Tag Archives: Opinion

Staff Editorial

Staff Editorial: Trigger Warnings Threaten Academic Freedom

Earlier last week, the LA Times published an article, “Warning: College students this editorial may upset you,” about how the student Senate at UC Santa Barbara recently passed a resolution that calls for mandatory “trigger warnings” to be issued by professors to their students if an upcoming lecture, class discussion, activity and/or assignment might cause psychological or emotional distress. A “trigger warning” gets its name from the term “trauma trigger,” the latter being what psychologists and mental health professionals refer to as an experience that may evoke a traumatic event. “Trigger warnings” are not new on the Internet and in the social media sphere, but news of this resolution has been the onset of a nationwide debate over whether or not such resolutions are threatening academic freedom by censoring class material in an attempt to protect students’ sensitivities.

The goal of the UCSB resolution states in part that, “including trigger warnings is not a form of criticism or censorship of content.” Furthermore, “it does not restrict academic freedom but simply requests the respect and acknowledgement of the effect of triggering content on students with P.T.S.D., both diagnosed and undiagnosed.” The resolution also suggests a list of “triggers,” including “rape, sexual assault, abuse, self-injurious behavior, suicide, graphic violence, pornography and graphic depictions of gore.”

What makes the UCSB resolution more controversial is the fact that if students do find course material to be distressing, professors will have to excuse the students from those lectures and assignments without a deduction in points from their grade. This aspect of the resolution is what is drawing criticism from anti-censorship advocates, who believe that “trigger warnings” will give students a concrete reason to skip class without reprimand. This also proves unfair for students who regularly attend class and are still held accountable for their attendance and completion of assignments, as well as further muddling the lines between what material is and is not appropriate to be introduced in the academic course to begin with.

Marc Blecher, a political science professor at Oberlin College, was featured in an article by the New Republic, in which he states that he believes Oberlin’s new “trigger warning” policy — meant to guide university faculty in avoiding subjects that could induce “triggers” relating to “heterosexism, cissexism, [and] ableism” — constitutes as academic censorship. He explained that the purpose of a liberal arts education is “to challenge students, to conduct open inquiry in classrooms, [and] to make students feel uncomfortable.” Blecher’s statement inspires a point: most students enroll in a course knowing a bit about the nature of material to be covered. This leaves sole discretion to the students in deciding whether or not they would like to take the course.

In addition, recent psychological and mental health research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania on P.T.S.D. (post-traumatic stress disorder) suggests that, for those who have experienced trauma, “triggers” can be unpredictable and difficult to understand. “Triggers” can arise from various different factors, including a particular taste or smell, a certain time or place, or specific colors or objects. In this sense, almost anything can be classified as a “trigger.”

The problem with a “trigger warning” resolution, like the one at UCSB, is not found in its intent or the attempt to validate individual experiences, but the sole fact that a “trigger” warning will not solve the core problems most commonly exhibited by individuals who have P.T.S.D. or other mental health issues, nor will it be fair to students who have not experienced traumatic events that allow them to cite a “trigger warning” as reason to miss class lectures or assignments. Instead, focus needs to be placed on strengthening the awareness and availability of campus psychology and mental health resources to help aid students in their recovery and healing process, and also for professors to provide supplemental assignments to accommodate students who cannot participate fully in their academic courses due to distressing material. Otherwise, “trigger warnings” are a threat to academic freedom.


San Francisco's Dolores Park (photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

Should San Francisco Spend Millions on Dolores Park Renovation?

If you have visited Dolores Park in the past two weeks, you will have noticed the substantial overcrowding due to half of the park being officially closed for renovations starting March 12. The popular Mission District park is in the first phase of a two-part, $13.2 million makeover that is scheduled to finish by spring 2015. Continue reading

What’s Wrong with USF’s Minority Dissertation Fellowship Program?

USF’s faculty know all about our school’s Minority Dissertation Fellowship Program, but members of the wider campus community may not be so familiar with it.  Started in 1993 under a grant from the Irvine Foundation, the program supports African-American, Latino and/or Asian-American graduate students with a year of financing and academic resources at USF as they complete their doctoral dissertations.  Recipients also gain experience teaching one course per semester.  Midway through their fellowship years, the doctoral fellows go on the job market in search of a full-time, tenure-track position in their particular field. Continue reading

Staff Editorial

When Satire Creates Discourse, We Want in on the Conversation

This past week, the Foghorn released a special edition on April 1 with the hopes of highlighting issues in recent news through satire. The main intention of producing this issue was to publish an engaging collection of stories for the student body. A handful of articles in a few of our sections mocked homophobic laws and institutions, as well as USF’s administration’s obvious need to brandish a flag celebrating our diverse population on campus.

While we have received a lot of positive feedback and appreciation from students, professors and advisors, we recognize that not everyone was comfortable with how these issues were covered. We recognize that everyone’s feelings are valid, and understand that we upset students with our satire. Seeing as we are a paper meant to be a voice for the students at this university, this is of very serious concern to us. We apologize to those that were hurt by our content.

As a result, we hope that this response and commentary will lead to a productive, informative discourse. It is our desire to organize an open, mediated forum hosted by and for students, advisors and professors in order to create a mature and professional conversation around these issues.

