Dear University of Chicago

Note: this post contains sensitive topics. Please read at your own discretion.

To the University of Chicago;

Hello! This letter may seem a bit out of place as I have never been to the windy city, and, quite frankly, don’t plan on being there any time soon; I opted for the rainy city for my college days. However, I came across something that rather upset me, and I figured I join the conversation, especially seeing as how you all “fost(er) the free exchange of ideas..

Now, your letter to the freshmen class seemed well and good enough. If you, as a place of higher learning, are simply saying you won’t withhold or censor individuals for holding opposing, even controversial, perhaps difficult, viewpoints, then I applaud you for that commitment. The first amendment is a crucial part of the Constitution and an imperative part of our society (not to mention something I utilize often right here on this blog).

It isn’t your stance that’s concerning me – it’s your diction. And, frankly, through no fault of your own, the reaction to it.

Trigger warnings exist for a reason, yet I do understand the challenge they pose. I’ve said myself how impossible it is to account for every possible trigger, something this comic may help explain. However, blanket disregard for sensitivities your students face is upsetting. Worse, though, I fear you may be distressingly naive to the world some of your students live in.

I don’t need you to tell me the world isn’t a “safe space”; I’m perfectly aware. When I was held down in a park on a cold January night, a man sucking greedily at my mouth, grasping hungry at what’s supposed to be a very safe space, I’d venture to say I knew just how unsafe the world could be. When I wake up seemingly each day to another rapist that’s gotten off free because the court system doesn’t want to “ruin an individual’s college experience over one mistake,” I fully understand how unsafe the world is, and I’m betting the women and men who are victims get that too.

I have friends, multiples in fact, who have, watched their father or their sister or their mother, ejected from the car they were in, and seen their loved one splattered on the pavement, never to move again. I’d venture to say they understand that the world isn’t a safe space.

Does this mean that we, as a community of educators, should continue to enforce this notion, as it will make little difference as to what our world consists of? If the world is already ugly, does it matter if we remove the barriers that trick us into thinking it’s safe?

See, your very concept of a safe space is flawed. In your eyes, this is somewhere people go to seek refuge from big, scary ideas, and can continue to live in their prepubescent bubble of security and happiness and familiarly. In truth however, the concept of a safe space isn’t as big and scary as all that. A safe place is a space in which I’m free to reconcile my experience with the world, with new information, in a way that’s psychologically safe for me to do so. That, I’d say, requires a high level of cognition, and I don’t see the harm in it. I can understand how, to someone who has never seen trauma or been affected by it, it’s difficult to comprehend the flashbacks and body memories associated with trauma, that make safe spaces so necessary, and sensitivity so crucial.

Imagine the worst day of your life – or picture your worst fear if you can’t come up with anything. Picture holding your dead child’s body, in vivid detail, every day for a year. Imagine how he felt in your hand, how stiff and cold and unlike itself, and relive it every day for a year or two years or ten. Then imagine finally burying him in your head, getting him locked away so that the memory of his dilated, lifeless eyes staring up into you feel more like a bad dream than a reality. And imagine seeing a child who looks like him at the park, or reading about it in a blog post, and being right there, feeling his weight in your arms all over again.

This is what it’s like to live with trauma, to need a sort of place you can go and decompress and seek refuge from a world that tells you you’re not open to discussion and knowledge because you’re a weak person who had something bad happen to you; a world that has the arrogance and ignorance and privilege to imply you’re stuck in a childhood fantasy when you are intimate with the world’s darkness and you carry it with you like a dead thing in your chest.

To the university of Chicago – if you’re saying that the world shouldn’t be censored to comply with previous knowledge and experiences, edit your implications and continue on. If you’re saying that people who have lived through hell need to stop being so pacified and consoled, kindly remove “University” from your title; your ignorance is boundless and you have so much left to learn.


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