate, experienced informed commentators no-platformed and muzzled, just for having a different point of view, widening the scope for debate and other such major thought crimes”

Pupils at the Simon Langton grammar school for boys in Canterbury have written an open letter, complaining about the decision to ban former pupil, Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, from giving a talk at the school, owing to his “reputational issues”.

Yiannopoulos, who was banned after pressure from the Department for Education, clearly fancies himself to be quite the shock-jock, with his racist and sexist views (“America has a Muslim problem”; feminism is “like cancer”). Proper little charmer, isn’t he? However, the Canterbury pupils say they don’t need to be protected from “indoctrination” and have been denied the right to “interrogate rhetoric”. They said that silencing Yiannopoulos vindicated him, “reinforcing his accusation that our society is against free speech”. Bravo. Give those pupils a merit mark.

What a lesson for all those organisations and groups that have banned speakers (Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell included), sometimes on the most spurious grounds, in the eternal quest for the “safe space”.

Passionate, experienced informed commentators no-platformed and muzzled, just for having a different point of view, widening the scope for debate and other such major thought crimes.

Clearly, such people shouldn’t be banned. Then there are the likes of Yiannopoulos. Couldn’t we ban people like him – go on, just a little bit? After all, does anyone really benefit from standing downwind of such pathetic attention-seeking?

However, Yiannopoulos shouldn’t be banned, not just because he enjoys it too much, or even because it’s wrong, but mainly because it’s dangerous.

It is also nonsensical. Have recent times taught us nothing? There are no safe spaces, it was all a mirage. Or, if you like, a mirage wrapped in a delusion inside an echo chamber. While the anguished central casting liberal “we should have listened to people more” rhetoric is becoming somewhat overplayed, there’s no doubt that, if 2016 has been anything, it’s been the year of “you can run but you can’t hide”. A year that’s demonstrated that however smart, decent and switched-on you think you and your mates are, there’s a big, bad, increasingly powerful counter-reality out there that vehemently disagrees, and the very last thing that people should do is ignore it.

Of course, it’s jarring sometimes. Andrew Marr interviewing Marine Le Pen sent me screaming back into the shower for a good scrub. Then there’s Nigel Farage… everywhere. Let’s be clear: I’m not in the market for normalising certain beliefs, giving prejudice a comfy perch in the national and international conversation or making media darlings or “amusing” circus turns out of the likes of Farage.

While it’s possible to be angered by some no-platforms, and more instinctively sympatico with others, the fact remains that it’s all unworkable. However odious people’s views are, they must be smoked out, challenged, ridiculed, exposed, rather than allowed to fester in the shadows and in the darkest, smelliest pockets of the internet, all the time preening as martyrs.

Above all, it is time to grasp, just as the Canterbury pupils did, that there’s no such thing as “free-ish speech”. Free speech is either truly free, for everybody, or it is the worthless joke that democracy’s enemies want it to be. Nor are there any “safe spaces” – it was all just a lovely dream.

What was called “safe” was just intellectual suffocation, with everyone pleading and cajoling: “Come on world, play nice!” Increasingly, what’s more dangerous than that?

Barbara Ellen

QotD: ‘No Platform’

Archive on 4 BBC Radio programme on just now with a good history and discussion on ‘no platforming’ and ‘safe spaces’.

The no platforming of Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer are mentioned, as was the intimidation of Maryam Namazie by Goldsmiths Islamic Society.

