Jennifer Medina recently wrote an article for The New York Times about the growing demand for “trigger warnings” on college syllabi. Classic books should be prefaced with labels, alerting students that what they’re about to read may be offensive, graphic, and/or potentially thought-provoking. Things Fall Apart: “could trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.” The Great Gatsby: contains “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence.” Green Eggs and Ham: could trigger readers who have dealt with peer pressure or practice a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle.
Would adding these warning labels be going too far? No! This hardly scratches the surface.
We can warn students about racism in Huck Finn, anti-Semitism in The Sun Also Rises, and excessive verbiage in Finnegans Wake, but how can we protect them in other facets of education? What if a student suffers from dendrophobia, and Environmental Science is a required course? Here’s a real toughie: what do you call the student afflicted with melanophobia? Are they (notice I didn’t specify a gender; you’re welcome) racist, or mentally ill? Is “mentally ill” the politely correct term?
One thing to keep in mind: this is the “everyone’s a champion” generation. These are the kids whose parents didn’t keep track of the score during soccer games, the kids who got trophies for participation. Some professors are arguing that placing “trigger warnings” on syllabi would “suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace.” Too late. These academics obviously haven’t watched Girls. My generation has lofty ambitions, yes, but we have no work ethic. If something is challenging, then it must be unfair, right? If I find something offensive, then I don’t have to deal with it. I can just get my dad to call the school and have the teacher fired.
This mindset may be convenient, but it doesn’t prepare students for real life (universities are also doing a poor job at preparing their students, as a college degree is becoming more and more useless). Yes, Things Fall Apart may be offensive to some young adults (especially those that have dealt with colonialism), but it also teaches people about racism in a far more effective way than any textbook could. And come on, any student who complains about violence in The Great Gatsby is just being lazy. By today’s standards, Gatsby is PG.
There’s an easy solution: get rid of required courses. College costs $60,000 a year: students should be allowed to choose what classes they take. They’re already required to dedicate a large chunk of their collegiate experience to one specific field, why go any further? Why does everyone in the university have to take “Intro to Communications” and “Principles of Microeconomics”? This stifles creativity and encourages a homogenized student body, instead of one that breeds individual, original thinkers.
And if you’re really offended by the notion of Gatsby, well, it’s simple: don’t read it.