Popehat argues that there is a market solution to the debate in academics over free speech v. trigger warnings. He basically proposes something highly sarcastic that he calls snokeflake advertisement and status:
Take, let’s say, Brown University. They’re already on FIRE’s red light policy list, and frankly I enjoy making fun of them. Brown could decide to take on the mantle of a Snowflake School. It could openly declare that its students have a right not to be offended. It could enact policies accordingly, and discipline students and faculty who cause any offense through their speech and actions. Brown could display the snowflake symbol on their letterhead and web page. They could even vigorously rebrand themselves to attract students who don’t want to be offended — I don’t know, they could rename their teams The Blizzards or something.
Students, staff, and academics could then vote with their feet. Do I want to go to an acknowledged Snowflake School? Maybe I do, and will wear the snowflake badge proudly. Maybe I don’t — either because I don’t want to get expelled for offending someone, or because I’m embarrassed to go someplace that marks me as a snowflake.
Other people could vote, too. Do I want to hire someone who chose to go to a Snowflake School? You might, but I wouldn’t. Do I want to date a Snowflake? Do I want a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant who wears a Snowflake U. sweatshirt?
Never mind that there is no real way to make Brown University (or any other university) adopt a snowflake badge without violating the Free Speech rights of said University. Unless you want to imply that Corporations don’t have Free Speech rights but that would be all against Citizens United and whatnot.
One of the things I wonder about in the whole Trigger Warning v. Free Speech debate is numbers and percentages? What number of students is this a most important issue, a somewhat important issue, or not very important at all? There are thousands of colleges and universities in the United States, how many have had campus fights over trigger warnings in the classrooms?
I can’t find it now but Jonathan Bernstein used to do occasional reminders on his blog about how people who liked to read, talk, and discuss politics are kind of weird. A lot of people might be straight down partisan voters but only a smaller subset of these voters spends their time reading about politics, thinking about politics, and discussing politics. Magazines like the New Republic, The National Review, The Nation, and American Conservative exist as charity cases.
Are there enough college students to form “Trigger Warning University” and “Free Speech University”, duke it out and see who wins? Almost certainly not. People pick the college and university they attend for a wide variety of reasons: Prestige/Rankings, Proximity and/or Distance from home/Geographic Location, Majors/Programs offered, price, etc. I don’t know what percentage of students cares enough about trigger warnings or free speech that they will choose to attend or not attend a particular university based on their trigger warning vs. free speech policy.
This raises the question about why so many people who have been out of college for decades are concerned about trigger warnings and the alleged coddling of the mind. Vox theorizes that we are nervous about trigger warnings because it represents the consumer power of students and this is somethings students previously lacked. Popehat seems to see it as the rise of a censorious and illiberal left.
Vox seems more spot on than Popehat. I think it makes sense that if students are going into five or six-figure debt for their educations, they are going to want a more active say about what goes on at campus and in the classroom. University still seems to be the most sure path to a middle-class income and job stability but students are not going to be treated as half-adults while going into debt to receive their educations. That being said, I am still not sure trigger warnings is anything more than a handful of examples in a nation of 320 million people and countless colleges and universities. Most college students are no longer 18-22 year olds who live on campus. Many are older, live off campus, have families and jobs, and try to balance academics with the rest of their lives. I don’t think it is clear whether these students are running the trigger warning wars. Even most 18-22 year old college students are not heavily involved in campus politics. Yet the fury over the issue remains strong and bloggers use it to prove their ideological bonafides.