Columbia University is having a campus wide discussion about the offensive and sexually repressive material found in . . . classical literature. I’m not joking.
You can click here to read the whole article, but an excerpt will probably work for now:
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. 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.
This is the biggest load of academic garbage I think I’ve seen in a very long time. What is more, I can’t believe this student’s peers didn’t call her out on it, rather than advocating, as the op-ed continues, that professors be given special training in helping students with trigger warnings about the content of their classrooms.
Let me tell you what I am not saying in this blog post. One, I am not saying that sexual violence and ethnic diversity are not issues that need to be confronted. They are. Universities are great places for awareness, education, and prevention education to take place. Sexual violence is a real issue and deserves real discussion, rather than this kind of issue avoidance. Two, I am not saying that Greek and Roman history is the only historical background for western civilization. There have been contributions to the modern world from all regions of the globe, and a good instructor will recognize this. Three, I am not saying I like Ovid. I studied Ovid in college and never really liked him that much because I thought of him as a dirty old man. I still do.
What I am saying, though, should be noted as well.
1. Western civilization–literature, entertainment, politics, fashion, economics and religion have an incredible debt to Greece and Rome–classical civilizations that still impact almost everything we say and do in the United States. Therefore, it is reasonable for a university to have as a part of its core curriculum a study of the ancient western world.
2. The world is hard, and having a bachelors degree from a university tells employers and other academic institutions that the bearer of the degree has demonstrated a certain level of endurance and strength in overcoming obstacles and barriers. I don’t think we want institutions to hand out diplomas to people who have not demonstrated that toughness. To create such ‘trigger warnings’ prepares a student to expect this in all avenues of life, and that would be a false expectation.
3. The Columbia op-ed authors have missed the point. This young woman has complicated issues that need to be handled by professionals who can help her. She has been made a victim by someone else, and that is not her fault. However, It is not the the professor’s fault either. What they seek to do is pin the responsibility for issues on the classroom environment, and that is a misplaced view. A classroom is not the place for therapy or comfort. It is a proving ground, an arena of competition where the individual is challenged, not comforted.
Anything worth reading–or watching–will have trigger points for someone, in some way or another. That is what makes it great literature. It is true of Ovid, Homer, The Bible, Suetonius, The Koran, The Bhagavad Gita, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Steinbeck, Hitchcock and Star Wars. The first book that ever made me cry was “Fathers and Sons” by Turgenev, which I read for a Russian history class. A university is not a high school. A university student is being shaped into someone who can handle the world without kid gloves. Some students at Columbia University apparently wants to put gloves on everything.
image from wordsonimages.com