Profs blast ‘thin-skulled’ students who demand safe spaces

Two female law professors argue that colleges should promote a culture of “true grit” to help fight against “thin-skulled” students who demand safe spaces and trigger warnings.

Terry Day, a law professor at Barry University, and Danielle Weatherby, who teaches at the University of Arkansas, recently published an article in the Florida Law Review titled Speech Narcissism in which they contend that the spirit of the First Amendment is falling out of vogue on many college campuses.

“The new normal in speech rights has abandoned the central meaning of the First Amendment,” Day and Weatherby argue, adding that the “my way or the highway” approach favored by politically correct students conflicts with “liberty and democracy.”

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Although some legislators have passed statutes to protect free speech at public universities, Day and Weatherby argue that this isn’t a complete solution, especially since these statutes don’t apply to private universities.

“As students more frequently demand trigger warnings and safe spaces in response to speech that they deem personally offensive, the use of political correctness measures on college campuses has had the unintended consequence of chilling speech,” they point out. “Contrary to longstanding First Amendment principles, college campuses are becoming environments in which the most vulnerable among the student population can exercise a ‘heckler’s veto,’ silencing speech that is subjectively offensive to the most sensitive students.”

Asserting that “speech offensiveness is a matter of ethics and education that cannot be remedied solely by law,” they propose that emphasizing traits like grit and compassion is one possible way to improve campus discourse without imposing restrictions on speech.

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In an interview with Campus Reform, Day explained that students should be taught to be “tolerant listeners” and learn to “respect [opposing] views without vilifying the person.” Grit, in her view, isn’t just about academic struggle, but ideological struggle as well.

“This notion of teaching ‘true grit’ is about teaching students to be a little tougher and search for answers…focusing on what they don’t know, struggling with materials and listening to other people’s views,” Day told Campus Reform by phone.

Grit, she suggests, could students grapple with difficult ideological battles much in the same way that it helps propel many towards academic perseverance.

Grit is especially important in the age of social media, since many students only read news that reaffirms their viewpoints, according to Day, who noted that “students are saying ‘This is right, because I believe it,’” rather than finding out the truth by grappling with alternative perspectives.

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In their article, Day and Weatherby also point out that the lack of grit in handling ideological conflict is a growing trend among millennials.

“Current research suggests that the millennial generation is less hearty [sic] than previous generations,” they say, adding that “the feebler the listener, the more likely it is that she will demand the implementation of political correctness measures.”

Day and Weatherby conclude by stressing the importance of returning to core American values. “By teaching students to first listen with an open mind and then to practice perseverance and grit in withstanding offense, they will become heartier, more tolerant listeners,” they write.

“Their tolerance, in turn, will lessen the demand for trigger warnings, safe spaces, and disinvitations and rekindle the bedrock principles of the First Amendment on college campuses.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen