BY: JESSICA BEUKER
Recently we’ve seen a rise in media, public institutions, universities, and just about everyone else in the public sphere contributing to the “coddling of the North American mind.” The article for The Atlantic explains that the rising movement is largely driven by students to remove words, ideas and subjects from school campuses that might cause discomfort or give offence. While most schools are folding under this pressure and adopting politically correct curriculums, removing the discussion of hot button issues such as race, gender, sexuality, etc., one school has decided to trail blaze in the other direction.
Toronto’s Harris Institute, a music production school with about 80 students, is banning political correctness from its classrooms, hallways and meeting rooms.
Originally, the political correctness movement was sought to restrict speech – specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups – but it also aimed to widen perspectives. Today, the movement is more about individual emotional well-being.
According to The Atlantic, a new term has been born out of this new movement: microaggressions. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that on their surface have no malicious intent, but are thought to be a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, asking an Asian-American student, “where were you born?” is considered a microagression, as it implies that that student is not a real American.
Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that on their surface have no malicious intent, but are thought to be a kind of violence nonetheless.
For example, asking an Asian-American student, “where were you born?” implying that that student is not a real American.
Professors are even now expected to issue a trigger warning if something in their course might cause a strong emotional response. According to The Atlantic, some students have called for warnings on novels such as The Great Gatsby because it portrays misogyny and physical abuse; so students who have previously been victimized by domestic violence can choose to avoid this part of the course as it may “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.
The biggest problem with what has become a highly controversial topic, is that the education and different perspectives gained from openly talking about touchy subjects like race, sexuality, gender and more, is the only way that ignorance – and stemming from that, malicious behaviour – can be eradicated.
Furthermore, in the case of trauma victims, shielding them from “trigger” topics does absolutely nothing for their situation, if not hinders it. The Atlantic states: “According to the most basic tenets of psychology, helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided.”
The Harris Institute will still implement some guidelines within their new anti-political correct policy. Starting on March 21, 2016 students will be required to acknowledge the school’s Rules of Civility in writing, according to CityNews. The Rules of Civility, which were unanimously agreed upon by both students and staff, state that students, faculty and staff who are found to have “shouted down an opposing view” can be placed on probation or dismissed. In other words, the school will allow students to debate controversial topics, but blatant disrespect will not be tolerated.
The Harris Institute will still implement some guidelines within their new anti-political correct policy.
Personally, I find the discussion and coverage of these topics absolutely crucial to the education system. I am very aware of my privilege – I am a white, heterosexual, cisgender, middle-class, and able-bodied female. I understand that the amount of prejudice I have experienced in my lifetime is an extremely small amount. So even though these topics may not offend me, I know that they can and will offend others.
Still, it is through my university education that I became aware of my privilege within society and was able to hear the stories and understand the points of view of others. I took a politics class that specifically discussed issues of sexism, racism and ableism within the political sphere. I took countless sociology classes that discussed class divide and race, and even one that solely focused on depictions of sexuality in the media.
Our professor was blunt – he used words and phrases that could make a person cringe – and I did. But those words and topics exist in the world and ignoring them won’t make them go away or stop you from ever being exposed to them. Sewing those themes and conversations into the fabric of education is actually what helped me understand the power they hold. Those classes are the reason I no longer use the word “retarded” as an adjective or describe an unfortunate situation as being “so gay.” They are the reason I don’t assume anything about a person, but rather really listen to their stories, without coating them in my own opinions and beliefs.
Trigger words will always exist, but we can teach people the power of those words and show them how they actually affect others. Developing the ability to think critically about issues and ideas – especially the ones that differ from our own – is critical to education, and becoming a well-rounded person. Hopefully the stance taken by the Harris Institute will be adopted by more universities and colleges across North America.