Liveblogging my Reading of “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas”


Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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103 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Everything about the safe room seems just this side of okay to me (i.e. I generally agree with your assessment: I’d much rather have “safe space” retreats for people if it means we can artificially constrain debate in order to protect them less, than constrain discourse more and not directly address the needs of people dealing with trauma), given that it’s to be used by people who truly had had traumas triggered…

    …except the coloring books. Really, Brown? Coloring books?Report

    • And Play-doh, and bubbles? That doesn’t sound like a safe room, it sounds like a stoned off your ass room.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I read too fast. Play-doh is a little nuts too. Maybe clay, though?

        Bubbles? My dad likes blowing bubbles. He’s 74, and not a mentally declining 74. Bubbles are for all ages.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        It’s a thing to do to keep your hands busy and take your mind off what’s troubling you – rubiks cubes and a pingpong table would have worked as well, but not everyone can do those.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        To me, there’s no individual thing that’s like “woah”… it’s the collective thing that reads like a goofy Tom Wolfe novel that just leaves me kind of shaking my head.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Playdough is great if you don’t feel up to talking about your problems. you can draw your nightmares.
        These are standard therapy treatments for ittle children.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I don’t know what it is but coloring books for adults are a thing. I’ve seen articles in Atlantic type places about the psychological benefits of coloring for adults and not just adults with PTSD.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      The thing that struck me about the coloring books et al when I first read the article a couple of weeks ago is that I had also just recently watched this SNL bitReport

    • Avatar veronica d says:

      On bubbles and coloring books and various similar things:

      Be slow to mock things you do not understand.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Hey, cool, next time I see a distraught woman I’ll say “hey, looks like someone needs a good coloring book! It’s cool, this isn’t sexist, I totally read about it on Wikipedia.”Report

        • Avatar zic says:


          Do you need to go have some quiet time in a safe place with your coloring book now?Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Oh, dear. It would appear Density Duck only knows how to color in black and white.Report

          • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

            While we’re on the subject of coloring books, any ideas on how to get the little one interested in drawing? We draw a bit, and then she will make a spiral or something but then wants to get up and do something else. Which is often fine, but I’d like her to develop some competency with drawing. Or should I just not bother?Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              How old is she?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Don’t stress it. Kazzy could probably speak more authoritatively, but I think the desire to draw competently comes with improved hand-eye coordination and an increase in the amount of knowledge and experience with shapes.

                Drawing well requires knowing how to draw shapes as well as how to extract & identify shapes from a composite of shapes. The cartoon Umizoomi actually does a real good job with that last bit.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              I admit I enjoy coloring with the 6-year old. He generally refuses to color within the lines (this is in keeping with his personality enerally), and will frequently color in the lines then completely color over it chaotically because, as he tells it, a volcano erupted, so I try to emulate him when I color along with him. The volcano part is fun.

              See, e.g.:

              Which he did while trying to figure out how that app works in my phone’s “Kid Mode” (which I’ve convinced him excludes adults).Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                (Title for that comes from me asking him, “What is this?” and him replying “A banana volcano.” After some discussion about what, precisely, a banana volcano might be, I asked him why there was a hat, and he paused for a moment and said, “Because it got washed there by the lava.”)Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                A banana volcano? Man, once he discovers beer, you got a Pastafarian in the making right there.Report

        • Avatar veronica d says:

          @densityduck — I would suggest you not do that. Personally, I think you lack the appropriate sensitivity to deal with distraught people. Thus you would almost certainly screw it up and come across callous. You would say the wrong things and leave her worse than before. (Much like you leave this forum each time you post.)

          We all have our strengths. No doubt you do as well, although I have not observed any from you yet. But in any case, they must be there. However, clearly being a decent, caring human being is not among them.

          Have you considered complete isolation from other people? Perhaps a life of quiet contemplation in some remote cave?

          Anyway, think about it.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        DD’s in trolling mode again today, I see.

        Anyway, coloring and other forms of art therapy are not stimming. Stimming is something very different.Report

        • Avatar veronica d says:

          @chris — They’re not identical, but I think they overlap a lot. In short, these are nice ways to occupy one’s mind and shut out stressful stuff.

          Among my friends, there seems to be an overlap between stimming behavior and other kinds of anxiety reducing strategies. Lots of plush toys and cuddling behavior. Coloring books seem not much different.