The NUS policy of ‘No Platform’, which blocks members of six proscribed organisations speaking on university campuses, has been the subject of a huge amount of debate recently. Similarly, the related issue of establishing so-called ‘safe spaces’ within universities, which results in speakers being blocked because their opinions might offend or upset members of the student population, has been widely discussed, with many commentators suggesting the creation of a new generation gap opening up between middle-aged graduates concerned about free speech on campus and younger students who say this older group is out of touch with a politics more concerned with identity than class. As Professor Andrew Hussey explores in this programme, in fact both ‘No Platform’ and ‘Safe Spaces’ were created by that older generation, having been born out of the student politics movements of the 1970s and 1980s, and while they were primarily concerned with keeping the violent message of the far right away from campus, they also saw many other speakers either barred from talking or angrily shouted down. Hussey will hear how no platforming, made official NUS policy in 1974, took its inspiration from the disruptive methods of anti-fascist campaigners in the 1930s. Having examined this history, Hussey will set about (with help from contributors including David Aaronovitch, Kaite Welsh and Richard Brooks from the NUS) examining whether there has indeed been a shift in recent times, making the current incarnations of ‘no platform’ and ‘safe spaces’ a real danger, as many have suggested, to free speech on University campuses. Along the way he’ll consider archive both recent and dating back to the 70s/80s, and examine what for him is one of the most troubling aspects of this whole debate – the use of ‘safe spaces’ as an excuse to barrack and intimidate speakers through the employment of the ‘heckler’s veto’.

QotD: “Columbia students claim Greek mythology needs a trigger warning”

“Not far from the walls of Enna, there is a deep pool,” begins Ovid’s version of the rape of Persephone. “While [Persephone] was playing in this glade, and gathering violets or radiant lilies, while with girlish fondness she filled the folds of her gown, and her basket, trying to outdo her companions in her picking, [Pluto], almost in a moment, saw her, prized her, took her: so swift as this, is love.”

The Greek myth has been recounted for thousands of years in hundreds of languages, scores of countries and countless works of art. It’s considered a cultural touchstone for Western civilization: a parable about power, lust and grief.

Now, however, it could be getting a treatment it’s never had before: a trigger warning.

In an op-ed in the student newspaper, four Columbia University undergrads have called on the school to implement trigger warnings — alerts about potentially distressing material — even for classics like Greek mythology or Roman poetry.

“Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom,” wrote the four students, who are members of Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board. “These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”

The April 30 op-ed has stirred debate on campus and online.

“Grow up, open up, care less about your identity and more about your passions,” wrote one of hundreds of commenters. “Such an insufferable breed of self-centered Care Bears.”

The op-ed comes at a time of intense debate about trigger warnings, a term that is 20 years old but only recently has become a proxy for broader issues such as political correctness, identity politics, liberal arts education and sexual assault.

The phrase can be traced back to the treatment of Vietnam War veterans in the 1980s, according to BuzzFeed’s Alison Vingiano. Psychologists started identifying “triggers” that sent vets spiraling into flashbacks of past traumas. With the rise of the Internet in the late ’90s, feminist message boards began using “trigger warnings” to warn readers of content that could stir up painful or paralyzing memories of sexual assault.

Trigger warnings quickly spread to include discussions of everything from eating disorders to self injury to suicide. In 2010, sex blogger Susannah Breslin wrote that feminists were using the term “like a Southern cook applies Pam cooking spray to an overused nonstick frying pan.” Breslin argued that trigger warnings were pointless or, even worse, self-defeating. A trigger warning is “like a flashing neon sign, attracting *more* attention to a particularly explicit post, even as it purports to deflect the attention of those to whom it might actually be relevant.”

By 2012, The Awl’s Choire Sicha argued that the phrase had “lost all its meaning.”

“Alerts have been applied to topics as diverse as sex, pregnancy, addiction, bullying, suicide, sizeism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, slut shaming, victim-blaming, alcohol, blood, insects, small holes, and animals in wigs,” Jenny Jarvie wrote last year in the New Republic. “Certain people, from rapper Chris Brown to sex columnist Dan Savage, have been dubbed ‘triggering.’ Some have called for trigger warnings for television shows such as ‘Scandal’ and ‘Downton Abbey.’”

But the Internet debate over trigger warnings is nothing compared to the controversy over their use on American university campuses. Last year, students at the University of California at Santa Barbara passed a resolution asking professors to put trigger warnings on class syllabuses and allow students to skip classes containing “content that may trigger the onset of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

“Oberlin College has published an official document on triggers, advising faculty members to ‘be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,’ to remove triggering material when it doesn’t ‘directly’ contribute to learning goals and ‘strongly consider’ developing a policy to make ‘triggering material’ optional,” Jarvie wrote. “Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart,’ it states, is a novel that may ‘trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.’ Warnings have been proposed even for books long considered suitable material for high-schoolers: Last month, a Rutgers University sophomore suggested that an alert for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby say, ‘TW: suicide, domestic abuse and graphic violence.’”

