Humanity has been responsible for countless and unimaginable tragedies over the course of our existence. Cultures across the world have been enslaved. We have seen millions of people die in Nazi death camps in less than a decade. Today, we continue to see innocent people blown up on planes and beheaded by terrorists around the world.
These issues are difficult for any of us talk about, and for good reason. Despite this difficulty, it is imperative that we talk about it. It is through talking about the past and the evils that we have perpetuated that help us to never see that same evil happen again. If we don’t talk about the most horrible moments of human history, the cliché is true that we are bound to repeat it.
Today, campuses around the country have professors issue “trigger warnings” before using potentially offensive words or talking about sensitive issues in order to prevent anxiety or hurt feelings among students. While these warnings may be good intentioned, they benefit no one.
We must confront these hard truths if we hope to correct them. As President Obama said recently when discussing this issue, “I don’t agree that when you become students at college, you should have to be coddled or protected.” The past of our nation, our world, and our species cannot be whitewashed. We cannot expect to understand the world we live in today if we forget about those who lost their lives in Auschwitz or those who spent their entire lives in slavery. It is ugly, but it is our history.
Trigger warnings do more than cloud our perception of the past. They demean it. It is our inability to talk about these subjects in an intelligent way, in hopes of understanding them, that lead to our inability to comprehend the grave evils that have occurred over history.
Even in the world of satire, it seems the only acceptable thing to do is to ask audiences exactly what offends them before making a joke. Sometimes, unfortunately, this can lead to tragic results, such as the twelve cartoonists who lost their lives in the Charlie Hebdo attacks for the grave crime of sketching the Prophet Muhammed experienced. If even our political satirists like John Stewart and John Oliver must question whether a joke will get them killed, how can we claim to live in a society of free speech?
Here at Catholic University, we are not immune from the trigger warning culture either. If a speaker holds views that are potentially going to offend Catholics, we silence them by barring them from campus, instead of engaging them with arguments. The Office of Campus Activities has issued several trigger warnings for those who might be offended if an organization dare fight for the rights of gay students. This school claims to be a University, but universities are meant to be a free market place of ideas, not a place where dissenting views are squashed and feelings come before facts.