          On a related topic, there was a recent discussion on my Tumblr-sphere that said, basically, many nerdy and otherwise weirdo men are perhaps a bit jealous of queer and feminist spaces, insofar as they have nothing quite like it for themselves, nothing quite as accepting and supporting, nothing with hugs and cuddles and warmth. At least, they do not get access to these things unabashedly, insofar as such things are antithetical to the models of masculinity they aspire to (and fall short of).

          So you get this weird kind of guy who is on the one hand a My Little Pony fan (friendship is magic, bitches!) and on the other is into “edge lord” violence porn and -chan style abuse-fests. They create a social space that hungers for closeness and softness, while hating each other for wanting these things.

          Anyway, I’m glad I’m a woman.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            4chan just is brutal to everyone.
            Being a good bit trollish, most of them, they see clearly.
            And the truth often hurts (often they’re making fun of each other for inability to get dates).

            But I suppose many do find a sort of freedom and cold comfort in actually seeing the world as it is, even the nasty parts.Report

            • Avatar veronica d says:

              @kim — Well, I mean, I’m a complete moral nihilist who believes that any sense of meaning and purpose is an illusion we stupidly cling to, as the real truth is utterly devoid of humanity, other what we naked apes impotently carve into rocks. So yeah. I find the notion that the -channers are “seeing the world as it is” to be perfectly laughable.

              Petty whiteboy edge-lords being 2edgy4me. Blah.

              It is the ennui of people who have faced literally nothing in their lives. And they know it. They so much envy people with lives.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Stimming is basically stereotypic movement, usually involuntary or at least not fully voluntary (that is, it’s compulsive). It’s a symptom, not a treatment, of some neurological/neurodevelopmental disorders. There are treatments for people with particular neurological disorders, at least some of which may demonstrate stimming and other stereotypic movements, that have been developed along similar lines — I believe Rose has talked about the garden at her son’s school before that is designed to produce a great deal of multimodal sensory stimulation — however, these treatments don’t look at all like stimming.

            Even those sensory stimulation treatments are quite different from the coloring and art therapy. I’m not sure anyone knows quite why coloring may (emphasis on may since the research is really limited to date) reduce stress levels, but the theory behind it and other forms of art therapy is very different from the sensory stimulation stuff. The basic idea is that some form of creative release is stress releasing (and there are other areas of research, e.g. in social cognition, that suggest this may in fact be the case).Report

          • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

            veronica d: many nerdy and otherwise weirdo men are perhaps a bit jealous of queer and feminist spaces, insofar as they have nothing quite like it for themselves, nothing quite as accepting and supporting, nothing with hugs and cuddles and warmth.

            This bodes well for my new startup, the safe space for men.Report

            • Avatar veronica d says:

              @vikram-bath — I have no idea if you’re kidding or not. But personally, I think that such a space would be really hard to get right. There is a balance between genuine support and (no nice way to say this) status signaling. And the way men signal status is really contrary to the kind of environment you need to get the support stuff to work right.

              You see this dynamic in the PUA-related forums, where dudes will on the one hand be giving genuine support, but at the same time the men engage all kinds of humble-bragging about their own game, along with some pretty transparent attempts to create a pecking order. As a response to this, the incel-offshoot spaces have a lot of specific rules against this stuff. Such as, on wizchan it is against the rules to ever give any advice on how to improve yourself. Nor is it okay to talk about how you yourself improved.

              Which seems messed up, but I think I kinda understand why they did this, what behaviors they were responding to.

              This is much less of an issue in queer/feminist spaces, as women engage with status play rather differently from men. There we have a nice mixture of raw hug-box style support, alongside effective strategies to engage with life.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                I like the nurse-a-baby standard; quiet, calm, friends with you so long as they’re not disturbing anyone seeking quiet and calm. Private if you need it. A safe restroom required.Report

              • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

                veronica d: I have no idea if you’re kidding or not.

                I hope that’s because my sense of humor doesn’t translate well instead of it just being a plausible idea.

                The reasons for it not working do make sense. I wonder if that is cross-cultural across men though.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I think some of the eye-rolling that comes from things like safe places, trigger warnings, and similar things has to do with a confluence of unlikely factors. We know a lot more about the human mind than previous generations of humans did. That means we know how going through traumatic and horrific events can effect people mentally. People in the past might have guessed around PTSD but they didn’t really understand it.