Critics on both the left and the right have expressed concern that these trigger warnings are impinging upon free speech and undermining the meaning of a liberal arts education, where students from all walks of life are exposed to new and often disturbing ideas.

“What began as a way of moderating Internet forums for the vulnerable and mentally ill now threatens to define public discussion both online and off,” Jarvie wrote. “The trigger warning signals not only the growing precautionary approach to words and ideas in the university, but a wider cultural hypersensitivity to harm and a paranoia about giving offense.”

“In reality, trigger warnings are unrealistic,” argued Breslin, the sex blogger. “They are the dream-child of a fantasy in which the unknown can be labeled, anticipated, and controlled. What trigger warnings promise — protection — does not exist. The world is simply too chaotic, too out-of-control for every trigger to be anticipated, avoided, and defused.”

“Hypersensitivity to the trauma allegedly inflicted by listening to controversial ideas approaches a strange form of derangement — a disorder whose lethal spread in academia grows by the day,” Harvey Silverglate opined in the Wall Street Journal. “What should be the object of derision, a focus for satire, is instead the subject of serious faux academic discussion and precautionary warnings. For this disorder there is no effective quarantine. A whole generation of students soon will have imbibed the warped notions of justice and entitlement now handed down as dogma in the universities.”

And yet, it’s no coincidence that trigger warnings have arisen just as sexual assault finally becomes part of the national conversation. As Katie J.M. Baker pointed out in a recent BuzzFeed article, discussing rape and sexual assault simply is different than discussing other societal ills. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 women in America have been raped. “As far as brutal crimes go, there won’t be any murder victims sitting in class, but statistically, there will likely be survivors of sexual assault,” Baker wrote.

“Of course I understand the import of studying rape in law school,” one Harvard Law graduate told Baker. “That I expect rape to be taught with the understanding that 1 in 5 women are assaulted while in college, and therefore there are very likely survivors sharing the law school classroom does not mean I am afraid. It means I care.”

In their op-ed, the Columbia undergrads — all women of color — recount the story of another female student.

“During the week spent on Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses,’ the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault,” they write. “As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.”

The students then call on Columbia to “issue a letter to faculty about potential trigger warnings and suggestions for how to support triggered students” and institute “a mechanism for students to communicate their concerns to professors anonymously, as well as a mediation mechanism for students who have identity-based disagreements with professors.”

“Finally, the center should create a training program for all professors, including faculty and graduate instructors, which will enable them to constructively facilitate conversations that embrace all identities, share best practices, and think critically about how the Core Curriculum is framed for their students,” the students write.

Conservative critics claim that the Columbia students want to silence class discussion of certain texts.

“The hyperbolic language of trauma that’s used! Sheesh,” wrote Elizabeth Nolan Brown in Reason. “Apparently this discussion of Ovid was so threatening it was a matter of self-preservation to ignore it. If that’s really true — if the mere discussion of rape causes this student to feel panicked and physically unsafe — than she needs help treating severe post-traumatic stress disorder, not a f—— trigger warning.”

“Op-eds like this are a call for academic vandalism, defacing culture and history with the ugly graffiti of modern class, race, and sex-war politics,” John Hayward wrote in a Breitbart blog titled “Campus special snowflakes melt upon contact with Greek mythology.”

In the case of the Columbia students, however, they say they want more discussion, not less. A trigger warning on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” might help a student who has suffered sexual assault stay engaged by offering her a chance to discuss the brutality in the text — not just its beauty.

“Our vision for this training is not to infringe upon the instructors’ academic freedom in teaching the material,” the students conclude. “Rather, it is a means of providing them with effective strategies to engage with potential conflicts and confrontations in the classroom, whether they are between students or in response to the material itself. Given these tools, professors will be able to aid in the inclusion of student voices which presently feel silenced.”

Michael E. Miller