Jonathan Haidt | Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces, and the Coddling of the American Mind


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In Episode 58 of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Jonathan Haidt about how trigger warnings, safe spaces, and microaggressions are setting up the iGeneration for failure on America’s college campuses.

In the Fall of 2013, the President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Greg Lukianoff, noticed that something odd was happening on America’s college campuses. Words were increasingly being seen as dangerous.

A series of strange reports began to emerge of undergraduates asking for threatening material to be removed from the college curriculum. By the Spring of 2014, The New York Times began reporting on this trend, including demands that school administrators disinvite speakers whose ideas students found offensive. But what was most concerning, beyond the sensitivity and the heckling, were the justifications being put forward by these undergraduates. They were claiming that certain kinds of speech interfered with their ability to function, jeopardizing their mental health and making them “feel unsafe.”

In one case, students at Columbia University argued that professors teaching core curriculum classes, which included the works of Ovid, Homer, Dante, Augustine, Montaigne, and Virginia Woolf, should issue “trigger warnings” when reading or assigning passages that might be interpreted as threatening. All of this prompted the publication of an article by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt that made the cover of the Atlantic Magazine in the summer of 2015. The article was titled “The Coddling of the American Mind.” In it, the two chronicled what they believed was happening on college campuses, including the emergence of what are termed, “trigger warnings,” “microaggressions,” and “safe spaces.” Little did Greg Lukianoff or Jonathan Haidt know that in the two years following the article’s publication, all hell would break loose at America’s universities.

In the fall of that year protests over issues of racial injustice erupted on dozens of campuses around the country. Amid these protests arose, however, a series of bizarre incidents leading to the resignations of several highly regarded professors and deans at some of the country’s most progressive universities. This included the physical assault of a professor at Middlebury College by the name of Allison Stanger, who was required to undergo six months of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Perhaps the most bizarre case, however, is that of Evergreen State College in Washington State. In the spring of 2017, the college announced a “Day of Absence” where white students and faculty were expected to stay away from the school. In a letter of protest, biology professor Bret Weinstein refused to leave the college campus, leading to a series of frightening incidents of unrest where campus police became concerned for Weinstein’s physical safety, eventually leading to his resignation in September of last year.

This week, on Hidden Forces, Jonathan Haidt joins us for a conversation on trigger warnings, safe spaces, and how good intentions and bad ideas are setting up the iGeneration for failure.

Jonathan and Greggory Lukianoff's latest book, The Coddling of the American Mind, is now available in bookstores nationwide.

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

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304 episodes