    Society is also wealthier and safer in the present than it was at anytime in the human past even though the safer thing seem questionable at the time. Going through multiple traumatic events in your lifetime used to be much more common. Many people lost at least one parent before they grew up or had children or siblings not reach adulthood. People suffered from crippling and disfiguring illnesses more. Emotional, physical and sexual violence were simply part of life. Life was closer to the bone. In the present, more people than ever before can go through life and live to an old age with only knowing more ordinary bad times. In the developed world, fear can be something out of the ordinary for many people. Even the much poorer parts of the world are doing better than the wealthy societies of the past in many ways.

    Since really traumatic events are no longer everyday events for millions of people, the quest to create safe places for those that suffered them seem quixotic or babyish. However, these sorts of places might be psychologically necessary based on what we know about going through traumatic events. Humans aren’t nearly as tough as we like to think we are. Most of us crave and need sanctuary. Safe places and trigger warnings are an attempt to recover the safety that many people take for granted.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      There’s a fallacious argument that I’ve seen in many places and didn’t realize was fallacious until recently. It’s the idea that because something was good enough for us and we turned out fine that it should be good enough for our kids too.

      The first problem with it is that it is just attitudinally very anti-progress. But the second problem, and the reason it ought to be considered a fallacy is selection bias. We are here and OK, so of course it was good enough for us. That doesn’t mean that it will always be good enough and that we should never try for better than the minimum that would have ensured our own survival.

      Anyway, your comment made me think of that. That we should do the best thing that we can do now even if it wasn’t really an option earlier.Report

      • I’ve noticed that fallacy, too, and have been guilty of it myself. I think I’ve always–or for a very long time–known, on some level, that it was fallacious, however.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        I’ve seen that come up about playgrounds. That modern playground designs coddle kids, and the old steel and brick stuff wasn’t so bad, we all grew up on it!

        Well yeah. Because dead kids aren’t going to be talking about how falling 12 feet onto concrete killed them, for one. When you talk safety, well — obviously WE all got past the risky stuff. We’re here to reminisce about how awesome it was.

        Although with playgrounds, once you get people to talking about the old ones — I’m in Houston, so we spoke about burns. Because shiny steel gets REALLY HOT on a 100 degree day.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          Metal slides in the sunny South are sadistic. I have my share of complaints about playgrounds, but that’s not one of them. At the least, playgrounds should be fun! Hot slides arent.Report

        • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

          Yeah, there are a lot of playgrounds-today-suck articles. But I’m not entirely sure that they really are that different today. Our city has a jungle-gym-like curving ladder, and that’s the sort of thing I heard was disappearing. The ground there is mulch instead of concrete. I read an article that claimed that even that change was bad thanks to risk compensation. I find that an interesting argument, but I would like to see the statistics for that.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Lawn darts were good enough for is…Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          Lawn darts are the least surprising product recall of all time. I’m really not sure why somebody thought they were a good idea for the toy market, especially since they were released when consumer safety became a big thing politically.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Its a really big fallacy. Part of it is because of simple resentment. People who had a hard time of it growing up often hate it when the younger generation gets off easier. Another part is that humans have long believed that going through hell makes you a better person for some unidentifiable reason. Lots of cultures have seen suffering as good and noble rather than demeaning. Luxury and easy living is seen as making people at best soft and at worst spoiled and not compassionate to the less well off.Report

      • When I was your age, television was called books.Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      I agree the world is safer, but I suspect some of the difference is that we actually acknowledge trauma now. After all, lots of soldiers suffered psychological trauma in World War I, and a common response was to declare them cowards and shoot them.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        That was the point of my first paragraph. We know a lot more about trauma now than we did anytime in the past. At the same time, trauma is less frequent now than before. This makes it somewhat incomprehensible to people who never suffered it.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      I’m willing to believe that something that seems ridiculous to me is actually reasonable, so the obvious question to ask is: Is there any kind of consensus among psychological researchers that sort of thing has value?Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Great question! I don’t know that anyone has asked it. Right now, we’re at the stage where people are just emoting that they liked things the old way.Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          I’m pretty sure I read an essay somewhere which said that according to psychologists, trigger warnings and safe spaces were the wrong way to deal with trauma.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            That’s in a treatment setting, no?

            We’re not talking about therapy here, we’re talking about dealing with trauma in very public spaces; and in making sure that people who have in some way exposed traumatic and shameful things has time and place to recover their balance.