We do want to clarify that no article was written with ill will or malice. As evidenced by our issues throughout this past academic year, we have always been supporters of the LGBTQ community and the diverse student body at USF, covering many topics and events.

Simply to clear any misconceptions in regards to the aims of our articles, the following are what we intend with our satire:

Our front page article, “Ukrainian Army Begins to Recruit LGBTQ Community as the Secret Weapon Against Russia”, and our page 6 article, “Chick-fil-A Comes to Campus”, were satirical pieces ridiculing oppressive institutions — the likes of Russia’s parliament and fast food company, Chick-fil-A. The butt of our jokes was not the LGBTQ community, but in fact, the anti-gay stances taken by both Russia and Chick-fil-A. Russia has been the target of much criticism due to its recent legislation banning the use of vocabulary in reference to the LGBTQ community and much more. In turn, our Chick-fil-A article meant to humorously relay how we had no doubt that our San Franciscan values would eventually rub off on Chick-fil-A if they ever set up camp in our cafeteria. The reappearance of the queer community in the issue was not purposeful, but merely coincidental.

Our page 3 article, “Student Pets Now Allowed in Dorms” was mocking USF’s administration and its obsessive need to “meet diversity quotas” and “increase numbers” rather than actually serve the needs of the enrolled students they boast of admitting. It is easy to admit a student, but as the educational demonstration, USF Without Their Quota, put on by MEChA de USF on March 27 stated as their mission: students of color are more than statistics and numbers; they deserve academic and financial resources that will ultimately serve their continuing success on campus.

Lastly, our page 8 article, “Dons to Switch Name to “Pink Fairy Armadillos” was a light-hearted attempt to challenge the branded masculinity of the USF athletics department. The pink fairy armadillo is a real animal, and can be found in the grasslands and plains of central Argentina.  “Pink Fairy Armadillo” is its real, scientific name. We did not make it up; we thought it was  a potentially adorable mascot. By choosing a small, obscure animal that would typically never be associated with sports, it acts as a symbol for the overemphasis on toughness and competition in sports, especially in USF’s conference where other teams have mascots like Bulldogs, Tigers and Lions.

Again, we would like to reiterate that the mission of our paper is to create and foster positive, intelligent discourse. We look forward to meeting both our supportive and our concerned readership soon, once we organize the logistics of our open forum. Of course, we welcome the submission of any letters and editorials to the Opinion section for publication. Our section editor’s email is listed below in the submission policy box.

Don’t Tread On Meme

Why The Ethos of the Digital Age Will Forever Contradict Governments’ Sovereignty

    In 1963, as U.S. Strategic Air Command finished a decade-long effort to replace its aging fleet of bombers with nuclear warhead-equipped Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), a secret report was prepared for President Kennedy. It highlighted the importance of command and control in the event of nuclear war with the Soviets. The document detailed a range of potential nuclear exchange scenarios in which the President would be faced with “decision points” over the course of 24 hours.

Continue reading

#KeepColbert Because A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Reality Go Down

As you may have heard, comedian Stephen Colbert has come under fire in the past week after making what was perceived as a racist remark towards the Asian community. But what was the nature of the comment? Let us investigate.

It appears that this is all based on a tweet released by the official twitter account of the television show, “The Colbert Report.” The tweets, as we learned, were  not written by Colbert himself. The tweet was made in response to the Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation established to support Native Americans. This situation is rife with absurdity in regards to names; the name of the MLB foundation intensifies the political incorrectness of the team name, both of which are less-than-respectful ways to name Native Americans.

Comedy Central, the real administrators of the Twitter account, wanted to call attention to this, and used Colbert’s character “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong” as a base for their fictional and comical “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever”. The tweet itself — “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever” — is evidently a mockery of Snyder’s unfortunate naming, but the question remains: is it at all ok that Asian Americans still bear the brunt of humor?

Yes, it is true that Asian Americans bore the expense of this jab, but that is what the satirical tweet aimed to highlight: even when you are trying to “help” and support someone, they somehow seem to suffer thanks to racist undertones. That is how deeply rooted the issue is; by reaching out to support people, the supporters are inherently claiming superiority over those they are attempting to help. For if they were truly trying to establish equality, this hierarchical dynamic would not exist.

The thing is, these jokes remind people like me, who do not really experience overt racism or even an unwelcomed awareness of my race, that there are mindsets of ignorance, hatred, and simple stupidity. But I wonder if this became a conversation, or if the #CancelColbert movement was more about silencing people than letting them marinate in and discuss ideas.

For people who consistently experience racism and ignorance, this joke is a frustration or even a nightmare, projected onto the world’s big screen for all to join in on. It is also a chance to call out the greater problem publicly, to try to catch racism and ignorance by the horns and halt them before they fester any more than they already have.

But silencing comedians will not make the problem go away, because comedians are not the source of hatred. I truly believe that they bring the less palatable truths of society to light, and even if we ask them not to do so, the ideas will still exist. We should not be cancelling Colbert — we should be questioning the ideas he sheds light on. Sure, there are other, less entertaining ways to discuss these issues, but if we cancel comedy, we will effectively cancel many important conversations surrounding race and its reality. We need the spoonful of sugar to make the oftentimes sour medicine of reality go down, for these issues are anything but savory.