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FIRE in ‘The Atlantic’: Campus Culture Teaches Students to ‘Argue Toward Misery’

August 11, 2015

PHILADELPHIA, August 11, 2015—Is speech policing on campus damaging students’ mental health? That’s the provocative question posed by the cover story of the September issue of The Atlantic, The Coddling of the American Mind.

In their 8,000-word article, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) President and CEO Greg Lukianoff joins best-selling author, New York University professor, and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt to look at current campus trends such as trigger warnings, microaggressions, and speaker “disinvitations” and examine what effect they have on students. Lukianoff and Haidt see these trends as part of a larger movement to transform campuses into “safe spaces” free from ideas that make some uncomfortable.

But the movement may be doing more than shielding students from uncomfortable ideas.

Rather than protecting students’ mental and emotional well-being, Lukianoff and Haidt argue that a culture devoted to scrubbing campuses clean of certain words, ideas, and subjects produces thought patterns eerily similar to those identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. In short, campus culture may be teaching students to think pathologically.

“Our new article, ‘The Coddling of the American Mind,’ is different from anything I’ve written before,” said Lukianoff. “It evaluates campus controversies from a psychological, rather than a First Amendment, perspective. I hope it will provoke some interesting discussions about how campuses’ attempts to protect students from speech they don’t want to hear may actually be teaching these students to think in distorted ways, and then to, as I like to say, ‘argue toward misery.’”

“The admirable urge to protect students who are thought to be vulnerable to psychological harm has been taken to such an extreme that the protectors are creating a climate of fear,” said Haidt. “Faculty and students alike are afraid to discuss challenging topics openly, lest their words offend or ‘trigger’ a vulnerable student—and bring formal punishment or a social media storm down on their heads. In our essay, we offer an explanation of how campuses got into this mess, and how they can turn this into an opportunity to re-value freedom of speech and critical thinking.”

The article is available to read online today. The magazine will hit newsstands August 18.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

Nico Perrino, Associate Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; nico@thefire.org