            Apples and oranges potential.Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            I’m agnostic about the use of trigger warnings and safe places in academia to. I understand why people want them but I also think it has a cooling effect on education. Part of the university has always been to take people out of their comfort zones and make them confront ideas that are uncomfortable.

            The problem isn’t that victims of abuse and other traumatic events want trigger warnings and safe places, its that people who haven’t gone through trauma are going to demand these things for purely political reasons. Like a white student demanding trigger warnings for a class dealing with slavery in the United States.Report

            • Avatar Dand says:

              My concern is that people who want trigger warnings will move from requesting them to demanding them the suing schools and employers that don’t either under the Americans with Disabilities Act or under the hostile work/learning environment interpretation of the civil rights. Asking someone to provide one is fining forcing them to do it is not.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Slippery slope arguments are not called fallacious for nothin’.Report

              • Avatar Dand says:

                I’d be willing to bet that within the next 5 years there will be lawsuit or complain filled with EEOC over the issue of trigger warnings. These complains often get results(see the link I posted yesterday about the Muslim School teacher who forced her district to give her a month off to travel to Mecca).Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Turning it into a bet doesn’t make it any less of a fallacy. It just makes it a potentially expensive one.Report

              • Avatar Dand says:

                Slopes often are slippery. When state and federal ERAs were being debated their supports claimed it was absurd to suggest that they would be interpreted to require Same Sex marriage; a generation later that’s exactly what happened(on the state level the federal one never passed).

                I don’t think it’s at all crazy the someone who has just spent four year at a college that granted every trigger warning request, will find it unacceptable that their employer refused to comply with their request and file a lawsuit/complaint.Report

              • Avatar Dand says:

                And as an example where this type of abuse has already happened look at “emotional support animals”:


              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’m sure we can attach all sorts of unrelated stuff to trigger warnings in he hopes that it will make them look worse without actually criticizing trigger warnings, but that’s not a game I’m all that interested in playing. So I’m just going to pop out of the conversation until you’ve got something worthwhile.Report

              • Avatar Dand says:

                To summarize the thread:

                1) I said I was fine with voluntary trigger warning but concerned that they would become mandatory
                2) Chris said that I was engaging in the slippery slope fallacy and that my fears were baseless
                3) I provided an example in the exact same area of the law (ADA claims related PTSD) where this type of abuse as already happened.
                4) Chris declared in unrelated and left the thread, while incorrectly claiming that I had a problem with all trigger warnings.
                Here’s a question to people who think my concerns are baseless; would you support an amendment to the ADA and other civil rights legislation making it clear that no one is required to give them? Since you say that’s not what you’re after you shouldn’t have a problemReport

              • Avatar Dand says:

                Since Chris wants a claim involving trigger warnings here’s a case from last December where elite law students claimed and court cases involving complete strangers were so traumatizing that they demanded that exams be postponed. Did every single complaining law student suffer from PTSD?


            • Avatar Chris says:

              Yeah, still a slippery slope argument.

              By the way, would you consider PTSD a potential disability, for legal purposes?Report

              • Avatar Dand says:

                Are you claiming that slopes are never slippery? I’m argueing tht this slope is slippery. What you’re doing is no different than dismissing the idea that we should listen climatologists one climate change because it’s an argument from authority. A large part of discrimination law is in fact based on slippery slopes since it’s based on “reasonable accommodations” what other people are doing does in fact have an effect.

                As far as PTSD it depends on the specifics of the case.Report

              • Avatar Dand says:


                Slippery slope. A slippery slope argument is not always a fallacy. A slippery slope fallacy is an argument that says adopting one policy or taking one action will lead to a series of other policies or actions also being taken, without showing a causal connection between the advocated policy and the consequent policies. A popular example of the slippery slope fallacy is, “If we legalize marijuana, the next thing you know we’ll legalize heroin, LSD, and crack cocaine.” This slippery slope is a form of non sequitur, because no reason has been provided for why legalization of one thing leads to legalization of another. Tobacco and alcohol are currently legal, and yet other drugs have somehow remained illegal.

