Opinion

Campuses are places for open minds – not where debate is closed down

By Jonathan Haidt and Nick Haslam

The debates that would surround such campus votes would help students see that too much safety is, ultimately, more dangerous than anything written in chalk.

By Jonathan Haidt and Nick Haslam

Last month, in the early hours, an act of traumatising racist violence occurred on the campus of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Students woke up to find that someone had written, in chalk, the words “Trump 2016” on various pavements and walls around campus. “I think it was an act of violence,” said one student. “I legitimately feared for my life,” said another; “I thought we were having a KKK rally on campus”. Dozens of students met the university president that day to demand that he take action to repudiate Trump and to find and punish the perpetrators. Writing political statements in chalk is a common practice on American college campuses and, judging from the public reaction to the Emory event, most Americans consider the writing to be an act of normal free speech during the national collective ritual of a presidential election. So how did it come to pass that many Emory students felt victimised and traumatised by innocuous and erasable graffiti?

Emory students are not unique. Many other universities have been rocked by protests this year over what seem like small things to outsiders, such as Halloween costumes, dining hall food and sombreros. This new way of looking at things is spreading rapidly in the UK, too, with growing student demands for bans on words, ideas, speakers and, once again, sombreros. Students on both sides of the Atlantic are demanding that their campuses be turned into “safe spaces” where a subset of ideas and identities will not be challenged. What on earth is going on?

Read full article as published on The Guardian.

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Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership.