Rauch to ‘New York Daily News’: One Trigger Warning College Students Need

November 17, 2015

In an article last week in the New York Daily News, Jonathan Rauch—an author, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and self-proclaimed “big fan of FIRE”—shared his prescription to cure the ills brought on by the speech-stifling climate on many college campuses today. Rauch’s idea—one he first came up with at FIRE’s 2014 student conference—is the only trigger warning college students will ever need.

He says it would be displayed prominently in college catalogues and would read as follows:

Warning: Although this university values and encourages civil expression and respectful personal behavior, you may at any moment, and without further notice, encounter ideas, expressions and images that are mistaken, upsetting, dangerous, prejudiced, insulting or deeply offensive. We call this education.

Rauch argues that students have been ill-prepared for the rigors of college by overprotective parents, and over-promised by colleges that bill themselves as “idyllic” “little paradises.” Hence the need for this kind of meta-warning.

Recent turmoil at Yale, the University of Missouri, and other schools—where some students protesting campus racism have tried to silence dissenting viewpoints or expel the press in the name of creating a “safe space” for their cause—has brought fresh attention to the problem.

One particularly eloquent example of this attention is an open letter by University of Missouri Law Professor Thom Lambert, shared last week on The Volokh Conspiracy. In his letter, Professor Lambert expresses support to his “wonderful” Mizzou students but admonishes them to be open to constructive criticism: “Mizzou students, I support you. But I will not coddle you. You’re adults and should be treated as such.”

Rauch says if students actually want their educational experience to be educational, they need to get comfortable—or uncomfortable, as it were—with the idea of real debate.

FIRE, a First Amendment charity, effectively and decisively defends the fundamental rights of tens of thousands of students and faculty members on our nation’s campuses while simultaneously reaching millions on and off campus through education, outreach, and college reform efforts.