                There are a variety of ways to turn a slippery slope fallacy into a valid (or at least plausible) argument. All you need to do is provide some reason why the adoption of one policy will lead to the adoption of another. For example, you could argue that legalizing marijuana would cause more people to consider the use of mind-altering drugs acceptable, and those people will support more permissive drug policies across the board. An alternative to the slippery slope argument is simply to point out that the principles espoused by your opposition imply the acceptability of certain other policies, so if we don’t like those other policies, we should question whether we really buy those principles. For instance, if the proposing team argued for legalizing marijuana by saying, “individuals should be able to do whatever they want with their own bodies,” the opposition could point out that that principle would also justify legalizing a variety of other drugs — so if we don’t support legalizing other drugs, then maybe we don’t really believe in that principle. Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I’m saying that judging something that’s happening now, and has been happening for a while, by something that’s never happened is fallacious, particularly even you haven’t even argued that the future thing that’s never happened would necessarily be bad.

                A little bit of research into informal fallacies will explain my implications more fully.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Yeah, you haven’t provided a valid reason. You’ve speculated based on things that have happened in other domains. It’s fallacious all the way through.Report

              • Avatar Dand says:

                And most of the people who a asking aren’t suffering from PTSD. It’s one thing for someone who was rape victim to ask for a trigger warning, it’s another thing for someone to ask for one because it makes them feel uncomfortable.Report

              • Avatar Dand says:

                I have provided a reason; namely that people who become accustomed to them in one setting will come to expect them in other settings as well. Any employer of entry level workers will tell that it takes time for them to understand the difference between schools and work settings, even in something as simple as appropriate dress.Report

              • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

                Are Trigger Warnings a Courtesy, or an Accommodation? Historically, they’ve been a courtesy. Without some kind of significant movement by courts or legislatures to change the nature to one of accommodation, the slippery slope is pretty iffy.

                Once a case is brought to court, or a law making body attempts to mandate, then it’s a different story. But I think until that happens, the slope is unsupported.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            There is very little, if any published research on the efficacy of trigger warnings, and some practitioners and researchers are understandably skeptical. Part of the issue is that a substantial portion of trauma triggers tend to be otherwise innocuous, the sorts of things for which you wouldn’t use trigger warnings. Another is that it’s not clear that avoiding triggers is all that helpful long term (this isn’t just about therapy settings, though how to deal with triggers in therapy for things like substance abuse in PTSD sufferers is a hot topic right now, ave the conclusions drawn there may provide insight into trigger warnings).

            That said, just as there’s no research showing that they are effective, there’s no evidence that trigger warnings are harmful either. If a substantial number of PTSD sufferers want trigger warnings in certain contexts, I see no reason not to use them. It doesn’t require excluding content, only giving people a choice of whether to deal with it. The backlash against trigger warnings seems entirely baseless to me, at this point.Report

            • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

              That said, just as there’s no research showing that they are effective, there’s no evidence that trigger warnings are harmful either.

              This, and I would also guess that there are no psychologists who say the best way to get over trauma is to just be randomly exposed to things in no particular order.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              ” It doesn’t require excluding content, only giving people a choice of whether to deal with it. ”
              Yes, totally this.

              Although a small part of me wants to cackle at the thought of trigger warnings on “Teh Gay Sex” (as in explicit stuff). I’m sorry, i’m apparently in silly mode today.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I know my initial response to seeing trigger warnings was the assumption that trigger warnings put a moral obligation on me. Like, forever more, if I ever wanted to talk about something that this particular person used trigger warnings for, I would have to use trigger warnings.

            I finally read an essay that discussed a particular person’s triggers and how calculus was one of them. She would see calculus (or be expected to do some) and it would take her back to this really awful time in her life when she happened to be taking calculus while something else really awful was happening to her.

            When it sunk in that it was my job to understand it and not change the world/fix it, I was much better off.

            All that to say: people who get upset at trigger warnings are probably still thinking that they’re expected to change the world and fix it rather than just understand.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              Isn’t there still the obligation then to imagine & state these trigger warnings, or do I wait until the affected person speaks up & says something?

              I am fine making an effort to not be a dick once I know, but I have a problem with obligating people or orgs to pre-emptively imagine possible triggers & warn against them (excepting obvious common triggers, or orgs that deal with populations affected by expected triggers).Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oscar Gordon,

                I don’t think that you have an obligation to have a trigger warning for, to use my example, calculus. Even if you know that the reader in question is a reader of your blog.

                I do, however, think that you should have trigger warnings for, as you say, the obvious common ones.

