How Safe a Space Should College Be?

The recent wave of complaints on college campuses about the seeming insensitivity of faculty and administrators to students' emotional needs shouldn't surprise me - I'm a post-parenting coach, after all, and my clients have been worried about their kids' feelings since they were born. In fact, data indicate that the emotional adjustment of emerging adults - their happiness - is more important to today's parents than anything else, including academic and career success. And no one would disagree that students' physical safety - including protection from sexual assault and other violent crime - should be of paramount importance to college authorities.

But academia is not a safe place for those who would protect their children from the conflict of opposing ideas, the freedom to explore new aspects of their identity, the rigor of analyzing their beliefs and values, and even the opportunity to experience real diversity, which means people who may be biased, bigoted, intolerant, rude, and unfeeling. Because that's the world they'll be living in once they leave college, and trying to protect them from it is not only difficult, but does them a disservice.

In the real world there are no trigger warnings to shield them from unpleasant memories, ideas or associations, and in the classroom there shouldn't be, either. Learning the difference between discrimination and dissent, preference and prejudice, and especially, being marginalized and feeling marginalized, is an important life tool - often, the level of whining emanating from campuses across the country reminds me of Fran Lebowitz's long-ago comment that "Your right to wear a mint green polyster leisure suit extends to where it reaches my line of sight." And it's particularly galling when voiced by privileged ivy leaguers whose idea of "checking their privilege" is apologizing for the acts of their founders, whose achievements and endowments should be examined in the same historical context as their faults and failings.