                If you’re going to be talking about some form of abuse, you should mention that you’re talking about some form of abuse. If you’re thinking about mentioning some form of abuse casually in your essay… well, I think that the argument is you should think about whether the abuse is essential to your analogy and make that part more central (and use a trigger warning) or switch analogies.

                But, as I was writing this comment, the thought “you don’t use trigger warnings for when you talk about abortion, Jaybird” flitted through my head and I thought “and I’m going to continue to not do so”.

                So take the above as you will.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              I liked Scott Alexander’s take on trigger warnings: They’re pro-individual-responsibility and pro-free-speech. It’s basically saying, “This is what I’m going to say, and I’m not going to tone it down for you. If you don’t want to see or hear it, it’s your responsibility to stop reading or listening, not mine to censor myself.”

              I’m still not a big fan of the kind of people who use the phrase “trigger warning” a lot, but the concept itself doesn’t seem objectionable when viewed in that light.Report

              • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

                He’s who actually changed my mind about them. I liked his idea of just putting them in a tiny font on the page with the printing and publisher information. People who care will look, and the rest of us would never even know they were there.

                It seems like the kind of thing where with very little effort on our parts, we can help people be significantly more comfortable. We should be happy to make such trade-offs.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “They’re pro-individual-responsibility and pro-free-speech.”

                That’s dandy, but what happens when it stops being a courtesy to readers and starts being an obligation to writers?

                Like, let’s say that I’m discussing the size and spacing of cells in a beehive. Do I need to put in a trigger warning about that?Report

  3. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    Or we should expose them to various types of drugs so that later when they are confronted with drugs in real life, they’ll be prepared.

    I thought that was what the point of secondary education – it’s called “high school” for a reason right?Report

  4. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    Re the last paragraph

    This is a discussion of sexual assault on campus. The people who have probably the most to contribute are those who just recently experienced a sexual assault, and perhaps their assailants. Yes, they doubtless should and do have a long term goal of becoming people who aren’t triggered by such discussions, but by the time they really achieve that, they mostly won’t be students any more, many will have moved away, and at any rate they almost all won’t be on campus to hear about the debate.

    The fact that the safe space was only lightly used doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t more helpful than is obvious. We can’t tell how many people decided to take part in the debate partly because of the availability of the space but didn’t end up using it.

    You wouldn’t have a forum about the campus’ accessibility to disabled people in a venue that didn’t have wheelchair accessible washrooms – and if only a dozen wheelchair users happen to have to visit the washroom at the forum, you don’t conclude that it wasn’t useful. The availability of the facility was probably important to more people than ended up making use of it.

    You wouldn’t have a forum about childcare facilities on campus at a bar that didn’t allow minors – again, maybe only a few people bring their kids, but you don’t know how many were using the possibility of bringing the kids as a contingency against the babysitter falling through.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      The fact that the safe space was only lightly used

      Well, we don’t know that it was lightly used. Maybe every one of the “couple of dozen” visitors were there because they wanted an escape from the debate. Maybe none of them were. We can’t really know.Report

      • Avatar veronica d says:

        @vikram-bath — True, but are you engaging in an isolated demand for rigor here? How can we ever know how people use a quiet space, particularly a space where their privacy is respected?

        Like, are you saying, “Hey, people in safe space, prove to me, {random Internet guy}, that you really needed this space, like to my own measure of what is needed.”

        I say, if people came into the space and took advantage of the resources there, they certainly they used the space. As in, duh.Report

        • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

          I’m not demanding that their spaces be taken away unless they run a controlled test. I’m just naturally curious about what the results of such a test would produce. I like to know things.Report

    • Avatar veronica d says:

      The fact that the safe space was only lightly used doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t more helpful than is obvious. We can’t tell how many people decided to take part in the debate partly because of the availability of the space but didn’t end up using it.

      Exactly. There is so much here that people who feel no need for such things miss about what actually happens, what these tools provide. It is such a huge failure of imagination or understanding, from people who themselves have very closed minds.

      It’s the same for trigger warnings. The presence of a trigger warning does not mean that you won’t read the article. Perhaps you will. However, you had the choice. You could brace yourself for an uncomfortable topic, or perhaps set it aside to read later when you have the spoons.

      This can actually allow one to effectively engage in more challenging material than one otherwise might, insofar as a person with trauma can push a little further if they know they aren’t going to be constantly blindsided.

      And let us just say this: amateur jackasses exposing random strangers to clumsy “aversion therapy” — well, that is not aversion therapy. That’s random jackasses on the Internet spitting out their random jackassitude, hardly a valuable thing.

      Callous, clueless dickwads are a dime a dozen.Report

  5. Avatar zic says:

    @vikram-bath I think of it as time out. When you publicly discuss the most personal details of something, something that you’ve been basically taught is shameful, it can be very easy to lose control of your feelings and responses. Yet talking about what happened is also a way of adjusting social norms to help create a world in which sexual assault happens less frequently. (And if fact, I point out declines in assault as evidence of this very thing.)

    So creating a safe space also means that we give assault victims room to process, and so hopefully, not have their emotional responses push the discussion into the realm of hysteria; one of the biggest problems all such discussions seem to provoke.

    Sometimes, when we are frayed, the best option is withdrawing for a few moments to calm down.

    I do not think that this labels all other spaces unsafe, however. This is a binary yes/no reading of it, and that’s not how things work when it comes to complicated and fraught issues; it’s a rainbow, not black and white. Because most people are sexually assaulted in places where they felt safe by people they felt safe with. It’s not the victims who create the lack of safety, and they’re speaking out to spread safe. Belittle those who take cover by belittling safe spaces; that’s where monikers of childishness belong.Report

    • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

      I do not think that this labels all other spaces unsafe, however.

      I agree. People think of churches as holy places without thinking of all other places as unholy. I don’t see why it couldn’t be the same sort of thing with safe spaces. If someone were to say “all places should be safe”, I think we could say “no” and explain why that won’t work.

      It occurs to me now that the author was making a slippery slope argument: if we allow one safe space, then pretty soon we’ll have nothing but safe spaces left.

      I do think there’s an argument that some of what’s going on on campuses regarding speech is crazy, but the availability of a space for students that no one is forced to go to doesn’t seem like a very nice thing to attack.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Thank you, @vikram-bath

        Some is crazy; and I agree that cancelling a popular movie, instead of showing the movie and then debating it is crazy. Better show the move and to debate its insensitivity, with safe spaces for people to calm down during the discussion if needed.Report

        • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

          Incidentally, I looked up how many items in University of Michigan’s library are credited as being authored by Adolf Hitler and presumably accessible to all students. The answer is 166.

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          The “forum” they were trying to organize was not the right place for a screening/critical discussion of a movie like American Sniper – they were trying to organize basically a party – a social mixer where people would feel included and welcome, to increase the overall sense of inclusion on campus. As much as showing American Sniper in that context without critical engagement would clear have alienated a community of people on campus from the event, having a screening/discussion of the film at that event probably wouldn’t do much more at all to advance that aim, either, as it likely would have been a (valuable n the right forum) highly charged, emotional, political, and likely polarized discussion had it occurred. The organizer, it seems clear to me, understood their mission to be to create events of a fundamentally different nature from that – fun, welcoming events that allow people to engage and get to know each other socially (that’s important stuff for undergrads with diverse backgrounds on campus).

          So what did CCI do? They proposed that a different movie be shown at the social even they had been planning, and that they also hold a screening/discussion of American Sniper at a different time and location. Guess what? They were overruled by the university, which said that Sniper had to be shown at the original time and location. The only people actually doing expression here was in fact the organizers of the event, and they were forced to express one thing (screen one film), rather than another (a different film) (at a particular time and place). Doesn’t seem like freedom of expression to me.

          The university, though, acknowledged that people were uncomfortable with the content of the first film, so they allowed a showing of a different film, though apparently only at the same time and date, at a different location. So apparently they thought either that particular time and date were really, really important for both events, or they thought that it was important to deny the CCI the ability to hold the event they were planning with the movie it thought was most appropriate for in the place they initially selected (since they dictated that the “alternate movie” event happen at the same time, and Sniper is now to be shown in the original location at the original time. Or they wanted to make Paddington Bear be screened at least twice (or two different alternatives to Sniper be screened) – once at the same time in a different location, and once at a different time in the location the CCI felt was the best one they could get for the function they initially were trying to plan.

          If it were me, I would announce that the real version of the planned function, with the movie I actually thought, upon reflection, is best for that function, would be held in the original venue the following week on the same day at the same time as previously scheduled. But they probably were forced to spend their budget for the function screening a film they were forced not to use their free expression to elect not to screen. So, oh well. I guess free speech wins this one in that special and interesting way.

          The free-speech warriors in administration above CCI at Michigan really covered themselves with glory on this one, all right.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        but the availability of a space for students that no one is forced to go to doesn’t seem like a very nice thing to attack.

        I like this idea much better than trying to bubble wrap the world.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I agree that it’s crazy that the University of Michigan didn’t allow its Center for Campus Involvement to use its right to use free expression to fulfill its universty-sanctioned mission of fostering social inclusion by electing to change what film it would show (what decision about expression it would make) at an event aimed at promoting inclusion (not at critical analysis of ideas or films), in response to sentiment that the film it had planned to show did not foster inclusion among minority communities of significant size on campus, but in fact alienated and excluded them – especially when shown in a context lacking serious critical engagement with the material, like a social mixer aimed at inclusion.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I think that this is great. I was worried about having to compete with some fresh out of college kid for my next job.

    I’m pretty sure that I’ll be okay.Report

  7. Avatar Chris says:

    Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of contemporary culture wars in general (I was just thinking this during the Hugo Awards discussions as well) is that both sides are working really hard to only hear the voices the agree with. We all know this is true of many “SJWs,” for example, but it’s equally true of the Gamergaters, the Sad Puppies, and so on, who, faced with new, diverse voices, rage, rage (really rage) against the dying of the white… male dominance.Report

  8. Avatar Chris says:

    That previously unfelt moral obligation is, I imagine, what people tend to rebel against any time unheard voices begin you demand a hearing.Report

  9. Avatar Chris says:

    Yeah, you haven’t provided a valid reason. You’ve speculated based on things that have happened in other domains. It’s fallacious all the way through.

    You have data on this? Or you’re a shrink now?Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Ugh, that threading didn’t work. That was a response to this from Dand:

      And most of the people who a asking aren’t suffering from PTSD. It’s one thing for someone who was rape victim to ask for a trigger warning, it’s another thing for someone to ask for one because it makes them feel uncomfortable.


      • Avatar Dand says:

        I don’t think anyone has collected statistics on who’s asking for trigger warnings. I’ve seen two people who I know have never been a war zone claim that descriptions of war a “triggering”, i never seen anyone claim to be trigger based on personal experience.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Well, your criticism of trigger warnings boil down to your speculative worries about future behaviors that have never happened to this point, and two people you personally know claiming that something is triggering for them without a clear reason, to you, for why it would be so.

          I wonder, when people criticize your own behavior or preferences, would you consider such criticisms valid? Would you even take them seriously, if this is what they offered you?Report

          • Avatar Dand says:

            Well, your criticism of trigger warnings boil down to your speculative worries about future behaviors that have never happened to this point, and two people you personally know claiming that something is triggering for them without a clear reason, to you, for why it would be so.

            I said that I don’t have with trigger warnings as long as they are voluntary, I am concerned based on what has already happened in other areas of the law that they will become involuntary through the threat of litigation and that the concept will be abused (IE: a student doesn’t want to read Night or All Quiet on the Western Front and they are able to avoid doing so despite not having PTSD by claiming it is triggering).

            I wonder, when people criticize your own behavior or preferences, would you consider such criticisms valid?

            I wonder, when people criticize your own behavior or preferences, would you consider such criticisms valid? Would you even take them seriously, if this is what they offered you?Report

            • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

              Dand: I don’t have with trigger warnings as long as they are voluntary, I am concerned based on what has already happened in other areas of the law that they will become involuntary

              This is always possible. I think of trigger warnings as a basic courtesy, and some things that perhaps could be basic courtesies are instead legislated. I’d have thought happily serving gay people when they give you business was a basic courtesy, but we’re legislating that. Maybe we could say something similar about giving pedestrians the right of way at crosswalks.

              But even if we don’t like the laws may come, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be courteous now when we do have a choice. I’d suggest that if the laws come, it will be because someone was a jerk, not because we were nice.Report

  10. Avatar zic says:


    people who become accustomed to them in one setting will come to expect them in other settings as well

    Like people are now accustomed to the notion that sexual assault is shameful and we shouldn’t talk about it? A notion which provides a lot of cover for those who commit sexual assault, because more assaults are not reported than reported? And women are sometimes not believed or written off as being hysterical.


    • Avatar zic says:

      Skip that, I was trying something out in the wrong place.

      Commenting’s about to take on 3-D chess standards. OT will live long and prosper.Report